Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks after a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Oct. 2, 2016. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NFL players flap upends Israel’s PR game plan


Almost 30 years ago, the late theater impresario Joe Papp got into hot water when he canceled a scheduled production of a pro-Palestinian play at his flagship Manhattan theater, the Public.

Rumors flew at the time that he caved in to pressure from wealthy Jewish donors, but Papp — born Joseph Papirofsky but muted in his Jewish identity most of his life — had a more personal explanation: “Having so recently reasserted his Jewishness but having never presented an Israeli or Palestinian play,” a JTA article explained, “he didn’t want his first statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be seen as pro-Palestinian.”

Papp’s decision was seen at the time as a small victory by the pro-Israel camp, an insult to the Arab community — and an embarrassment by champions of artistic freedom. But at a news conference where Papp explained his decision, I heard something else: a curious citizen of the world who didn’t want to enlist in anybody’s propaganda war.

I remembered the Papp incident when I read that Seattle Seahawks defender Michael Bennett and some other NFL players were backing out of a trip to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government and America’s Voices in Israel, an initiative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Bennett apparently pulled out after reading an article about the trip in The Times of Israel, which included official statements by two Israeli Cabinet ministers saying the trip was intended to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the pro-Palestinian narrative about Israel.

Gilad Erdan, whose varied portfolio includes public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy, said he hoped the visit would offer the players “a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world.” Fighting BDS, he said, “includes hosting influencers and opinion-formers of international standing in different fields, including sport.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin hoped the players would come home with “positive stories about Israel” that would “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state.”

On Feb. 8, Bennett tweeted that he was not going to Israel, complaining that “I was not aware, until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel, that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’ I will not be used in such a manner.”

He pledged to come to Israel one day, and to visit the West Bank and Gaza, “so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

It’s not clear how much the players knew about the sponsors or the purposes of the trip before accepting. The America’s Voices in Israel Facebook page explains that it “organizes week-long missions to Israel for prominent headline-makers with widespread credibility,” in order to generate stories about Israel that “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish State.” Accounts of the trips show an itinerary heavy on holy and historical sites, fine dining and visits to Israel’s highly regarded human services sector, like a program for people with special needs. The trips are often led by Voices’ director, a rabbi with a background in right-leaning efforts promoting Israel.

Still, my guess is the players didn’t know much about the organizers. Nor did they appreciate the politically charged nature of visiting the region. Every country has a tourism board that tries to entice celebrities with free trips and deluxe accommodations. In recent years, the Golden Globes swag bag has included round-trip tickets to Fiji and a free stay at a five-star resort.

The difference is that Fiji is not a global hot spot, and if anyone is boycotting Fiji it has more to do with a bad Yelp review than an organized political campaign. The BDS movement is intent on demonizing Israel and shaming celebrities who don’t revile the country or are open to hearing both sides of the story.

The day before Bennett announced he wasn’t going, the Nation published an “Open Letter to NFL Players Traveling to Israel on a Trip Organized by Netanyahu’s Government.” Signed by Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and others, it is a model in the effort to de-normalize Israel. Quoting Erdan, they assert that the trip was “designed explicitly to improve Israel’s image abroad to counter worldwide outrage over its massacres and war crimes.” Addressing African-Americans like Bennett, it links the Palestinian cause to that of “black and brown communities in the United States.”

And their complaint is not just about the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, but a Jewish nation-state “with more than 50 laws that privilege Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens.” One of its strangest passages compares Trump’s travel ban on refugees with Israeli restrictions on migrants trying to enter the country illegally from its tense border with Egypt. (Needless to say, the letter does not address why these “asylum seekers” from Sudan and Eritrea see Israel as a more desirable destination than the countries they are fleeing and the Muslim-majority countries they must pass through to get there.)

Like the Israelis, the BDS groups who signed the letter also employ celebrities in the battle of hearts and minds — citing musicians like Lauryn Hill and Roger Waters who have refused to play in Israel. The question for Israel is whether it should fight fire with fire — celebrity with celebrity — in waging public diplomacy.

The good news for Israel is that its opponents often overplay their hand. BDS is not a “peace movement” in the sense that it wants two viable, secure states for Israelis and Palestinians. The letter to NFL players says BDS will target Israel until it “complies with international law and guarantees Palestinian rights” — an intentionally unspecific formula that coupled with the activists’ refusal to talk about a two-state solution or the Jews’ right to a state of their own suggests their ultimate goal is a single binational state.

Perhaps Bennett and the other no-show players caved to the BDS side, although the NFL story is playing in Israel as a fumble on the part of Erdan and Levin. By making explicit the implicit purpose of the “mission,” they put the players in an untenable position. Israel is understandably eager to seize on signs of normalcy in the face of the BDS assault. But sometimes discretion is the better part of hasbara. In recent years Israel has pushed the “Brand Israel” tactic of public diplomacy, backing efforts to promote Israel’s accomplishments in the arts, technology, science and gay rights. When the government’s fingerprints are obvious, such events have inspired protests at film festivals, museums and theaters.

Maybe the problem is contained in the word “mission,” borrowed by Jews from Christian evangelists and suggesting a trip meant to win converts. Perhaps a better model for these kinds of trips is a symposium or a fact-finding trip, exposing visitors not just to what makes Israel fun and inspiring, but to its challenges in all their complexity. If celebs knew they were going to get a range of perspectives on the country and the conflict, perhaps they’d feel more confident in telling the BDS crowd to back off.

To Bennett’s credit, he signals that he has an open mind, and that when he does visit, he’ll hear from both sides. If he does, he’ll experience an Israeli and Palestinian reality infinitely more complex — more multicultural, more historically aware, less reductive — than the patronizingly binary picture scrawled by the authors of the open letter. And he just might discover that Israel has the more convincing story to tell.

Pro-Palestinians disrupt NYC Council hearing on anti-BDS resolution


Pro-Palestinian activists and members of the Black Lives Matter movement on Thursday continuously disrupted a hearing held by the New York City Council Committee on Contracts on a 

Pro-Palestinian activists now interrupting “>pic.twitter.com/ujeFwJi2Rv

— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) " charset="utf-8">

California’s Senate passes bill targeting Israel boycotts


A bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel took a final step towards passage in the California legislature as the state Senate voted 34-1 to approve Assembly Bill 2844 on Aug. 24.

The bill faced a long and winding path to approval by the Senate, passing through a number of iterations in an attempt to satisfy concerns about free speech.

Whereas other state bills aimed at rebuking the BDS movement may violate First Amendment rights, AB 2844 skirts those concerns, said Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill to the Senate.

“We carefully crafted this bill to not fall into any of those pits,” he said.

The idea behind AB 2844 when “>dub it “no longer a pro-Israel bill.” Bloom encouraged his colleagues to pass it anyway so that it could be salvaged in the Senate, and it passed without opposition.

Then, on June 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee tweaked the bill into roughly its current form.

Now, the measure doesn’t forbid contractors from boycotting Israel. Instead, it requires that companies certify they don’t violate state civil rights law in the course of boycotting a sovereign nation recognized by the United States – including Israel, the only country mentioned by name.

“We are looking not at people’s individual rights to speak, but whether or not what they’re doing violates existing California laws against discrimination,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who chairs the judiciary committee.

