California needs anti-BDS bill to fight discrimination

Introduced in response to the “BDS Movement,” a growing international campaign of intolerance and bigotry operating under the guise of human rights advocacy, AB 2844 is an important and needed law that will help to protect many Californians from discrimination. AB 2844 would, in essence, prohibit the state from contracting with entities that engage in discriminatory activity, including, but not limited to, discriminatory activity targeting Jews and those of Israeli origin.

[OPPOSITION: Gov. Brown should veto flawed BDS law]

Many other states have adopted similar laws and with the thoughtful revisions to AB 2844 that were made through the legislative process, there is no question that AB 2844 passes constitutional muster while also protecting a minority group in California that is under concerted attack.

I have written extensively on the BDS Movement generally and the constitutionality of restrictions on BDS Movement activity in the United States specifically.  My most recent paper, “The Inapplicability of First Amendment Protections to BDS Movement Boycotts” was published in the Cardozo Law Review de novo and is available here.  This paper demonstrates the constitutionality of AB 2844, especially with regard to First Amendment concerns.

Some of those who oppose anti-BDS laws, and AB 2844 in particular, have argued that BDS activity is subject to the same type of constitutional protections that civil rights boycotts enjoy.  Indeed, the initial legal analysis prepared by the legislature for AB 2844 contained this deeply flawed position. However, after a number of constitutional scholars, including my legal foundation, informed the state of its erroneous legal conclusion, the record was corrected and the legislature resumed consideration of AB 2844.

As a legal matter, there is no question that AB 2844 is a common sense, reasonable and permissible state action to combat discrimination, no different from other actions against discriminatory conduct, such as bans on state and local employee travel to states with anti-LGBTQ policies.  As a policy matter, there is great urgency in having the State of California take a stand against the increasingly hateful targeting of Jews and Californians of Israeli-descent, and their businesses. 

While those who support the BDS Movement claim that it is a rights movement, the truth is that it is nothing more than a revival of the old Arab League boycott against Israel, reinvigorated with a savvy public relations arm and backed by designated terror organizations and sponsors of international hate.  The BDS Movement came to life at the behest of, among other state actors, Iran, in a conference that former California Congressman Tom Lantos described as “an anti-American, anti-Israel circus…a transparent attempt to de-legitimize the moral argument for Israel’s existence as a haven for Jews.” 

BDS Movement activity has, as its ultimate goal, the elimination of the modern State of Israel and the disenfranchisement of Jews worldwide from their historic homeland.  In recent testimony before Congress, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer identified ties between supporters of designated terror groups, such as Hamas, and key supporters of the BDS Movement. 

BDS Movement activities in California have a particularly important impact on me.  My mother was born in a small village in what was then known as Czechoslovakia in 1933.  Her family was persecuted by an organized group that sought to demonize and disenfranchise Jewish residents under the guise of protecting the rights of others.  While many Czechs thought that the incremental vilification and targeting of their Jewish neighbors was a passing occurrence or one that would not concern them, when the Nazis invaded and began rounding up Jews it was too late to take action.  My mother was taken from her home by SS agents and while everyone in her family other than her (and her mother and father) were slaughtered in extermination camps, through a stroke of luck my mother was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1942.  The fate of those in my father’s family who remained in the Ukraine had no such luck, as a frenzied population, driven my anti-Jewish agitprop, worked with the Nazis to eradicate Jews from their midst.

Today, the BDS Movement dutifully spreads a similar agenda of hate and discrimination and has unfortunately found a home in California.  Under the banner of the BDS Movement, radical Islamist groups operate on college campuses, intimidating and silencing Jewish students, spreading misinformation meant to encourage anti-Semitic activity and preventing Jewish and Israeli academics from participating in university activities.  In addition, BDS Movement boycott activity negatively impacts commercial markets in California.

In a recent decision by the International Executive Board of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), one of the country’s largest labor unions, the union found that the BDS Movement “espouses discrimination and vilification” of union members and a local union’s support of BDS was found to “Intrude upon [the union’s constitution] by subverting the Union in collective bargaining…[and] would have a far reaching  economic impact on UAW and other union members.” 

The words of the UAW speak volumes about the true nature of BDS and the impact of BDS support:

…the local union’s BDS Resolution inherently targets … Israeli and/or Jewish members…this call to action by the local union, in association with the BDS Resolution, is in disregard of the rights of … members of the UAW.  Moreover, this type of activity is suggestive of discriminatory labeling and a disparagement of these members

Similarly, the local union’s [BDS resolution engages in] biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members….

…we find that the provisions of the BDS Resolution, despite semantical claims to the contrary by the local union, can easily be construed as academic and cultural discrimination against union members on the basis of their national origin and religion

…notwithstanding the denotation and connotation of words, it is our unanimous belief that the notion of BDS, credibly espouses discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage….Thus, the local union’s platform is apparent in its unfavorable stance against the State of Israel, Israelis, and, invariably, Jewish union members.

On this basis, the UAW found that BDS support violates the UAW’s International Constitution’s prohibition on discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin.

Make no mistake about it, while the BDS Movement is not openly advocating a Nazi-like agenda, their goal is to weaken, delegitimize and ultimately eliminate the Jewish identity of the Middle East (and all vestiges of it throughout the world). 

If the BDS Movement was, in fact, truly concerned with human rights in the Middle East, they’d be taking action against the homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic policies of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (and neighboring countries’ governments).  Instead, they are trying to destroy the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that respects and supports LGBTQ rights.  Recent activities on UC campuses, including targeted harassment of Jewish students by BDS supporters and fostering of radical anti-Semitic activities to marginalize Jewish voices on campuses are simply the tip of the iceberg of this hate movement.

Supporters of the BDS Movement argue that they have a right to protest against Israel and AB 2844 in no way infringes upon this right.  If Governor Brown signs AB 2844 into law, Californians can still take to the streets to voice their opinions against Israel and individual Californians can, if they so choose, avoid doing business with Israel.  

We can all agree that the people of California overwhelmingly oppose discrimination and there is no question that the BDS Movement is an organization that promotes discrimination. AB 2844 is simply an exercise of California’s proprietary power to spend or invest state funds in a manner that reflects the moral and economic interests of the people of the State of California.  AB 2844 follows the same longstanding policy against discriminatory boycotts as is enshrined in a number of federal laws, including the anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act and Treasury Department regulations.

The State of California not only has the constitutional authority to choose to not do business with those who foster discrimination, it has a moral obligation to avoid contributing to such activity.  Governor Brown should sign AB 2844 into law.

Marc Greendorfer is an attorney and founder of Zachor Legal Institute, a legal foundation that focuses on constitutional scholarship and rights advocacy

BDS bill would cost California a small fortune each year, committee says

The California Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations put a price tag on a bill meant to show the legislature’s disapproval of the movement to boycott Israel.

Committee staff determined Assembly Bill 2844, introduced by Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom, would cost the state’s Attorney General (AG) about $370,000 during the next fiscal year and $625,000 every year after.

The bill requires companies that obtain state contracts of more than $100,000 to certify that any boycott policy they might have against a government recognized by the United States doesn’t result in discrimination under existing federal and state law.

Originally, the bill prevented the state from entering into contract with companies that boycott Israel. But by the time the Assembly approved it on June 2, the original intention had been watered down amid concerns it might violate companies’ First Amendment rights.

The appropriations committee estimated that the bill would impose significant staffing costs on the AG to respond to and investigate complaints.

It also predicted an indeterminate cost to the Department of General Services (DGS), which oversees state contractors. The DGS administers state contracts in the amount of $27.9 billion, according to the committee analysis. That means even a small increase in the cost of administration can result in huge expenses for the state.

The Senate committee will consider the bill again on Aug. 11 and determine whether to forward it to the floor. If the Senate votes in favor of the measure, it will go back to the Assembly for re-approval.