Block said the bill was intended to target boycotts rooted in anti-Semitism. He pointed out that proponents of BDS don’t seek to boycott Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, which he called far worse human rights violators than Israel.

“They don’t propose boycotting those nations for political reasons, only the Jewish state,” he said on the Senate floor. “Why only the Jewish state?”

The BDS movement, said Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Riverside), is “rooted in the same anti-Semitism that has surrounded Israel since its founding.”

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) was the only legislator to vote against the measure.

“Those standards already apply,” he said of the anti-discrimination measures proposed by the bill. “So we have a bill on the floor that seeks to affirm laws that already exist and people are held accountable for already.”

He went on, “I would have much rather seen the energy generated around this bill be directed towards bringing stakeholders together on our campuses and in our communities to model the type of dialogue that is so desperately needed.”

The bill has until Aug. 31 to gain re-approval in the Assembly before the legislative session ends.

From the beginning, the bill received strong support from the mainstream Jewish community. Block dismissed as “fringe groups” the Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, who have denounced the measure.

“Now we have another tool in our toolbox” in the fight against BDS, said Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Coalition for Action (IAX), which has led the move to pass AB 2844.

Evenhaim said that once the bill becomes law, IAX would look to see that it’s used to halt discriminatory boycotts against Israel.

“We’re not just going to frame [the bill] and hang it,” he said. “It’s a much longer fight and a much longer process.”

Dillon Hosier, the national director of state and local government affairs for IAX, said the federal government is producing a list of companies “engaged in a coercive political boycott against Israel.”

Once that list is composed it “will be a strong resource” in using AB 2844 to combat BDS in California.

In a joint phone interview, both officials praised the efforts by the legislature to fine-tune the measure.

“The bill was modified to really be very strong and secure from a constitutional perspective while also frankly confronting directly BDS and its effects,” Hosier said.

He said he’s continuing to work with Bloom and expects the bill to receive a vote in the Assembly on Aug. 29.

But the updates made to the bill as it wound its way through the legislature failed to quiet its opponents.

“From the start, the aim of AB 2844 has been to punish and chill First Amendment protected conduct – BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom,” Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal, said in an emailed statement. “The sponsors have jumped through hoops and hurdles trying to amend the bill to make it ‘less unconstitutional,’ but you can't fix a fundamentally flawed bill.”

BDS bill headed to California Senate floor next week


As early as late next week, the California Senate could vote on a bill signaling the California legislature’s disapproval of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, according to Guy Strahl, the legislative director for Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, who wrote the bill.

A 6-0 vote on Aug. 11 by the seven-member Senate’s Appropriations Committee cleared the way for the bill to go to the floor. Sen. Jim Beall was absent for the vote.

Though Strahl said Bloom is still looking for a Senate floor manager, the legislator intends to put the measure before the upper chamber as soon as possible. Because of procedural time limits, Aug. 18 is the first day it could see a vote, he said.

The bill mandates that companies contracting with the state certify that any policy they might have boycotting a nation recognized by the U.S., including but not limited to Israel, does not violate state and federal civil rights law.

Prior to the Aug. 11 vote, the committee determined the bill would cost upwards of $370,000 to implement in its first year on the books, a price tag that sent it to the so-called “suspense file,” a waiting list of bills deemed expensive enough to merit further review. Since that determination, an amendment made at Bloom’s request significantly reduced the projected cost of the measure, Strahl said.

In its previous form, the bill forwarded complaints about boycott policies directly to the attorney general. Bloom’s amendment drops that mandatory review and allows civil rights complaints to be vetted through relevant state agencies, such as the Department of General Services (DGS), which overseas contractors.

The measure has faced a long and winding road through various committees in both houses of the legislature. Consideration on the Senate floor would be among the final steps to passage. If the Senate approves the bill, it will head back to the Assembly, where it has already passed once, to be considered again.

Why Spain is standing up to BDS — for now


Only last year, Spain was still the undisputed bastion for the BDS movement in Europe.

Some 50 Spanish municipalities had passed resolutions in recent years endorsing BDS — an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — more than in any other European country.

Relying on backing from a strong far left, the branches of Spain’s BDS movement were able to exert considerable pressure.

Last August, BDS activists pressured the organizers of a reggae festival near Barcelona to demand that the American-Jewish singer Matisyahu sign a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Matisyahu, who was the only artist asked to sign the document, was disinvited when he declined. He wasreinvited following an international outcry over what was perceived as an anti-Semitic measure.

It was not an unusual occurrence in a country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and where Jews are often conflated with Israel — including by a Catalan lawmaker who in May demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent.”

But the wind has shifted for BDS in Spain, where the movement recently was labeled discriminatory in a series of legal defeats and resentment growing against its activists because they oppose trade with Israel at a time of economic crisis.

Over the past year, pro-Israel activists have obtained 24 rulings, legal opinions and injunctions against BDS in Spain, according to ACOM, a nonprofit based in Madrid. Thanks to litigation by its volunteer team, including several lawyers, BDS motions have been repealed, defeated or suspended this year in a dozen Spanish municipalities.

“The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” said ACOM’s president, Angel Mas. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.”

Last month in Campezo, a town 210 miles north of Madrid, an ACOM ultimatum forced the City Council to scrap a resolution passed in June in support of BDS. ACOM threatened to sue based on precedents set this year in Spanish tribunals ruling that BDS is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

In January, Spain’s Council of State, the country’s highest consulting body, made a similar ruling, forcing the government to compensate a West Bank Israeli university to the tune of $107,000 over its exclusion for political reasons from a state-sponsored scientific competition.

Such rulings are commonplace in neighboring France, where BDS is included among other forms of illegal discrimination against countries or their citizens under a 2003 law introduced by Pierre Lellouche, a Jewish lawmaker. Dozens of BDS activists have been convicted in France of inciting hate or discrimination based on the Lellouche law and other legislation. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in February said it would pass similar laws.

But in Spain, where a judge in 2009 opened a war-crimes probe against the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such strong judiciary treatment of BDS is unexpected and revolutionary, according to Yigal Palmor, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman who had served in Spain during the 1990s as cultural attache.

Palmor said the BDS shift coincided with several developments in Spain that were welcomed by Israeli diplomats and Jewish community leaders. They include legislation to naturalize Sephardic Jews, support for Israel’s position on Palestinian statehood, a crackdown on anti-Semitic hate speech and a massive investment in the restoration of Jewish heritage sites.

Palmor attributes these changes to a mix of factors, including Spain’s gradual adoption of European standards on hate speech, improved rule of law and the election of a relatively stable centrist government.

And then there’s the effect of the financial crisis. Many Spaniards feel their country cannot afford to spurn any partners – especially not an affluent Western country like Israel. Last year, Spain had 21 percent unemployment and 45 percent among workers under 25.

The effects of the financial crisis on popular attitudes toward BDS were on full display last month in the northern city of Santiago de Compostella. After its City Council passed a nonbonding resolution supporting BDS, Israel’s national airline El Al reportedly ended talks on opening a direct connection to the city.

Local politicians for Spain’s centrist Popular Party accused the local government, led by a far-left party, of sabotaging the local tourism industry and precious jobs.

Israel, whose GDP per capita in 2015 was 36 percent higher than Spain’s $25,831, provides Spain with approximately 350,000 tourists annually.

Some observers also see a financial incentive in Spain’s historic legislation last year to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews with ties to Spain.

Spanish officials described the move as correcting the historical wrong done to Iberian Jews during the Spanish Inquisition – a state- and church-backed campaign of persecution that began in 1492 and was not abolished until 1834. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and countless others became Christians under duress.

At least 4,500 of their descendants became Spanish citizens under the legislation in a process that generated millions of euros in revenue for Spanish notaries, government offices and language instructors. The legislation coincided with several Spanish initiatives to draw wealthy residents from abroad as well as tourists.

In 2004, Spain’s Congress passed a nonbinding motion conditioning support for Palestinian statehood on direct negotiations between both sides. The motion was considered a diplomatic victory for Israel and its supporters, especially after the parliaments of Britain, France and several other European countries pledged unconditional support for Palestine.

Until recently, Spain’s largely independent judiciary was subject to pressure from BDS supporters, noted Ramon Pérez-Maura, a journalist for Spain’s ABC network.

“The problem was pressure and intimidation of judges by lobby groups with anarchist traditions and violent tactics,” he told JTA. “There has been a crackdown on this sort of thuggery and this has empowered the judiciary, not only on Israel.”

Representatives of the BDS movement in Spain did not respond to JTA’s requests for an interview. But a campaign launched on their website in April showed they are feeling the heat.

In a petition titled “Stop criminalizing BDS,” they asserted that “activists of non-violent struggle [against Israel] are under threat.” They urged the European Commission to enforce in Spain “human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to boycott.”

Though Spain has modernized greatly since the fall in 1975 of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, “it is still a decade or two arrears in many areas” compared to other Western European countries, Palmor said. Many Spaniards display strong anti-American – and by proxy, anti-Israeli — sentiment and “a worldview of Jews that’s at times based on medieval imagery,” he said.

With a Jewish population of only 6,000, there is “a lot of ignorance about Jews,” Palmor said. That manifests itself in phenomena that hardly occur elsewhere in Western Europe, including the airing of anti-Semitic screeds on public radio and cases like the Matisyahu affair.

Those tendencies suggest why Mas of the ACOM group is not celebrating his victories over BDS just yet. He calls it a fight against a rival much larger and stronger than his group of volunteers.

“The Spanish Jewish community is small and overstretched,” he said. “It’s not the kind of community that can easily confront over time a challenge presented by well-entrenched activists with foreign funding and a foothold in government.”

Israeli task force formed to locate, deport BDS activists


A new Israeli government task force is being formed to deport anti-Israel activists at work in the country.

The committee, announced on Sunday by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri, will be tasked with locating and expelling activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel who are in the country and with preventing those outside the country from entering.

The task force “is a necessary step in light of the malicious intentions of delegitimization activists who act to spread lies and twist the reality in our region,” Erdan said in his announcement, according to The Jerusalem Post. Erdan also serves as Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Erdan announced the task force and called on his followers to report any activists hiding in the country as “imposter tourists.”

“Boycotting Israel must have a price,” he said.

Presbyterians vote to “re-evaluate” two-state solution


The Anti-Defamation League expressed “disappointment” after the Presbyterian Church USA passed several resolutions aimed at pressuring Israel and re-evaluating church support for the two-state solution.

The church’s General Assembly, held in Portland, ended on Sunday.

Among the resolutions passed was approval of the report of a committee charged with studying the two-state solution and possible alternatives, “including but not limited to that of two sovereign states — Israel and Palestine.” The report, approved 429 to 129, said that the church “stands with the people of Israel, affirming their right to exist as a sovereign nation” just as they affirm such rights for Palestinians.

However, the report also suggest that facts on the ground, mostly but not solely the fault of Israel, have made the possibility of a two-state solution dim if not impossible.

Another resolution called for the “prayerful study” of the church’s use of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and opposition to BDS.

A third resolution urged the realty company RE/MAX to stop sales of property within Jewish settlements. Supporters of the overture reportedly said they received prior to the General Assembly a letter from RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger stating that the company “will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank.”

In its statement the ADL lamented that the church opened discussions over a single state or “bi-national” solution to the conflict, and that it supported economic pressure on Israel or its settlements.

“We are deeply disappointed with the Presbyterian Church’s decision to embrace motions which forward arguments in favor of a bi-national state and of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” Rabbi David Sandmel, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, said in a statement. “Any alternative to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would mean the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a view that is offensive to millions of Israelis and Jews around the world.”

The report by the church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy acknowledges that alternatives to the two-state solution are  “less attractive political possibilities,” including a “Jewish dominated state that further oppresses the Palestinians, or a potential Arab/Muslim majority state that could conceivably subject Jewish Israelis to expulsion or subjugation.”

The plenary also approved a report submitted by the Advisory Committee supporting measures that revoke tax deductions and 501(c) 3 status to organizations that promote and finance Israeli settlements. It encouraged Congress to investigate the use of U.S.-made equipment in so-called Israeli human rights violations, and supporting the enforcement of laws requiring the labeling of settlement products as such.

The church itself acknowledged that delegates to the Assembly were divided over the Advisory Committee’s paper, with some saying that its “tone and rhetoric … did not promote  reconciliation.” Those critics “urged more balance in speaking about  violence and injustices committed by both Palestinians and Israelis,”according to the church’s own Presbyterian News Service.

On Saturday, the Unitarian Universalists at their General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio voted on a resolution to divest from Israel.

The measure garnered the votes of 54 percent of the delegates, a vote of 774 to 646, but did not muster the two-thirds majority necessary for passage.

Fight BDS with a pro-Palestinian narrative


After attending two anti-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) conferences in New York City over two days last week – one organized by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and one by the Conference of Presidents – I have some clarity about how to combat this demon.

Yes, demon. I know there’s a “cool crowd” in the Jewish community that underplays the BDS threat and argues that by fighting it so loudly and directly, we give it too much attention. That crowd often reminds us that, so far, the BDS movement has failed to inflict any real economic damage on Israel, and that, if anything, investment in Israel is booming. 

This economic news may be comforting, but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a big mistake to view BDS strictly by the numbers. The purpose of the movement goes far beyond hurting Israel's economy – its core mission is to poison Israel’s image.

“It is working far better and spreading into the mainstream much faster than we had anticipated,” BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said in an interview last week with Bloomberg. 

What is spreading into the mainstream is an orchestrated propaganda campaign that brands Israel as an anti-peace, all-powerful colonialist bully oppressing the helpless Palestinians.

It is the call to boycott that damages Israel, whether or not any actual boycott takes place. That’s why the boycott strategy is a brilliant PR maneuver. It reinforces the malignant narrative that Israel is the evil bully worthy of being boycotted.

If you're pro-Israel and anti-BDS, how do you combat such a strong narrative?

There’s only one way: You must reframe the enemy. Who hurts the Palestinians most? It is their corrupt leaders who glorify terrorism, who teach their people to hate Jews, who have rejected every offer of a Palestinian state and who pilfer humanitarian aid for their fancy villas, private jets and Swiss bank accounts.

Listen to Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Ayyad, who knows all about Palestinian corruption. In an interview last week with Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media network, Ayyad noted that, since the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994, Arabs living under the organization “only hear about corruption from it.”