Putting anti-Semitism on the radar at the University of California and beyond

We respond with more outrage and quicker when the same acts of hate are directed towards other students than to our Jewish students…I really ask my fellow Regents and the Chancellors to ponder why it is we seem less concerned about these acts of intimidation and hate directed against our Jewish students.” — University of California Regent Bonnie Reiss at a Regents meeting in November 2015

Last week, the Regents of the University of California unanimously approved a landmark Statement of Principles Against Intolerance containing the following language: “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” Although the statement has been widely hailed within the Jewish community for its unprecedented acknowledgement of anti-Zionism as a source of anti-Jewish hostility, many have overlooked an aspect of the statement’s language every bit as significant when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of Jewish students: the Regents’ clear call for anti-Semitism, in all of its forms, to be treated like every other kind of discrimination at the University of California – no more, but certainly no less.

Why is this so significant?  Because for far too long the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry has not been on the radar at the University of California. 

In 2010, when UC launched the Advisory Council on Campus Climate and satellite working groups on each campus with the goal of “enhancing and sustaining a tolerant, inclusive environment…so that every single member of the UC community feels welcome, comfortable and safe,” Jewish student concerns were conspicuously absent from these groups’ agenda. This, despite the fact that Jewish students were already reporting an alarming incidence of anti-Jewish bigotry on several UC campuses.

Furthermore, when attempts were made to put anti-Jewish hostility on the UC radar, they were aggressively and successfully suppressed by the very groups most responsible for creating that hostility.  For example in 2012, within days of the publication of a Jewish Student Campus Climate Report commissioned by then UC President Mark Yudof, which found that “Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of … anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)”, anti-Zionist student and community groups viciously attacked the report and demanded it be withdrawn.  

To this day the 2012 report’s findings and recommendations have been ignored by UC administrators, who have shown themselves unwilling to acknowledge let alone address acts of blatant anti-Semitism. Instead, they engage in a discriminatory double standard, tolerating hateful language or behavior when it is directed towards Jewish students but promptly and vigorously challenging it when directed towards other racial, ethnic or gender minorities.

It is precisely this inequity that the Regents Statement Against Intolerance sought to redress. Indeed, it is only against the backdrop of the long-standing and discriminatory treatment of Jewish students that the UC statement and its curious emphasis on anti-Semitism can be understood at all.  

And the Regents statement is historic, both for California’s Jewish students and for Jewish students nationwide, who have also fallen victim to an alarming growth in campus anti-Semitism and campus administrators who turn a blind eye to it. The University of California is our country’s most prestigious public university system.  Now that its governing board has unanimously acknowledged the serious and growing threat faced by Jewish students and called on its Chancellors to provide appropriate protection, it will surely encourage other university leaders to follow suit. 

There are some who fault the Regents for drafting an aspirational statement that has no “teeth” and does not require the ten UC Chancellors to take specific action in response to anti-Semitism. But within that aspirational statement is a clear call to UC Chancellors that echoes Regent Bonnie Reiss’ passionate warning and plea at a Regents meeting last November: 

No principles we issue, no matter how well written, will stop this climate of intimidation…unless each chancellor makes it a priority to look at this climate for their Jewish students as they would for their black students, their gay students, their Latino students, their Muslim students… I plead with each Chancellor…. take action now…so this intimidation and hate acts against our Jewish students stop.”  

Now that the Regents have put anti-Semitism on the radar at the University of California, it is up to the Chancellors on each UC campus to ensure that they respond to acts of anti-Semitism with the same promptness and vigor as they respond to every other form of unacceptable discrimination. No more, but certainly no less.

Rossman-Benjamin is University of California faculty and the director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit that combats anti-Semitism on college campuses. 

6 top Senate Dems rap Obama’s refusal to extend anti-BDS protections to settlements

Six top Democratic senators, including the party’s Senate leader and four Jewish lawmakers, urged the Obama administration to abide by new provisions that would protect Israeli West Bank settlements from boycotts.

The Feb. 25 statement addresses Obama’s stated refusal last week to abide by provisions in a new trade bill that extends protections against boycotts to Israeli-controlled territories.

It was issued in the name of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, and Sens. Charles Schumer of New York; Ron Wyden of Oregon; Ben Cardin of Maryland; Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“While the Obama Administration has reiterated its opposition to boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, it has mischaracterized the TPA and Customs bill provisions as making a U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements,” their statement said.

“These provisions are not about Israeli settlements. Rather, consistent with U.S. policy, they are about discouraging politically motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We urge the Administration to implement these provisions as enacted and intended.”

“Politically-motivated commercial actions” alludes to European Union regulations established last year that require goods produced in settlements to be labeled separately from those produced in Israel.

Party leaders signing onto statements is unusual. Schumer, Wyden, Cardin and Blumenthal are Jewish; Bennet does not identify as Jewish, but notes that his mother is Jewish.

Republicans also have objected to the policy. Two senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, a presidential candidate — are circulating a bill that would override the longstanding U.S. policy of distinguishing goods from Israel with those from the West Bank.

Is EU discriminating against Israel by labeling settlement goods?

To Israel and many of its supporters, the new European Union regulations requiring separate labeling for settlement goods are discriminatory measures reminiscent of Europe’s long history of institutionalized anti-Semitism.

In a harshly-worded statement Wednesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that by ignoring other territorial disputes around the world, the EU is discriminating against Israel. EU officials dismissed that complaint as emotional and irrelevant, saying the guidelines are merely a reflection of longstanding European policy and are aimed at protecting a consumer’s right to know whether a product was produced within Israel’s pre-1967 borders or in disputed territory.

In making their case about Europe’s double standard, Israeli diplomats have found an unlikely ally: Activists for self-rule in Western Sahara, a disputed territory in North Africa claimed by Morocco. The territory’s government-in-exile claims it is under foreign occupation.

The United Nations General Assembly endorsed that view in 1979, declaring Morocco an occupying force in the former Spanish colony and affirming the “inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara” to independence. In 2005, the EU called for a resolution to the conflict that would ensure the “self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

But despite formal objections in recent years by the Netherlands and Sweden to labeling Western Saharan produce as Moroccan, the EU has issued no labeling guidelines comparable to those it released Wednesday, which require that certain goods produced in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights be marked to indicate whether they were made by Israeli settlers or Palestinians.

A demonstration in Madrid in support of Western Sahara’s self-determination on Nov. 11, 2006. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

“When it comes to products from Palestine and Western Sahara, there is a clear double standard in the European Union’s behavior, and it’s eroding its credibility across the board,” said Erik Hagen, a Norwegian geographer and activist and former chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, an advocacy group.

Trade agreements signed in 2000 and 2012 between Morocco and the EU include no mention of occupied land. Yet in 2012, the EU Foreign Affairs Council issued a blanket guideline requiring that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

Products from Western Sahara are sold with a “Made in Morocco” label in the same Danish supermarkets where products from the West Bank are marked as originating in Israeli settlements, according to Morten Nielsen, a Danish journalist active in efforts to raise awareness about Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.

Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom are currently the only EU member states with special labeling for West Bank products, which, according to estimates cited by the EU, account for less than 1 percent of the total annual trade volume of $32 billion between the union and Israel.

Israeli officials have claimed such measures are merely a prelude to a wider boycott of Israel and have repeatedly drawn comparisons to the boycott of Jews during the Holocaust. “We have historical memory of what happened when Europe labelled Jewish products,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in September. In April, Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said “Europe might as well label Israeli products with a yellow star,” referencing the stars Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were required to wear.

But despite such heated rhetoric, the number of countries labeling settlement products is expected to grow following the publication of the new guidelines, a senior European diplomat who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity said Tuesday.

The guidelines are limited to Israel, the diplomat said, because they came in response to a letter by 16 EU foreign ministers urging the European Commission to implement a decision it made in 2012 to label Israeli and Palestinian products.