In its entire existence, Ayyad asserted, the PA “hasn’t built a single kindergarten” for its people.

Ayyad is simply confirming what many of us have long figured out: The corrupt PA, just like its BDS mouthpiece, is out to crush Israel rather than assist the Palestinian people. 

This is the Achilles heel of the BDS movement: It has done absolutely nothing to promote peace or help improve Palestinian lives.

Anti-BDS activists must take advantage of this BDS hypocrisy to expose the movement as a fraud. Even more, they should create a counter movement to do precisely what BDS has failed to do – help Palestinians. 

We can call the movement, “Boycott Hate-Embrace Peace.” 

Among other things, this movement should hold Palestinian leaders accountable to their people.

For example, it could lobby the U.S. Congress to freeze aid to the PA until it can verify that the funds are going directly to the people. Call it the “PA Transparency Bill.” In addition, a special budget would be allocated to fund initiatives that promote normalization and peaceful co-existence.

The movement should enlist Palestinians like Bassem Ayyad to appear at U.S. college campuses to testify against the PA’s corrupt leaders and to promote the “Boycott Hate- Embrace Peace” movement. These testimonials should run as ads in college papers and in mainstream and social media to disseminate how the PA and BDS have abandoned the Palestinians.

In the U.S., one prominent fighter against BDS already is none other than presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who wrote last year in a letter to Jewish leaders:

“BDS seeks 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. From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith… in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Exposing BDS as harmful to Palestinians is the best way to ambush the movement and put it on the defensive. And if we get lucky, it may even be good for peace.

How California’s anti-BDS bill became ‘no longer a pro-Israel bill’


A growing split over Israel within the Democratic Party appears to be spilling over into the California legislature.

Just three months ago, an anti-Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) bill being considered in Sacramento appeared to be on track to become a sure win for pro-Israel politicians and advocacy groups aiming to stem the growing BDS movement.

That bill, AB 2844, finally passed the California Assembly on June 2—but not before a Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee had transformed it, to the point that many of the bill’s original backers say they will not support it further unless the state’s Senate makes significant changes.

The latest development of AB 2844 is a twist for a law that Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who introduced the bill, along with other backers, had expected would receive broad support. But AB 2844 had difficulty getting through the Democratic-controlled Assembly’s Committee on Accountability, as well as its Judiciary Committee and, finally, the Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Lorena Gonzalez (D-Chula Vista). 

The bill was initially named the “California Combating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel Act of 2016” and was intended to force all California government agencies to stop doing business with companies participating in a boycott against Israel, which is currently California’s 18th-largest export partner.

But on May 27, by the time the bill came to a vote in the Appropriations Committee, it had been renamed, “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples,” and all mention of Israel had been deleted. The revised bill also does not distinguish between nations that are U.S. allies and those that are not, nor does it mention protecting major California trading partners. The revised bill also stripped a demand that the state cease business with companies participating in economic boycotts.

The new version of AB 2844 states only that the attorney general shall create “a list of companies that have engaged in discriminatory business practices in furtherance of a boycott of any sovereign nation or peoples recognized by the government of the United States.” Also, to the chagrin of some of AB 2844’s original backers, the amended version instructs the attorney general to assess “the constitutionality of prohibiting a company on the list…from entering into a contract with a public entity.”

“The bill came out with amendments that really, in my view, took the whole meaning away from the bill, stripped out all references to Israel and all of the important operative language, and turned it into something very different,” Bloom told the Journal on Friday.

On the Assembly floor Thursday, ” target=”_blank”>introduced an anti-BDS bill virtually identical to the one Bloom introduced in March, but the California Legislative Jewish Caucus (CLJC) was

In pro-Israel victory, Methodists to withdraw from BDS coalition


Just days after rejecting four resolutions calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s control of the West Bank, the United Methodist Church voted to withdraw from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

By a vote of 478-318 at its general conference in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday, the church approved a petition requesting its withdrawal from the group, Religion News Service reported.

A national coalition that “works to end U.S. support for Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem,” according to its website, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has been accused of being more anti-Israel than pro-peace.

The Methodist petition called the group a “one-sided political coalition” that seeks to isolate Israel “while overlooking anti-Israel aggression.” The US Campaign promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and seeks to end U.S. aid to that nation.

“Blaming only one side while ignoring the wrongdoing of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran will not advance the cause of peace,” the petition added.

Not everyone was pleased with the decision.

The Rev. Armando Arellano, a delegate from Ohio, told RNS the US Campaign is “neither pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel, but pro-equal rights for all.”

“By withdrawing from the coalition,” he said, “we are withdrawing our commitment to be an agent of peace and justice.”

Over the weekend, a church committee rejected four resolutions calling for the church to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s control of the West Bank.

The resolutions called for divesting from three companies that pro-Palestinian activists have accused of working with Israeli security forces to sustain Israel’s West Bank settlement enterprise. They are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

Similar boycott, divestment and sanctions petitions failed at general conferences in 2008 and 2012.

Last week Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination who was raised and remains a practicing Methodist, criticized the BDS movement in a statement that was believed to be directed at the church, though it did not specifically mention the church.

In January, the Methodists’ pension fund removed five Israeli banks from its portfolio, saying the investments were counter to its policies against investing in “high risk countries” and to remain committed to human rights.

BDS activists have scored a series of successes in recent years in advancing similar resolutions, most prominently by the United Church of Christ in 2015 and the Presbyterian Church (USA) a year earlier.

BDS on campus: A response to Jay Sanderson


Last week, I was driving through La Verkin, Utah on my way back to Los Angeles after three peaceful days of hiking and camping in Zion National Park. We turned a corner and my phone lit up, buzzing and beeping after being disconnected. Amid the text messages and emails, a headline caught my eye about a Jewish leader in Los Angeles who had criticized the the Israeli government’s approach to combatting BDS on campus.

I read through the article and tried to make sense of it. Jay Sanderson’s comments, detailed by Haaretz columnist Judy Maltz, did not fit the impression that I had of the conservative-leaning Los Angeles Jewish community. I was encouraged to see a Jewish leader speaking out about his disagreements with the Israeli government, and calling for pro-Israel advocacy that includes the questions and visions of students.

As soon as I got home, I drafted a response to Mr. Sanderson, thanking him for his leadership and for speaking candidly about the polarizing debates over BDS that many students experience on campus. I was disappointed to see that Sanderson later regretted his initial comments, following them up with remarks that put him more in line with the same non-nuanced Israel advocacy he initially criticized. While he insists that his comments were taken out of “context,” it’s hard to believe that Haaretz would have printed his comments inaccurately. I’m left wondering what caused such a significant shift in Sanderson’s position from the first article to the second.

Initially, Sanderson rightly pointed out that efforts against BDS on campus have only helped to “stoke the fire” of the polarized debates over BDS and drive young Jews away from Israel and the Jewish community altogether. As an alternative, he called for less noise and more nuance in conversations about Israel. His comments are an important call to action to create more space for young people, like Sanderson’s own 22-year-old daughter, who returned from trips to Israel with many concerns about the direction of the country, to ask questions.

Like Sanderson’s daughter and many other Jewish college students, I have serious questions about the direction that Israel is headed and the policies of the Israeli government. Thousands of young people across the country see continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank threatening the viability of a two-state solution, and we are worried for Israel’s future. We see that the occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has gone on for almost fifty years, and we feel deep concern for the rights of Palestinians.

Our questions and principles have led us to Israel advocacy rooted in support for diplomatic solutions and opposition to policies and rhetoric that perpetuate and escalate the conflict. And they have led us to oppose the BDS movement on campus, because of its failure to advocate for a practical solution that would address the needs of both peoples.

I was so heartened to read that Sanderson recognized that our community needs to find more meaningful ways to engage young people. But he should have gone farther. The truth is, an obsession with “combating BDS” is often a distraction from the real issues in front of us and from our real questions. BDS fights often serve to reinforce the non-nuanced dialogue against which Sanderson initially spoke out.

Traditional approaches define “pro-Israel” on campus as simply opposing BDS resolutions and reading off pre-approved talking points – leaving out any commitment to working to support solutions and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we want this to change, we need help from our communal institutions.

Unfortunately, these institutions have largely been failing us – advancing an unhelpful, overly combative and one-sided approach. It’s true the hard-line messaging against BDS advocated by the Israeli government is, to some extent, responsible for driving students away from the Jewish community. But the Federations should also take responsibility for themselves.

There are many ways that Jewish Federations and other important communal institutions around the country can move forward positively. They can heed J Street U students’ call to ensure that their policies and practices recognize the Green Line, a vital component of showing true support for a two-state solution. They can make clear that they do not support the settlement enterprise and the ideology of those who work towards permanent Israeli control of the West Bank. Most importantly, they can listen carefully to students’ questions and take our concerns into account.

In the past few years, important voices throughout our community have begun to speak out about the dangers of occupation, and to call for a broader conversation about Israel that can honestly and successfully engage concerned young people. These include leaders from the Reform movement, which I am proud to call myself a part of.

I was pleased to see Sanderson taking a step in the right direction. But this is not the first time an American Jewish leader has expressed concern over the flight of young people from our community – and it won’t be the last.

We need more than just words. These concerns must followed up with real action – and a real willingness to improve upon strategies that are not working.


Lizzie Stein is a senior at Occidental College and is the Vice President for the Southwest on the J Street U National Student Board.

Bernie Sanders says anti-Semitism is a factor in BDS


It would be a mistake to count out anti-Semitism as a driver of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Sen. Bernie Sanders said.

“I think there is some of that, absolutely,” Sanders, I-Vt., said Monday evening on MSNBC after being asked if he would link BDS to anti-Semitism like his rival for the Democratic presidential nod, Hillary Clinton.

“Israel has done some very bad things, so has every other country on earth,” Sanders said. “I think the people who want to attack Israel for their policies, I think that is fair game. But not to appreciate that there is some level of anti-Semitism around the world involved in that I think would be a mistake.”

In the interview Sanders, who is Jewish, repeated some of the expansions on his Israel views that he delivered earlier in the day in a foreign policy speech. He said the United States needed to be more even-handed in how it dealt with Israel and the Palestinians, and singled out for criticism Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I spent many months on a kibbutz on Israel, so I know something about Israel,” he said. “Israel has got to be defended, has a right to exist, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.”

Sanders slammed Netanyahu particularly for the speech the prime minister delivered to Congress a year ago against President Barack Obama’s Iran policies. The senator appeared to be questioning Clinton, as well as the Republican presidential candidates, for their tendency to avoid criticism of Netanyahu.

“When you look at somebody like a Netanyahu, to simply not understand that this is a right-wing politician,” he said. “A guy who kind of crashed the United States Congress to give his speech there, ignoring President Obama, not even consulting with him, using it for political purposes back home, a guy who has supported the growth of settlements.”

Sanders was the only presidential candidate not to address this week’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference in Washington, D.C. He was traveling in Western states ahead of primaries this week, where he hopes to narrow Clinton’s delegate lead. He offered to deliver a speech via video link, but AIPAC declined, although it has hosted remote speeches by presidential candidates in the past.

Sanders in the interview also reiterated how his Judaism has shaped his political outlook.

“I would say that being Jewish, what has been most significant in my life is understanding what a Hitler, what horrible politics can mean to people, and I think that’s been one of the motivating factors in my life in fighting against racism and bigotry of all kinds,” he said. “Because when it gets out of hand, as we have seen, it obviously has unbelievable repercussions.”

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.

The country BDS doesn’t want Oscar winners to see


Last week, two groups affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement took out a full-page ad in the L.A. Times excoriating the Israeli Government for offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the Holy Land for Oscar nominees. Leveling the false, but oft-repeated charge that Israel is an apartheid state, they called on the nominees to turn down the opportunity to visit.

Many countries run public relations campaigns in the U.S. to burnish their national brands and promote tourism. Only Israel – the one democracy and America’s strongest ally in the region – is systematically singled out and criticized for it. 

While turning a blind eye to the horrific human right’s records of virtually every other country in our region – from Iran’s jailing of journalists and murder of political dissidents, to the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people, to Yemen’s brutal repression of religious minorities – the BDS Movement looks for any opportunity to go after Israel. 

This Movement’s goal is clear and simple: to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately, destroy the world’s only Jewish state through economic warfare and vile lies – the same tactics long employed by anti-Semites to attack the Jewish people. Instead of pursuing peace and justice as BDS activists claim, these groups sow the seeds for hate and conflict, publicly rejecting a two-state solution and calling for Israel to be removed from the map. 

The ad raises the question: why exactly is the BDS Movement so desperate to keep people from seeing Israel with their own eyes? 

Perhaps it is because the boycotts and slander of BDS cannot hide a simple truth, which is that the freest Arab population in the Middle East lives in Israel. Far from an apartheid state, Israel is the only country in the region with an independent judiciary, a thriving and open civil society, and guaranteed political and legal rights for all of its citizens. 

Indeed, if Oscar nominees take us up on the offer to come to Israel, they will meet Arab-Israelis who serve at the highest levels of government, from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet to the Parliament to the Supreme Court, along with Arab-Israeli leaders in science, medicine, business, and the arts. In a survey by the Statnet research institute, 77% of Arab Israelis said that they would prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty rather than Palestinian rule. 

Israel is not perfect. Like minorities in many countries, the Arab-Israeli community faces challenges– and one of our government’s main priorities is to close the social, economic, and educational gaps that now exist between the general population and communities like Arab-Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

We are making progress on this front. The presence of Arab students in Israel universities has risen more than 50% over the past decade and it continues to increase, particularly among women. Arab-Israelis are 20 percent of Israel’s population, but now account for 22 percent of the student body at the Technion – Israel’s leading institution of science and technology. Just last month, the Israeli Government announced a plan to allocate an additional $3.8 billion to improve housing, social welfare, infrastructure, transportation and education for Arab-Israeli communities. 

The situation for Arabs in Israel marks a stark contrast to life in Gaza – an area that Israel withdrew from completely in 2005 – where the Hamas terrorist organization continues to rule, brutally oppressing the population, particularly women, political dissidents, and members of the LGBT community. In the West Bank, Palestinians live with the tragic consequences of their failed and corrupt leadership, which has rejected far-reaching U.S. and Israeli peace offers that included a Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Today Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to sit at the negotiating table with Israel to pursue a two-state solution. 