Western Sahara is not the only territorial dispute that has failed to prompt demands for European labeling. Goods produced in Chinese-ruled Tibet, Indian-controlled Kashmir and northern Cyprus, which is occupied by Turkey, do not merit special labels in Europe.

The “unequal use of legal tools owes to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian profile, because of its historical connotations, is incomparable to others in the level of interest it draws and its visibility in media and politics,” said Hagen. But such factors “cannot explain unequal application of international law, which is being eroded.”

Daniel Rosario, an EU Commission spokesperson for trade and agriculture, told JTA that territorial disputes over the West Bank and Western Sahara “are of a completely different nature.”

“E.U. considers Morocco as the ‘de facto administrator of the territory of the Western Sahara’,” Rosario wrote in an email. ”In this role, the activities linked to the exploitation of natural resources by an administrative power in an ‘non-self-governing territory’ are not illegal, provided that they take into account the needs, interests and benefits of the people of this territory.”

But to Hagen, such legal hairsplitting is merely a smokescreen.

“You can apply any politically expedient definition you like,” Hagen said. “But as long as the European Union applies different standards to issues, instead of a uniform standard based on international law, it will not have any credibility when its representatives speak of facilitating peace and solidarity.”

Bernie Sanders’ brother is a BDS supporter

This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been very reluctant to expand on his foreign policy plans on the trail, especially with regards to Israel and the conflict with Palestinians.

On Tuesday night, at the first televised debate of the Democratic presidential primary, Sanders might be obliged to address foreign policy issues at greater length.

In general, the self-described socialist has said that he supports the two-state solution and an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During a campaign event in NH two month ago, Sanders said that he does not have a “magical solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which has gone on “for 50 years.” Nonetheless, he declared that the United States “should be evenhanded for Israel and the Palestinians.” Adding, “Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own, and the United States should do what it can to make sure that state has a strong economy. Israel is entitled to live in security, not be attacked. Those are the two guiding principles that I will work for.”

But as Sanders is growing in the polls, so is pressure being increased by progressives and pro-justice groups on the insurgent candidate to adopt a more left-wing approach to Israel and be more vocal about his policy views. He was recently compared to the newly elected UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has openly supported the BDS movement and is known for his anti-Israel stance.

His brother Larry, who lives in England, revealed in a tweet a few months ago that he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. “that Israel end occupation of West Bank, siege of Gaza, Palestinians in Israel equal rights. Netanyahu obstacle to peace. BDS yes,” Larry Sanders tweeted on April 20, 2015.

Larry has been very supportive of his older brother’s campaign, opening up the window for the media to peek in on Bernie’s upbringing and Jewish childhood in Brooklyn. In April, Bernie Sanders credited his brother as a large influence on his politics. “I owe my brother an enormous amount. I grew up in a family that did not have a lot of money. My dad came to this country at the age of 17, dropped out of high school, never made any money. My mother graduated high school. We did not have a lot of books in the house, and it was my brother who actually introduced me to a lot of my ideas,” he said during a press conference.

In the past, Sanders suggested that he would support cutting off arms to Israel to regain clout on Middle Eastern foreign policy.

A spokesperson for the Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for an inquiry about his views on the BDS movement.

Hillary Clinton addressed the matter a few months ago, in a letter sent to Hollywood mogul and major Democratic donor Haim Saban. Clinton expressed her “alarm” over the movement’s efforts attempting to “punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. “This is not the path to peace,” she wrote. “We need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people… We need to make countering BDS a priority.”

[UPDATED] Matisyahu performs at music festival that had dropped him from its lineup [VIDEO]

[UPDATE: Aug. 24, 10:30 a.m.]  Matisyahu performed on Aug. 22 at a Spanish music festival that had cancelled his performance due to apparent pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement before inviting him back to perform.

“Tonight was difficult but special,” the Jewish-American reggae artist wrote on his Facebook page following the Saturday concert, which was held at Rototom Sunsplash, a reggae festival in Spain that describes itself as committed to social justice. “Thank you to everyone who made it possible! Every chance to make music is a blessing.”

In what one can only hope was a direct expression of solidarity with Israel, Matisyahu’s concert this past weekend included a performance of his famous song, “Jerusalem.” And some video captured at the performance shows audience members waving Palestinian flags.

“Whoever you are and wherever you come from raise a flag and wave it in the air,” Matisyahu said, according to a JTA report. “Let music be your flag.”

The festival organizers canceled Matisyahu's performance after he did not reply to their request for him to give his opinion about the issue of the Palestinian people. The cancellation drew condemnation from many, including Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, who penned an op-ed about it in Time magazine.

Ultimately, the festival's representatives apologized to Matisyahu before inviting him back to perform.

Watch the “Jerusalem” performance below.


[UPDATE: Aug. 21, 2 p.m.] Matisyahu has announced on his Facebook page that he intends to perform at the Spanish music festival, Rototom Sunsplash, which had dropped Matisyahu from its lineup and reinvited him after public outctry over the festival's decision to cancel his performance. 

“Today music wins,” Matisyahu wrote on his Facebook page on Monday about his decision to play at the festival, following a back-and-forth that was related to the festival apparently succumbing to pressure of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  “Freedom of expression wins. Spain, this Saturday Aug 22nd.”

The BDS movement targeted Matisyahu, the Jewish-American reggae artist who is known for hits “One Day” and “King Without a Crown,” for his alleged Israel ties.

Matisyahu's performance at the festival is part of a European tour. He begins a tour of the United States on Oct. 15 in Telluride, Colorado. The tour includes several dates in California, between Nov. 4-11. He also has a new album on the horizon, titled “Live at Stubb's Vol. III,” which is set for a Oct. 2 release.

Musician Matisyahu has commented on the controversy surrounding a European music festival dropping him from its lineup in the wake of him declining to make a statement of support for the Palestinian state.

“My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music…The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] political agenda…Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements,” Matisyahu said on his Facebook page on Monday.

The festival, for its part, denies that it was the BDS movement that led to it dropping Matisyahu from the lineup. 

An Aug. 15 statement released by the festival, entitled, “Statement by Rototom Sunsplash regarding the performance of Matisyahu,” adds: “Rototom Sunsplash, after having repeatedly sought dialogue given the unavailability of the artist for comment in order to clearly declare himself regarding the war and in particular the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state, has decided to cancel the performance of Matisyahu scheduled for August 22 and will soon announce who will substitute him,” the statement said.

In its statement, the festival describes Matisyahu as an “American Hebrew artist.”

Los Angeles-based Rabbi Yonah Bookstein was among those who denounced the festival, describing its decision as “racist” in a comment on the festival’s Facebook page. He is encouraging other people to speak out against the festival.

“Please tell the organizers what you think of their decision to cancel Matisyahu because of BDS activists,” he said on Sunday. “In Spanish and English. Please [use] polite language to denounce their racism, hypocrisy, and censorship.”

[UPDATE: Aug. 18, 9:30 a.m.] “Matisyahu's music should not be held hostage by these radical activists who care more for scoring political points than helping peace,” Bookstein, in an email to the Journal, added.

Sheldon Adelson: Improve Israel’s odds

I didn’t attend the Sheldon Adelson anti-BDS conclave in Las Vegas last weekend for one good reason: I wasn’t invited.  

Nope, it was a meeting only of like minds, who convened on the home turf of the Republican Party’s most influential donor to find and fund solutions to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that is spreading across college campuses.

A few dozen wealthy donors, each having pledged at least $1 million to combat BDS, heard from a relatively small number of anti-BDS activists. What was notable was who wasn’t there. Of course, Jews who support BDS from a liberal, though I think misguided, viewpoint weren’t there. But neither were progressive groups like Ameinu and J Street U that oppose BDS, as well as many Israeli policies.

Someone very high up in the Jewish organizational pecking order who had declined an invite told me (not for attribution) that he, along with many leaders, stayed away. The list of attendees has not been released to the media, but my source rattled off the names of wealthy Republican donors, as well as leaders of major Jewish organizations, who refused to show up. Sure, Democratic donor Haim Saban was there, but it was Adelson’s partisanship, my source said, that made the whole affair less than kosher.

But I’m not here to bash Adelson’s initiative. It’s bold and big, and those are good things. In general, we Jews have to learn to embrace new efforts before we reflexively dump on them, and at least the folks in Vegas are trying something new.

Their initial idea is to create a coalition, called the Campus Maccabees project, to coordinate and increase efforts to counter BDS. From what I’ve heard from conference attendees, the Campus Maccabees will come out swinging at BDS — going so negative they’ll make “House of Cards” look like “Full House.”

And that makes sense to me. When you really strip back the BDS movement to its biggest funders and originators, it is fundamentally anti-Israel. Its most influential proponents aren’t just anti-West Bank settlement, they are anti-Tel Aviv and anti-Haifa. BDS, plain and simple, wants to destroy Israel. An anti-BDS movement that forces the BDSers to come out of the closet as being opposed to the existence of Israel rather than just some of its policies would be a good thing.

But — here’s my but — it is unlikely the Campus Maccabees will succeed only by revealing the true nature of their opponents.

I’ve heard from conference attendees, the Campus Maccabees will come out swinging at BDS — going so negative they’ll make “House of Cards” look like “Full House.”

That’s because the BDS movement burns on two fuels. Anti-Zionism, which, as President Barack Obama pointed out, is the bedfellow of anti-Semitism, is one of them, but only one. 

The other fuel is the occupation. Israel is a modern democracy that since 1967 has also denied more than a million people their right to exercise sovereignty over their lives. This is not a problem of message; this is a problem of substance. If Israel doesn’t find a way, bilaterally, unilaterally or otherwise, to end the occupation, it faces the prospect of becoming an apartheid state or a binational one. It’s unlikely it can continue to exist as either of those. So it is in Israel’s self-interest to demonize BDS and to end the occupation.

There are hard-core promoters of BDS who will never be satisfied until Israel is gone. They will ignore every other more egregious instance of occupation and human suffering in the world, from Syria to North Korea to Ukraine, just to undermine the Jewish state. 

But to pass their silly BDS measures, they need the company of good-intentioned people with no special dog in the fight. Those people are appalled and frustrated by Israel’s occupation policies.

That’s why, as I’ve written before, we need to fight BDS as if there is no occupation, and fight the occupation as if there is no BDS. Both share one thing in common: Left alone, they will lead to the end, either intentionally or not, of the Zionist dream.

Coincidentally, this week, just as the conference in Vegas wrapped up, the Rand Corp. released a report that shows a way to renew that dream. In “The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” the authors determined that a two-state solution would provide Israel with an additional $123 billion in economic benefits over 10 years, and the Palestinians with $50 billion. Average income for Palestinians would increase 36 percent, while Israelis would see a 5 percent gain. The authors saw a host of other tangible gains — and predicted huge costs for continued conflicts.

So, Sheldon and friends, by all means organize and fund your Campus Maccabees. But, for Israel’s sake, also channel some cash toward groups that build civil society in Israel, like New Israel Fund; groups that hold the occupation accountable, like Peace Now’s Settlement Watch; and ones that connect Israelis and Palestinians and prepare the groundwork for two states, like One Voice and Parents Circle. 

If you want to really help Israel, fighting against BDS and for a two-state solution gives Israel the best odds — even by Vegas standards.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

With pro-Israel groups all but absent, UCLA student government endorses divestment

UPDATE, 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 19: UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement, which reads in part: “UCLA and the UCLA Foundation share the Board of Regents conviction that divestment decisions should not hold any one organization or country to a different standard than any other. The Board of Regents does not support divestment in companies that engage in business with Israel and UCLA agrees with that position.”

Some students held up posters, others wore t-shirts with pro-divestment slogans and most of the 400 UCLA undergraduates present repeatedly snapped their fingers along in near-unanimous agreement as they packed an auditorium on campus Tuesday night to hear – in the school's second public hearing in 2014 – their student government debate passage of a symbolic resolution that would call on school administrators to divest university funds from American companies that do business in the Israeli-controlled West Bank.

And unlike in the previous attempt in February, which failed by two votes, the student government voted this time for divestment by a decisive 8-2 margin, adding UCLA to a small but growing list of universities where the elected, representative undergraduate body endorsed the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to weaken Israel and promote the Palestinian cause via economic pressure.

Supporters of the resolution, who comprised nearly 100 percent of the audience, saw the move as a protest against American economic support of what they view as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

And prompted by a new strategy enacted by some of UCLA’s Jewish student groups, including Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J-Street U, supporters of Israel effectively boycotted the hearing in an attempt to discredit and delegitimize UCLA’s strengthening pro-BDS movement. Only about 10 student representatives and members from those three organizations sat together during the hearing. While none of them participated in the public comment period that would have given the floor to dozens of divestment opponents in two-minute intervals, four of them made their case against divestment to the student government during a scripted 15-minute speech.

“We are not going to have our community sit through however long a session of bullying and hate speech,” said Tammy Rubin in an interview before the hearing began. Rubin is the president emeritus of Hillel at UCLA. She said that unlike last year, Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J-Street U will now use the time not spent on opposing symbolic divestment resolutions to “reinvest in our community.”

“We’re not not fighting it [divestment],” Rubin said. “We are just fighting it strategically in a different way.”

Gil Bar-Or, president of the UCLA branch of J-Street U, described an approach that would differ markedly from that of last year’s pro-Israel community, which passionately and publicly opposed divestment actions in a climate of toxic relations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students.

“We are trying to present an approach that’s creating positive things for both people that are involved in the conflict and not alienating anybody,” Bar-Or said. “In order to promote one community’s interests you do not have to trample on the other community’s interests.” In place of rallying against the divestment resolution, Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel, and J-Street U hosted an alternate off-site meeting with about 125 pro-Israel students, where they discussed the thinking behind the new tactics and how Jewish UCLA students can strengthen their community.

At Tuesday evening’s hearing, while dozens of divestment supporters from a broad spectrum of various ethnic, national, religious and gender student groups took the podium during the hour they were granted for public comment, not a single pro-Israel student took the podium, even as the few present divestment opponents brought forward a list of 2,000 students who signed a statement opposing divestment.

And while the public comments coming from the pro-divestment side covered an enormously wide array of political grievances—from exploitative capitalism and U.S. drone strikes to discriminatory gender bathroom rules at UCLA and Chicano feminists—each settled on a similar opinion: UCLA should divest from American companies doing business in parts of Israel. Virtually every public comment was met with a sea of approving snaps and the occasional holler.

Some of the commenters included Arab-American UCLA students who described the plight of friends and relatives who live in the Gaza Strip, and two Palestinian students studying at UCLA—but who were not present—recorded an interview that divestment supporters played on a large projector.

During February’s vote, with no time limit and with members of the public permitted to submit public comments, the hearing went until dawn before the student government voted 7-5 against divestment. This year, though, security guards manned every door, only current UCLA students and approved media were allowed inside, and the student government ensured that the evening would end relatively early—this time officials voted just before midnight.

Just before the vote, when it was already clear that the student government would endorse divestment, Avinoam Baral, an Israeli native and the government’s president, emotionally lambasted divestment supporters, accusing them of targeting Jews and Israelis while purporting to be concerned about human rights in general.

“[The resolution] says this language that it’s not meant to target you, but there’s a difference between intention and action and if our intention is to divest from all countries violating human rights and the actual effect is to only divest from Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, it’s hard for me to take it any other way,” Baral said. “It’s hard for me to not feel targeted.” After Baral concluded, student government representatives voted, and as their votes were tallied, the auditorium erupted in applause. About 20 minutes later, around one hundred divestment supporters gathered outdoors and chanted slogans such as, “Free, free Palestine.”