The true path to peace lies in building bridges, not promoting boycotts. The real advocates for justice will look for opportunities to create dialogue between the two parties, instead of simply demonizing one of them. 

The good news is that aside from the very small group of radicals behind the BDS Movement, millions across America and around the world are building stronger relationships than ever with Israel, which has become a center of innovation and a magnet for solutions in so many spheres, from high-tech to water to medicine. 

As we have since our founding, Israel will continue striving to advance our core values of democracy and human rights, improve life for all our citizens, and extend our hand in the hopes of building a brighter future of prosperity and peace with our neighbors. 

David Siegel is the Consul General of Israel to the Southwest.

Hollywood should engage with Israel


The BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) is against a lot of things.  It is against the Jewish State of Israel, its government, institutions and civil society.  It is against engagement and dialogue with the people of Israel.   And it is against other people experiencing the beauty, contradictions and complexities of Israel first hand. 

These are the motivations behind the current effort by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace, prominent leaders in the BDS campaign who are against Oscar nominees accepting an Israeli invitation to visit Israel.

While each recipient of this gift bag will decide whether to take Israel up on the offer, they should not decline it because of what those who only stand “against” say.

In their demonization of all things Israel, and the spurious and incendiary labeling of Israel as “apartheid,” this campaign is presenting one extreme view of Israel.  Yet as anyone who has traveled anywhere in the world knows, seeing the on-the-ground reality with your own eyes offers insights that underscore how superficial and simplistic second hand reports – and allegations – are.

Travel to Israel, China, India, Spain, or even the United States does not represent an endorsement of every policy of that country’s government.  Tourists are able to get the perspectives of the locals they meet in cafes and bars or in the back of a taxi — and as we have all experienced, much of it critical — and through this  gain insight into the politics and realities of the place.

The most memorable Oscar-winning films and performances are those that offer the audience a new and personal way of looking at a story, predicament or event.    It opens people’s mind to different perspectives.  So too does personal engagement with Israel.

A few months ago, British cultural figures published an open letter calling for cultural bridges, not boycotts, to bring about Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.  As these luminaries, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wrote:  “Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict…Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change.”

It is this message of openness and engagement which Hollywood – even those who are not Oscar nominees – should get behind.

Amanda Susskind is the Pacific Southwest Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League

Ad accusing Israel of apartheid published in Los Angeles Times


A full-page ad that calls on Oscar nominees to refuse a free Israel trip worth $55,000 offered in their Academy Award swag bags was published in the Los Angeles Times.

The ad, which says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” appeared Wednesday in the newspaper’s Calendars section days after the entertainment magazine Variety refused to publish the ad, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Co-sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the ad has a top line reading “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians.”

The Israeli government is sponsoring the all-expenses paid, 10-day luxury travel pack with first-class air travel to Tel Aviv. The trip is included in swag bags for Oscar host Chris Rock and all nominees in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress and director categories.

Variety initially accepted payment for the group’s ad, but then said it could not publish the ad since “it would need to have a softer tone.” JVP said in a statement it had asked for suggestions of “specific edits,” but was told “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week’s edition.”

“We’re glad the LA Times is running our ad,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Censorship has no place in a serious publication, whether in ads or editorial content.”

Secret Jerusalem confab coached world Jewish leaders on combating BDS


An Israeli government ministry held a secret conference in Jerusalem with international Jewish leaders on ways to fight Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns against Israel.

Some 150 leaders and activists attended the conference Sunday and Monday run by the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the Hebrew-language news website NRG first reported.

They were asked to keep the conference secret because, according to NRG, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said that “exposing the information about the conference participants could be life endangering.” Journalists were not invited to attend.

The participants were coached in language choices that would be more effective at discrediting BDS activists, notably calling them anti-Israel rather than anti-Semitic. And it is better to offer to hold a dialogue instead of a discussion.

U.S. pollster Frank Luntz told the conference that Israel’s marketing to American Jewish students was not successful.

One of the participants told NRG that “the Ministry of Tourism came out badly at the conference. According to the organizers, they sell Israel in this way:  ‘We have girls in bikinis, we have beaches, we have beer and bars – come to us,’ and this does not work.”

An unnamed participant told The Jerusalem Post that most of those who attended the conference were middle-aged or older and similar in their viewpoints.

Students at Montreal’s McGill U pass pro-BDS motion


Students at McGill University in Montreal voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The nonbinding motion in the university’s student society carried Monday by a vote of 512-357, but only about 3 percent of the student body of nearly 30,000 cast ballots. It was the third time that the Student Society of McGill University has voted on BDS in the past 18 months.

On the same day, the Canadian Parliament passed a motion formally condemning BDS.

Despite passage of the motion, which was put forward by the fledgling McGill BDS Action Network, the McGill administration is not bound to implement BDS policies. The motion can only be fully ratified through an online vote by McGill students in the coming week.

But the passage is being seen, at least symbolically, as a bitter blow for pro-Israel forces on the McGill campus, who view the BDS movement as either anti-Semitic or an effort to delegitimize Israel.

Student Aliza Saskin told The Montreal Gazette that the SSMU is “not representing all students on campus, even when their own by-laws call for no discrimination against anyone based on their cultural origins.”

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement reacting to the motion’s passage: “The campaign to boycott Israel is unproductive, divisive, and hateful. Far from advancing peace of the Palestinian cause, it undermines coexistence by demonizing one of the two parties in a complex conflict.”

Over the past few years, several Canadian universities have passed pro-BDS motions.

The Parliament motion passed by a vote of 229-51. It calls on the Canadian government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups, or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home, and abroad.”

Canadian Parliament officially condemns BDS


Canada’s Parliament passed a motion formally condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The motion passed Monday in a 229-51 vote, CIJ News reported. Introduced last week by members of the opposition Conservative Party, the motion won support from the ruling Liberal Party as well.

It calls on the Canadian government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”

In addition, the motion notes Canada and Israel’s “long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations.” The motion says the BDS movement “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.”

Speaking in favor of the motion last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said “the world will win nothing for boycotting Israel but depriving itself of the talents of its inventiveness.”

Canadian Jewish groups have praised the motion. In a statement last week, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said, according to the European Jewish Press, “The boycott movement does not contribute to peace and is not pro-Palestinian. It is discrimination based on nationality, and it harms both Israelis and Palestinians alike by driving the two sides further apart. The BDS movement is a fringe movement and is outside genuine peace efforts.”

Responding to the vote in a news release, the National Council on Canada Arab Relations said the anti-BDS motion goes “against the spirit of the Freedom of Speech, a right enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The group described BDS as a “nonviolent campaign that supports proven methods of conscientious objection to encourage Israel to respect international law.”

Another mutation of the anti-Semitism virus – or just ignorance?


Now showing in New York schools: Videos transplanting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions sentiments into classes on ancient history! What? Yes, but not for long, thanks to Kenneth Zebrowski, a New York assemblyman who is calling on the state’s legislators to pay attention.