Just moments after the vote, Amber Latif, a UCLA sophomore and member of the campus branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, was pleased with her side's victory but “unnerved” by Avinoam Baral’s vocal opposition.

“I’m trying to think if there’s anything that we could’ve done to make the Jewish community feel less targeted by this,” Latif said. “But I feel like we did everything to the best of our powers.”

The small and hugely outnumbered pro-Israel group of students that came all sat together and provided some lonely snaps in response to comments by Baral and the other representative who opposed the resolution. Those interviewed reaffirmed their support of the Jewish community’s decision to sit out the divestment vote, but still appeared visibly upset after the council resoundingly endorsed it.

Natalie Charney, the student board president for Hillel at UCLA, led the alternate off-site meeting and, while disturbed by what she saw at the divestment hearing, expressed no regret at Jewish groups’ decisions to avoid it.

“We don’t validate this conversation, not in a space where people are able to spew hatred and anti-Semitism,” Charney said. “We didn’t subject Jewish students, pro-Israel students, to the hate that is in this room.”

Omer Hit, the vice president of Bruins for Israel, said he’s concerned that UCLA may now be perceived as “not a good place for an entire Jewish community.”

“I am thankful that we did not have to bring our entire community to sit through that,” he said. “That would’ve been heartbreaking. Look at it now—it’s already heartbreaking for the six of us that came.”

“I know that this is all a PR thing,” Hit added. “I’m afraid that they were able to dominate that.”

Denounce Sharia everywhere

This week, the Hollywood left finally discovered something it had apparently been missing for the last few decades: States that impose Islamic law, known as Sharia, brutally violate human rights.

This shocking realization came after the Sultan of Brunei, who owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, announced on May 1 that Brunei will implement Sharia, which dictates that homosexuality and extramarital sex be punished with penalties including stoning and amputation. Hollywood reacted with morally righteous indignation, staging protests outside the pink hotel where the preening elite sheltered during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Over the past week, industry groups have relocated events away from the hotel, thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, the Motion Picture & Television Fund and other celebrities’ spasmodic interest in Islam’s violation of human rights.

Welcome to the party, gang. Wish you could have shown up to fight against folks who labeled the war on terror “Islamophobic” and Sharia law worries as racist, while simultaneously labeling domestic conservatives the “American Taliban” and whining about lack of taxpayer-funded birth control pills. Oh, wait. That was you.

Where were you when Tom Hanks was blathering that the war on terror was based on racism and xenophobia? When Woody Harrelson said that the Bush administration pursued “perpetual war” based on racism? When the Council on American-Islamic Relations — an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism case — forced Fox to run disclaimers about the wonders of Islam during “24”? When Michael Moore lamented the Bush era as an “ugly chapter” of Islamophobia in American history?

It turns out that Hollywood’s fresh moral clarity only extends as far as the penthouse suite over at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Countries all over the world practice Sharia, discriminating against women, homosexuals, Christians and Jews. Many of those countries currently fund Hollywood’s biggest stars, work with groups to whom Hollywood kowtows, or own Hollywood’s favorite hotspots.

Matt Damon, for example, took cash from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to make his 2012 box office dud “Promised Land,” a diatribe against fracking. (Naturally, the UAE opposes fracking, given that it could undercut the moneymaking capacity of oil-rich dictatorships.) The UAE operates under Sharia law, which includes death as a punishment for homosexual activity — but that didn’t seem to trouble Damon.

Speaking of the UAE, the Dubai Film Festival draws the best and brightest of Hollywood to that emirate each year, including human rights activists George Clooney, Richard Gere, Ben Affleck and Oliver Stone. Another emirate, Abu Dhabi, has inked rich deals with Warner Bros., Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures. Where’s the outrage?

If the Hollywood set really wants to get serious, perhaps they’ll take a look at separating from Al Gore, who reportedly earned $70 million when the government of Qatar bought Current TV for $500 million. Sodomy is currently punishable by jail time in Qatar. Or, perhaps Hollywoodites will turn their attention to major universities such as Harvard, Columbia and University of California at Berkeley, all of which have accepted major money from the government of Saudi Arabia, a country that punishes homosexuality with death and lashings, whose infamous treatment of females has been common knowledge for years.

No doubt, Hollywood has all of these targets lined up for boycott. Or perhaps they’re too busy targeting Donald Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was caught on tape making racist statements. Sure, Hollywood could have targeted Sterling years ago, based on his alleged racist tendencies toward tenants. Now, they’re the finger-wagging thought police, even as they give awards to Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.

Or maybe they’re too busy promoting the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter, in the wake of Islamic terror group Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 teenage girls in Nigeria last month. Sure, they could have spoken out years ago, placing a spotlight on the rise of a monstrous terror group responsible for tens of thousands of murders. But at the time, they were too busy campaigning for President Barack Obama’s re-election, on the slogan that Osama bin Laden was dead and Detroit was alive. Now, they’re tweeting at a group of terrorists who couldn’t care less what’s trending.

If those causes don’t suffice, there are certainly other exercises in useless self-esteem building by the masters of unearned moral superiority. Because that’s what Hollywood does.

Make no mistake: Hollywood has tremendous power in the public mind. Hollywood singlehandedly shifted American opinions on same-sex marriage, as Vice President Joe Biden rightly pointed out. (It also shifted American opinions on single motherhood, as former Vice President Dan Quayle was excoriated for rightly pointing out.) When Hollywood speaks, people listen. That’s why the Sultan of Brunei reportedly has hired crisis strategist Mark Fabiani, a former Clinton administration insider, to spin the boycott.

The problem is that Hollywood’s selective sense of justice is just that — selective. It’s always geared toward cocktail circuit popularity, not toward consistent moral standards. That’s fine when they’re targeting the right people, but let’s hold them to a higher standard — the standard of common decency. Which means they should apologize to all those they slandered as Islamophobes for opposing Sharia law, and start calling their travel agents and accountants to cut ties with Sharia law supporters. 

BDS and Oxfam — major Super Bowl fail

The political war against Israel, waged through a highly aggressive campaign of “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” (BDS), received its biggest defeat at the Super Bowl in New York and on hundreds of millions of screens around the world. The commercials, including one for the Israeli firm SodaStream, featuring the actress Scarlett Johansson, were more interesting than the game.

In the weeks before the game, Johansson came under intense pressure from the BDS bully squad, which demanded that she pull out and disassociate herself from the Israeli connection. The actress was also a “global ambassador” for the international humanitarian aid group Oxfam, whose leaders repeated these BDS-based demands, in sync with radical anti-Israel groups such as Electronic Intifada. To her immense credit, Johansson rejected the bullying and the accompanying personal attacks, and instead told Oxfam to find another “ambassador.”

By standing firm, Johansson and the owners of SodaStream demonstrated that even the most full-blown BDS attacks can be defeated. In its counterattack, SodaStream exposed the myths that underlie the boycotts and the broader delegitimization campaigns targeting Israel, including the fact that the 500 Palestinian-Arab employees at the Ma’ale Adumim plant (a “settlement” located on the outskirts of Jerusalem) enjoyed the same pay and health benefits as their Israeli counterparts.  

In contrast to previous battles, in this case, it was the proponents and enablers of BDS that were put on the defensive, and they did not do well in this role. Oxfam denied that it was involved in BDS, but the facts proved the contrary. Between 2011 and 2013, the Dutch branch, known as Oxfam Novib, provided almost $500,000 (largely from government funds provided ostensibly for humanitarian aid) to one of the most radical BDS leaders — the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP). This group also received funds from Oxfam GB (Great Britain). The discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the documentation of its role in BDS was highlighted by SodaStream executives and in a number of media articles.