Study.com, a California startup that makes cartoon-type videos to enhance learning in and out of schools, chose to portray Jews of the first century as people who “got what they deserved” while Christians “took control of the empire that oppressed them.” Hmm. By the way, pardon the grammar. Jews of the time were “violent religious extremists” while Christian “martyrs’ murders advanced the cause.” Double hmm. Were the martyrs murdered or murderers? What contemporary cause does this sound like?

It would take a long time to go through what the company alleges to be a stock of more than 10,000 videos. But when its cartoons portray Jewish people in black hats and long coats, with earlocks and white beards, when they proclaim that the Torah is the Ten Commandments, and state that God gave Abraham the land of Canaan, which is “parts of Israel and Palestine,” you start to get the picture. Much of the company’s material on religion, social science and history is simple pablum, but subtle and not-so-subtle messages are being conveyed, as well. 

Not only for Judaism. When the title of a video is “Protestantism and Liberation Theology,” you know that Martin Luther and Archbishop Oscar Romero are choking in their graves. (John Calvin gets a mention with Max Weber — mispronounced — and capitalism.) When we’re told that Jesus preached a religion of personal salvation, we wonder what black hole swallowed up the scholarship of the last 60 years on early Christianity. When the narrator of a religion video pronounces Judaism “Ju-DAY-ism,” you know something has gone deeply awry.

The company’s founders are an Argentine computer scientist who twists English idioms to entertain his colleagues, and a young man with a bachelor’s degree in business administration who heads content development. The two young Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduates, now in Mountain View, allege to have “hundreds” of instructors, but the website seems to provide information on only a couple of dozen. Religion isn’t mentioned as one of its  six academic fields, but it’s a topic for a whole set of videos. As for history, the six instructors for whom they offer bios seem to have studied topics relevant to the Americas and ancient Greek philosophy.

And the New York public school system is subscribing to this company’s videos? Is it trying to surpass the record for bad educational ideas (previously held by a school district that was going to buy iPads for all)? Of course, it’s possible that officials thought they would give the teachers a break while the kids watch a few “harmless” cartoons. It’s like Shakespeare comics, no?

You don’t have to be Jewish to realize that this isn’t a good idea. Real educators know that in some areas of math and science, business and accounting, certain topics can best be learned by breaking them down into simple steps. We all were amazed when Khan Academy paved the way, and helped make that kind of learning more enjoyable and tailored to the pace of the student. (I don’t know what it’s doing now, so that’s not a plug.)

But human cultures, history and religion are a different story, so much more complex, not convertible into simple facts; so much more dangerous when handled poorly. To think of fourth- or fifth-graders viewing these videos and being imprinted with the stereotypes, anachronisms and outright misinformation is horrifying. We’ve been worried about Palestinian textbooks teaching hate. Now it’s coming home, not yet as hate but as ignorance and distorted perspective. Hate, however, has a fertile ground.

Study.com said it didn’t mean to “offend anyone” and will change “at least one” video (two were identified as anti-Semitic by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County). 

Actually, the videos have offended not only Jews but the intelligence of thousands of American teachers. But OK, we can only expect that they will do the usual brush-off, since money is at stake.

However, since more than money is at stake for us, we now have to investigate where else this is happening. Noxious weeds rarely sprout only one seed, nor do viruses make only one person sick. If you have children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren in public schools, give their school a call. Ask what educational “enhancements” it is using to make subjects more fun — for what classes, in what grades. What companies does it contract with? How can you as a concerned citizen see them? Especially if the subjects include history, literature, religion, “civilizations” or social science, you should insist on viewing or using these supplementary materials so you can see what kids are learning in this new tech era. Hopefully, you’ll have some fun and not see danger signs. But for the future of all of us, we need to find out.

A big thanks to the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and Assemblyman Zebrowski for this wake-up call.


Tamar Frankiel is a professor of Comparative Religion and provost at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

World medical body rejects claims Israelis should be expelled


The World Medical Association will not expel Israeli physicians over pro-Palestinian activists’ allegations that they practice torture, the president of the world body said.

Michael Marmot, the London-born physician who heads the association, announced the group’s decision in a letter he sent Monday to Shimon Samuels, the international relations director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Samuels had urged Marmot to reject the call by 71 British physicians earlier this month to expel Israel from the world body over alleged medical torture of Palestinians.

“The main authors of the letter have launched several attacks against the Israeli Medical Association with similar arguments in the past,” Marmot wrote, but “investigations have revealed no wrongdoing.” He added: “We have trust that our Israeli colleagues will stand firm on our values and the protection of human rights.”

Marmot further noted that no official motion for expulsion had been filed. However, Marmot said his organization contacted the Israeli representatives to obtain their responses to the allegations. The Israeli Medical Association has denied involvement in human rights violations and opposes force feeding of prisoners, in keeping with the world body’s view of this practice.

In a statement, Samuels praised Marmot’s reply, adding: “We should feel gratified at the reassuring response to our protest letter.” Marmot’s response, he said, “exudes a fatigue” with the protagonists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions  Movement against Israel, or BDS.

Human Rights Watch report ramps up pressure on Israeli settlement activity


The collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a year ago has led to an accelerating war of words over Israeli settlements, with Israel accusing its growing chorus of foreign critics of prejudging the final terms of a peace deal at best – and anti-Semitism at worst.

The battle heated up this week with the release of a report by Human Rights Watch arguing that doing business with West Bank settlements reinforces Israel’s presence there and contributes to human rights abuses.

The report comes a day after the European Union, which in November announced new guidelines to label Israeli exports produced in the settlements, declared that any agreement with Israel “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

And the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, while not going nearly as far, decried Israel’s seizure of West Bank lands and what he described as a two-tiered justice system.

“Too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities; too much vigilantism goes unchecked; and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians,” Shapiro said in a speech Monday that otherwise extolled U.S.-Israel closeness.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was infuriated by the remarks, calling them “unacceptable and incorrect.” But his wider strategy against the settlement criticism has been to lump such efforts together with the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and liken them to the pre-Holocaust boycotts of Jewish businesses in Europe.

“Because bureaucracies or set patterns entrench themselves, and then we get the absurdity of the EU in Brussels, from European soil, labeling the products of Israeli citizens, of Jews,” Netanyahu told foreign reporters last week. “And the last time that was done on the soil of Europe was over 70 years ago.”

Israel has largely been able to stave off questions about the status of the West Bank as long as it seemed substantially engaged in the peace process. But developments this week seem to confirm warnings last year that the collapse of the peace process, followed by statements from Netanyahu on the eve of his reelection in March that appeared to reject the possibility of Palestinian statehood, would lead the United States and Europe to focus anew on the settlements, if only as a means of keeping open the option for a two-state solution.

The Human Rights Watch report argues plainly that trading with the settlements entrenches Israel in the West Bank and makes businesses a partner in the oppression of the Palestinians. It recommends that businesses “avoid financing, administering or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure, such as through contracting to purchase settlement-manufactured goods or agricultural produce, to ensure the businesses are not indirectly contributing to and benefiting from such activities.”

The report cites an example of how bringing attention to Israeli practices in the West Bank can impede them. Human Rights Watch contacted a factory in a West Bank settlement that its researchers found provided linens for an American retailer and was underpaying its Palestinian laborers.

“During the conversations that followed, the factory agreed to close its operations in Barkan and locate to new facilities inside Israel,” the group reported, without naming the parties.