[Related: A tale of two universities]

Although CWP is technically an Israel-based NGO, almost all of its activities are focused externally in promoting boycott campaigns, particularly in Europe. (For political purposes, the Arab and European leaders of BDS, as the NGO Forum of the infamous 2001 U.N. Durban conference showed, often use fringe Israeli and Jewish groups as facades, and this is the case with CWP.) In addition to Oxfam, other funders for CWP’s radical and immoral agenda include government-funded German NGOs, as well as the United Church of Canada, and anti-Israel church groups in Ireland and Holland.

Another myth exposed in the Soda-Stream/Johansson showdown is the claim that BDS is “limited” to opposing the post-1967 Six-Day War occupation and settlements. This myth was quoted by many journalists who did not go beyond the press statements. However, at the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, thousands of boycott advocates clearly stated their goal as the elimination of Jewish sovereign equality regardless of borders — in their words, “the complete international isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.” This objective has not changed.

Omar Barghouti, among the radical leaders and ideologues of the BDS bully squad, has said that “the only ethical solution is a [single] democratic, secular and civic state in historic Palestine,” which means “by definition, Jews will be a minority.” In refuting the myth of limited goals, the fundamentally immoral objectives of BDS have been put out into the open.

In order to move beyond this battle, a wider confrontation is necessary with the BDS industry, which is supported by tens of millions of dollars annually. These massive budgets, manipulated via hidden European government sources, are funneled to radical NGOs, as well as to anti-Israel church groups that often include classical anti-Semitic replacement theology (meaning that Christians have “replaced” the Jews). Beyond Oxfam, other “moral” superpowers taking an active part in the immoral war against Israel include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, whose leaders repeatedly demonstrate their personal and highly destructive anti-Israel obsessions.

The most important lesson is that, notwithstanding their financial backing and political support, BDS anti-Israel bullying and intimidation can be defeated, as demonstrated by SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson.

Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.

BDS: Frustration, but with hope

Senate Bill 160, which calls for targeted divestment from companies that profit off of human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, passed this last week in the University of California, Berkeley, student senate. The debate it sparked left us both frustrated with the broken campus dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hopeful due to the changing conversation in the Berkeley Jewish community.

We come from Jewish homes in Los Angeles, where we spent countless Shabbat mornings in shul and two respective high school semesters studying in Israel. We both arrived at Berkeley as dedicated supporters of Israel looking for an open space in which to ask challenging questions about Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. 

We found that space in J Street U. We found people who believe, just like us, that American Jews have an obligation to protest and discuss the injustices we witness — especially those in Israel, a place with which we have deep, personal connections. 

The fall before we arrived at Berkeley, J Street U was rejected from our Jewish Student Union (JSU). More than a year later, we still hear members of the new JSU board declare that “now is not the time” for us to be invited into the community. Despite the vibrant support system we have found in J Street U, we still hear others in Hillel murmur that we are not pro-Israel enough. 

Upon hearing that a divestment bill was returning to the senate, we braced ourselves for what we anticipated would be a contentious discussion within Berkeley’s Jewish community. 

Instead, however, members of the Jewish community, representing perspectives from Tikvah to J Street U, were invited to collaborate on writing an actionable alternative to divestment. Although the negative experiences of Berkeley’s 2010 divestment debate still haunted Hillel, with many in our community either disengaged or defensive, we viewed this as a hopeful sign that 2013 would be different.  

Our suggestions to oppose Israel’s occupation and promote American responsibility in achieving a lasting peace became the focus of the bill the student leaders wrote in response to divestment. In Jewish community meetings, the necessity of taking proactive steps toward a two-state solution became central to our messaging.  

Unfortunately, this was not the message heard by the hundreds of students who packed into the senate hearing for the bill. Many members of the Jewish community who spoke emphasized their own marginalization, instead of acknowledging the legitimate grievances presented by Palestinian students and their allies. For example, they defended Israel’s security barrier as a necessary security asset, ignoring how it has bifurcated private Palestinian land and impeded everyday life. 

But problematic rhetoric was not limited to the anti-divestment side. 

Advocates of divestment called for a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea,” ignoring the lengthy history of Jewish connection to the land and directly exacerbating Jewish students’ sense of marginalization. They snickered when Jewish and Israeli students told stories about terrorism, failing to acknowledge these real and legitimate security concerns. Most paradoxically, they mocked students who were seriously attempting to wrestle simultaneously with Israeli and Palestinian narratives of suffering, alienating the people, like us, most interested in finding common ground.

People spoke past each other without truly hearing or respecting the other side’s narrative. They did not realize that recognizing one community’s claim to self-determination inherently requires that they recognize the other. 

We did not support the divestment resolution because it did not explicitly endorse the Jewish people’s right to a homeland, but it is hard for us fully reject its premise. We recognize the bill as a well-intentioned effort to fix real problems we, too, are frustrated with, and we had hoped to convince the senate to choose alternative actions that would constructively engage more members of the Jewish community.

Moreover, as part of the anti-divestment community, we could not ignore the irony of hearing our peers declare themselves, “pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace.” The same members of the Jewish community who have previously sought to exclude our message from the JSU suddenly selectively appropriated it on the senate floor without internalizing what those words mean.

To those students, we say, join us. 

We believe that peace can come in our lifetimes and that we have an important role in bringing it. We are proud that, at the Berkeley senate meeting, many in our community pressed for a two-state solution. We hope to hear these same individuals speak out against settlement expansion, support democratic rights for all who live within Israel’s borders, and be willing to openly criticize Israel’s human rights violations — and not just when they are desperate to defeat divestment.

The Jewish community will only be considered a serious partner in campus discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once we demonstrate our commitment to making the necessary sacrifices for peace. If we can back up our rhetoric with serious action and sustained political engagement to achieve a two-state solution, hopefully we will empower pragmatic moderates on the other side to do the same.

Berkeley’s divestment debate was just the beginning. Join us, and let’s prove to our peers that the Jewish community is committed to peace, justice and freedom for all — and that we, too, have a strategy for acting on our values.

Shayna Howitt and Zoe Lewin are undergraduate students at University of California, Berkeley.

Hawking and Mohammed

There was so much Jewish outrage last week in the wake of professor Steven Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott against Israel, it’s hard to know where to start.

The most dramatic expression of that outrage could be found in the many commentaries and Facebook posts suggesting that if Hawking is going to boycott Israel, then why not also boycott the Israeli computer chip that enables him to communicate despite his severely handicapped state?

As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote on JPost: “Why would one of the world’s leading academic minds condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional and political life?”

Hawking’s decision was problematic on many levels. Here is the world’s best-known scientist, a widely respected light of academia, adding his name to a vicious and discriminatory campaign to single out and delegitimize the Jewish state.

Who did he think he was helping with his boycott, besides those hell bent on undermining Israel?

Even well-known Israeli peacenik Akiva Eldar called the decision “stupid” and “shallow,” noting that the global boycott movement “is in opposition to Israel per se, and not against the occupation or against the settlements constructed beyond Israel’s formal boundaries …” and that it “advocates an economic, cultural and academic boycott, the withdrawal of all investments, and the implementation of sanctions against Israel, with no distinction made between the two sides of the Green Line.”

Israel has made its share of mistakes over the years, and, like many countries (including the United States), it can get quite heavy-handed and nasty when it feels threatened. This is no wimpy country. It is a tough nation hardened by the sobering fact of living its whole existence surrounded by unstable and hostile neighbors.

Still, despite this chronic hostility, Israel has managed to create a civil society that is, while far from perfect, the freest and most dignified in the Middle East — a society where Arabs have more freedom, human rights and economic opportunities than anywhere else in the region.

On top of that, it has become one of the world’s leading centers for scientific and medical innovation, contributing more scientific advances than all 22 countries of the Middle East combined.

This kind of Jewish success can inspire a lot of jealousy and resentment, especially if you’ve been taught since early childhood to hate the Jews because they’re the “sons of dogs.” No doubt, in my view, this has been a motivating force behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: If you can’t emulate the Jewish state, then delegitimize it.

It is this dark movement Hawking has endorsed with his ill-advised decision. Instead of going after brutal dictatorships, where innocents are murdered and women are stoned to death, he picked on the little country that is consistently and unfairly singled out — Israel.

I have to confess, though, it’s hard for me to muster any negative feelings for someone who has lived his whole life as Hawking has. When I see pictures of him slumped in his wheelchair, I can’t help being moved by how one human being can overcome such overwhelming hardship for so long.

So, instead of getting upset at Hawking, I would rather we invite him to visit the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan.

There, he would meet Mohammed al-Farra, a 3-year-old Arab toddler with no arms and no legs.

As Ruthie Blum noted in Israel Hayom, Mohammed was born in Gaza with a rare genetic disease. His parents abandoned him, and the Palestinian government refused to pay for his care.

As soon as he was born, he was rushed to Israel for emergency treatment. As reported in HuffPost, his genetic disorder left him with a weakened immune system, and an infection destroyed his hands and feet, requiring them to be amputated.

Since then, he has spent his days and nights in an Israeli hospital undergoing treatment and learning how to use prosthetic limbs. His grandfather lives with him. Mohammed has been warmly embraced and cared for by his Israeli doctors, who have arranged for him and his grandfather to live in the sunny pediatric ward.

I wonder what kind of boycott Hawking would have in mind after meeting little Mohammed, and after learning about the thousands of other Arab children from the West Bank and Gaza who are routinely cared for in Israeli hospitals?

Well, I can think of at least one: It would be a boycott of every country in the world that neglects to care for disabled children like Steven Hawking and Mohammed al-Farra. 

There might be a lot of countries on that list, but Israel won’t be one of them

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Oxford students reject boycott Israel motion

A motion calling for blanket sanctions against Israel was rejected by the Oxford University Students’ Union.

According to the website of Britain’s Union of Jewish Students, the OUSU measure calling for the Oxford student union to boycott Israeli institutions, goods and produce lost by a vote of 69-10, with 15 absentions.

“It's encouraging to see that this vote reflects a student body who are willing to discuss the complexities that exist within Israel and do not see boycotting it as a viable option or avenue to discuss the conflict,” said Judith Flacks, the Union of Jewish Students' campaign director.

The motion had called for “research into higher education institutions’ contacts, relations, investment and commercial relationships that may be implicated in violating Palestinian human rights as stated by the BDS [Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestment] movement.”

South Africa’s African National Congress endorses Israel boycott, handing BDS movement a victory

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, voted to make boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel part of its official policy.

In a resolution passed Thursday night, at the tail end of its conference this week, the ANC proclaimed it was “unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel.” The conference called on “all South Africans to support the programs and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”

In a second resolution on protests in Israel focused on illegal African immigrants, the ANC said it “abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and requests that this matter should be escalated to the African Union.”

The ANC said it would set up a steering committee to implement the resolutions.

This marks the first time a boycott Israel resolution has been brought up at an ANC conference. Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa, which pushed hard for the resolution, hailed the vote as a major victory.

“This reaffirmation by the ANC’s National Conference, its highest decision-making body, is by far the most authoritative endorsement of the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel campaign,” he said. “The ANC has now taken its international conference resolutions and officially made it the policy of the ANC. We look forward to working with the ANC and specifically the conference steering committee to expedite its implementation.”

The conference ignored a call for evenhandedness on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by several prominent religious leaders in a front-page open letter in the country's largest newspaper, the Sunday Times. The umbrella body of the country's Jewish community, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, issued a similar call and requested that a letter on the matter be read at the conference; the request was ignored.

The pro-BDS vote “was not unexpected,” Mary Kluk, national chairwoman of the Board of Deputies, told JTA. She said she had not yet seen the official text of the resolutions. “We will be engaging with the president early next year and will discuss it then.”

She said a meeting with President Jacob Zuma had been confirmed. “It would be premature to comment further,” she said.

South African officials have been adopting an increasingly harsh line toward Israel in recent months. A deputy minister of international relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, has called on South Africans not to visit Israel, and South African Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies promoted a ban on goods from Jewish West Bank. Deputy President and current ANC Chairwoman Baleka Mbete also expressed support for the BDS campaign against Israel at a recent international conference in South Africa.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions put allies at odds

As a long-time advocate for peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am pained that frustration over failure to achieve a just and lasting peace has led allies in the struggle to end up at odds over tactics like boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Two years ago, the organization I head, J Street, was honored with an invitation to speak at a breakfast hosted by a Presbyterian Church (USA) peacemaking group—a long-time ally in the struggle for Middle East peace. But we attended with heavy hearts.

A PCUSA committee had just offered an alarming and problematic Middle East study report referencing J Street as a source of inspiration. We explained then, and have reiterated ever since, that, in our view, the one-sided, extreme rhetoric that accompanies the Global BDS Movement makes a mutually agreeable solution more difficult to achieve, not less. Thankfully, at that time, the Church heard our arguments and rejected the divestment resolutions.

[Related: PCUSA could mean end of Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue]

Now, two years later, PCUSA is poised again to consider divestment this week at its General Assembly. As an activist, as an ally and as someone to whom the future of Israel and Palestine matters enormously, I’m hoping they will once again avoid this unproductive path.

As the Presbyterian Church knows, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear for decades: the establishment of two states, living side by side in peace and security; a mutually acceptable resolution of the refugee issue; and a shared Jerusalem. For years, the PCUSA has supported a two-state solution on this basis.

I would say to the Church’s leaders as they again consider joining forces with the BDS Movement, that the Movement’s rhetoric and tactics are not only a distraction, but a genuine threat to conflict resolution. Even the limited divestment approach under consideration by PCUSA falls under the rubric of larger BDS efforts to place blame entirely on one side of the conflict. Such an approach encourages not reconciliation, but polarization. Further, too many in and around the BDS movement refuse to acknowledge either the legitimacy of Israel or the right of the Jewish people as well as the Palestinian people to a state.

Pro-peace, pro-Israel advocacy has gained traction in the American Jewish community by embracing the mutuality inherent in the two-state solution. We reject a zero-sum approach, which says that to be pro-Israel means one must be anti-Palestinian—or vice versa. We seek a win-win solution.

We want to see Israel thrive as a Jewish homeland and a democracy, and we want to see a Palestinian state established, because Palestinians deserve to live in dignity in their own state too.

Thus, the Jewish pro-peace, pro-Israel community calls for an end to settlement expansion, the promotion of human rights, securing Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy and establishing a thriving Palestine. We call for bold American and international diplomatic initiatives, starting with a push to define mutually-agreed borders.

But turning to tactics like BDS deepens divisions and fails to promote reconciliation.

I understand that frustration is rising over diplomatic stagnation, and I know that advocates for peace are attracted to tactics like BDS that create the impression of action. But, to date, pursuit of these tactics has promoted little more than debate and division—and done nothing to facilitate movement toward reconciliation.

Advocates for peace and two states are fighting an uphill and increasingly urgent battle. Just as the opportunity to achieve a two-state peace grows narrower, the debate over BDS is sapping the resources of those working for peace by creating new and deep divisions among those who should be allies working together for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

If PCUSA disregards the voices of its Jewish allies in the quest for a two-state solution and votes to support divestment, it won’t bring a just peace any closer. It will merely lose the good will of many American Jews and further dissipate the energies we so desperately need to apply to the task at hand.

At base we share a common goal: to see the establishment of a two-state resolution of the conflict. Everything we do needs to be geared toward that goal. Several American Christian organizations have made the choice to continue the fight for two states by advocating for bold American leadership in achieving a two-state solution on Capitol Hill and embracing positive steps, including economic development, programs that foster reconciliation and other constructive work, for the shared benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

I call on PCUSA to do likewise—to not move away from its natural allies, but to stick with us. Reject divestment, and embrace full-on pursuit of the diplomatic efforts necessary to create genuine and lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinian people.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street, the political home of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

Israeli military chief apologizes for gaffe

The chief of Israel’s armed forces apologized for joking about boycotts by some religious soldiers of female entertainment troupes.

During an inspection of Golan forces Tuesday, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz was asked by Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the duties of several female soldiers standing nearby.

“They sing during recesses. We bring them over during recess to sing,” Gantz quipped as television cameras rolled.

Barak responded by pointing to one of his civilian aides and saying, “She can sing. She’s not in uniform.”

That drew a bawdier joke from the local commander, Col. Ofek Buchris: “As long as she’s not in uniform, but she’s wearing clothes, it’s OK.”

The exchange, aired on national television, touched a nerve given the military high command’s efforts to curb complaints within the ranks that performances by conscripted female singers offend Orthodox Jewish sensibilities. The controversy has flowed into a wider debate as to the growing influence of religious soldiers in the armed forces.

Gantz exacerbated the affair by telling reporters who observed the Golan repartee that they should not publish it.

The Israel Defense Forces issued a statement Wednesday saying Gantz “clarifies that his remarks were made jovially and that the interpretation appended to them contradicts the chief of staff’s outlook and his record of advancing women in the IDF.”

“The chief of staff has further emphasized that he apologizes before anyone who took offense at his words.”

Just Say No to NPR

Recent boycotts of media outlets, launched mostly by grass-roots groups concerned about anti-Israel bias, have prompted criticism from a few establishment Jewish organizations that have argued that because the Jews and Israel have been the victims of boycotts, the tactic is illegitimate and immoral.

But these arguments ignore certain basics.

First, to state the obvious, the current campaigns bear no resemblance to the protracted, global economic, diplomatic and cultural exclusions Israel has suffered or the ferocious campaigns against Jewish businesses in Nazi-era Europe. Those anti-Jewish boycotts, dictated by ruling regimes, were rooted in a hateful bigotry and aimed at the elimination of a people and a state, not the redress of an offending policy.

The protests against The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and others are initiatives by individuals, not governments, and are freely joined by anyone who accepts the arguments of the campaigners. No one is compelled to end their subscriptions to the publications, just as no one, surely, is compelled to continue them.

Boycotts in the American context have long been a tool of consumer complaint and social policy activism, sometimes an effective one — often not — and Jews, including Jewish organizations, have participated in them.

For example, was the Central Conference of American Rabbis wrong in 1985 to call on 1.2 million Reform congregants to boycott nonunion California grapes in support of Cesar Chavez’s campaign?

From another perspective, to say that boycotts should not be used by Jews because Jews have been the victims of boycotts makes no more sense than to assert that because guns and soldiers have been wielded against Jews and Israel, Jews should forego their use, no matter what the provocation, in order to present a more pure moral face to the world.

Although the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has not initiated or sponsored boycott campaigns against any national or regional newspapers, there has been a call to suspend financial support for one media outlet until its harmful anti-Israel bias ends.

That institution is National Public Radio (NPR).

The network receives tax support, both directly and indirectly, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and aggressively solicits financial gifts from listeners and underwriters (who are actually business and institutional advertisers). A matrix of local and national boards cultivates supporters and helps advance NPR’s fundraising efforts.

Are Jewish listeners under obligation to provide both the involuntary support to NPR, entailed in their taxes allotted to the network, and additional donations in response to the constant entreaties by station managers and NPR officials?

Are Jewish listeners duty bound to send checks to help finance programming in which grave allegations are routinely leveled at Israel without a single Israeli given the right of response?

The many examples of distortion are far too numerous to recite in detail. A July 1 program, for instance, charged that Israel continuously shoots at innocent sewer repairmen in Gaza, thwarting efforts to assure healthy conditions for Palestinian civilians. So relentless are Israeli snipers, according to NPR, that international “activists” must position themselves, physically, between the shooters and the repairmen. Palestinian “human rights” and medical workers all join in attesting to the allegedly malevolent role of Israel.

But not a single Israeli is permitted to answer the charges.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesmen categorically denied the NPR claims to CAMERA and said, moreover, NPR had never contacted them about the story. The IDF spokesman also noted that the network’s reporters rarely call to fact check allegations made against the military.

Under public pressure in this instance, NPR posted a note on its Web site expressing “regrets” for failing to include any Israeli spokesman. The regrets were not broadcast on-air where a substantial audience might hear them, nor was there a follow-up story presenting the Israeli version of events.

The “regrets” were evidently insincere since one-sided, accusatory coverage continues unabated.

An especially incendiary story on Aug. 31 by Anne Garrels included six Palestinians leveling charges against Israel for allegedly depriving them of needed water in West Bank towns.

No Israeli or pro-Israel voices were included.

Garrels herself added to the deceptions, twice stating that only half of West Bank towns have tap water. What she neglected to mention is that all towns were given the option of being connected to the National Water Carrier to tap water, but some refused on political grounds, refusing to recognize Israel’s presence in any guise.

That excluded bit of information would have radically altered Garrels’ story of blameless Palestinians victimized by stone-hearted Israelis. But her reports are typically short on factual accuracy and long on emotive editorializing.

Troubled at rising public dismay over the coverage, NPR executives have responded, not by rigorous attention to assuring every broadcast is balanced and accurate, but by hiring a PR firm to help spin their image in the Jewish community.

All the while, the distortions continue.

A media outlet unwilling to address serious substantive complaints through the normal channels of interaction over a more than a decade, which is the case with NPR, cannot expect the Jewish community to underwrite unfair and damaging distortions.

What self-respecting people supports its own defamation?

Andrea Levin is executive director of CAMERA,

World Briefs

Arafat Calls for Elections

Israeli politicians and pundits alike were skeptical after Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat called this week for new Palestinian elections.

Arafat called on Palestinian legislators to make “speedy preparations” for new elections, but mentioned no date. In an address Wednesday before the Palestinian legislative council, Arafat also said it is “time for change and reform” in the Palestinian Authority. Arafat offered a rare acknowledgment that he has made mistakes, but he placed most of the blame for the current crisis on Israel. At the start of the speech, Arafat vowed that the Palestinians would never give up their dream for freedom, independence and sovereignty. Arafat’s speech came on the day of Al-Nakba Arabic for the “catastrophe” which marks the founding of the state of Israel.

Report Links P.A. to Terrorism

A U.S. State Department report says “there is no conclusive evidence” that Palestinian leaders had advanced knowledge of terrorist attacks against Israel. But the semiannual report, which assesses the Palestinian Authority’s action from July through December 2001, says Palestinian leaders knew about the involvement of the Al-Aksa Brigades, Tanzim and members of the Force 17 presidential guard in terrorist attacks “and did little to rein them in.”

U.S. to Act Against Boycotts

The U.S. Department of Commerce plans to enforce regulations prohibiting Americans from supporting anti-Israel boycotts. “The U.S. government stands firm in its policy of opposing restrictive trade practices or boycotts against Israel,” Kenneth Juster, under secretary of commerce for industry and security, said Tuesday. U.S. law prohibits Americans from supporting unsanctioned boycotts by foreign governments.

Jewish Teens Attacked Near Paris

French police are searching for those responsible for a weekend attack on five Jewish teenagers in a Paris suburb. A gang of around 10 people, described by police as being of North African origin, beat the youths Sunday in the suburb of Saint Maur Des Fosses. “According to witnesses, the attackers shouted racist insults like ‘Go back where you came from. You don’t belong here,’ beat them up, then broke into their car and stole some of their CDs,” a local police official said Tuesday.

All briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.