“We are not looking for problems,” Human Rights Watch quoted the factory’s co-owner as telling the group. “It seems it really bothers people that we’re there, so we’ll leave.”

Centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups insist that such efforts to target settlements are aimed at setting the terms of a final peace deal. In December, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee posted a lengthy analysis of the European Union’s decision on settlement labeling.

“The EU’s action — taken outside the context of peace negotiations — is designed to impose Brussels’ vision of Israel’s future borders,” said AIPAC, a prominent pro-Israel lobby. “These commercial attacks against Israel increase the prospect of isolating the Jewish state, while strengthening its most vitriolic critics and slowing the pursuit of peace.”

The fight over settlements is also playing out in Congress and state houses. AIPAC has garnered bipartisan support through congressional statements rejecting attempts to single out settlements. And several state-level legislative moves to target BDS explicitly include attempts to distinguish the settlements.

Pro-Israel groups on the left argue that such efforts are mutually self-defeating. Attempts to isolate settlements are a good thing, they say, as they help neutralize the wider BDS movement.

“A more accurate labeling system, as Israel never annexed the West Bank, will allow European residents to make purchases according to ideological considerations,” Americans for Peace Now said at the time of the European labeling decision. “This system will help curb efforts to boycott Israel entirely, such as those advocated by the BDS movement.”

Jew in Progress


The left, the right and Roger Waters.

Most of us know Roger Waters, the brilliant musician behind some of Pink Floyd’s greatest music. He is also one of the most ardent supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), a group hostile toward the State of Israel.

So imagine my shock last month when I watched Waters and his entourage enter the HaaretzQ Conference in New York, a conference sponsored by two pro-Israel entities, Haaretz and New Israel Fund (NIF).

My first thought was, “What the hell is this guy doing here?”

Despite much misinformation, NIF does not support the BDS movement. Waters’ presence, I figured, would only give NIF detractors more reason not to listen to us. But what could I do? In a free country, he has as much right to attend as anyone else.

Waters and his entourage were whisked past security — and I followed him. I wanted to see which sessions he would attend. Most of the day’s panels were already over. Not surprisingly, Waters headed straight for the session with Haaretz’s left-of-left columnist, Gideon Levy — who had recently interviewed Waters for Haaretz. Waters sat in the front row. After interviewing a leader of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Levy acknowledged Waters as his personal hero. After posing for a few photos with the panelists, Waters promptly left.

It was then I was hit by a very uncomfortable epiphany.

I have often personally grappled with what makes a person politically left or right. When I try to articulate it, it comes out something like this: Those on the right are more linear regarding cause and effect. They attacked us because their religion teaches them to hate. End of story. 

The left prefers complexity; that is, yes, they attacked us — and they do hate us — but do we fully understand why, and is there something we can do to change it? My working assumption was that the left was more open to differing points of view and valued inquiry over certainty. After watching Waters leave the conference as quickly as he came in, I realized that this model was completely wrong.

Waters had no interest in complexity or empathy toward Israel — just simple slogans. That’s why he didn’t bother to check out any of the other sessions at the conference. This kind of “blinders-on” ideology of isolated righteousness was something I thought was practiced only by the right — but it’s clear it can be just as bad on the left, as well.

But the truth is, it’s everywhere. The more I thought about it, this phenomenon seems to be happening throughout our culture. Whether on the right or left, we tend to immediately dismiss facts and opinions that contradict our own narratives and prejudices. Think about the debates in our Jewish community: Israel (you are either unconditionally for or against the state); settlements are either securing or destroying Israel’s safety; Breaking the Silence is either saving or betraying Israel). These examples mirror the debates that are dividing this country — health care, immigration reform, gun control. It’s all or nothing for the people who care about these issues.

No wonder we manage to accomplish so very little.

So, back to the uncomfortable epiphany: If Roger Waters represents the new normal for the left, and Pamela Geller and groups such as Im Tirtzu are the new normal for the right, then where does that leave me?

The obvious answer is: the center.

Honestly, a centrist is not how I want to be perceived, and it certainly feels like I am in some way betraying myself. How am I going to accomplish important things in this life without an unwavering set of beliefs and uncompromising goals? Unfortunately, based on what I am observing in the public sphere, I am not sure that approach is accomplishing much of anything. 

We need a new approach. So, here is my proposal to the left and right: Join me in the center.

I’m not sure what “the center” even looks like anymore. But that’s what we need to rebuild. A community made up of diverse views that can freely come together with a willingness to listen as well as talk — regardless of their left or right or whatever orientation. A place where we agree it’s not acceptable to walk away from the table without trying to do something constructive and positive for the betterment of Israel, Jews and, hopefully, the rest of humanity.

Be a centrist. Trust me, I am just as uncomfortable with this designation as you are, but as I look at the polarizing alternatives out there, this is looking more like our best and only chance to effect real change. Who knows, we may realize we have more in common than we thought. We might even accomplish things together that we could not do on our own.

And who would have thought that could have been inspired by the front man for Pink Floyd?

Joshua Greer is an inventor and patent-holder, and has co-founded a number of technology companies including Digital Planet, Walden Media and RealD 3D. He now spends his time working in the medical industry and various Jewish initiatives.

Largest society of US historians rejects anti-Israel resolution


The largest society of historians and history professors in the United States rejected a resolution condemning what it calls Israel’s restriction of Palestinians right to education in the West Bank and Gaza.

The American Historical Association resolution, submitted by the independent group Historians Against the War, was voted down 111-51 on Saturday during the association’s annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to the resolution, Israel placed “restrictions on the movement of faculty, staff and visitors in the West Bank to impede the regular functioning of instruction and university activities at Palestinian institutions of higher learning” and “routinely refuses to allow students from Gaza to travel in order to pursue higher education abroad, and even at West Bank universities.” Israel also was accused of bombarding 14 institutions of higher learning during the 2014 Gaza war and of “routinely” invading university campuses in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Two similar resolutions were rejected by the group last year, when members voted against a measure to suspend the association’s by-laws after the anti-Israel resolutions failed to appear on the agenda because they were submitted late.

Van Gosse, an associate professor at Franklin and Marshall College and a member of Historians Against the War, told The New York Times that the vote was  “a complete moral victory.”

“The American Historical Association has just spend a spent a serious amount of time discussing the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinians’ right to education. This debate is not going away,” Gosse said.

Resolutions condemning Israel or endorsing an academic boycott of Israel have been passed by several American academic groups, including the American Anthropological Association, the American Studies Association and the Asian American Studies Association.

Hillary Clinton: Taking the U.S.-Israel relationship to the next level


In this time of terrorism and turmoil, the alliance between the United States and Israel is more important than ever.  To meet the many challenges we face, we have to take our relationship to the next level.

Israel needs a strong America by its side, and America needs a strong and secure Israel by our side.  It’s in our national interest to have an Israel that remains a bastion of stability and a core ally in a region in chaos, and an Israel strong enough to deter its enemies and strong enough to take steps in the pursuit of peace.

I’m especially concerned about the new wave of violence inside Israel itself – brutal stabbings, shootings, and vehicle attacks that seek to sow fear among the innocent.  Recently, terrorists murdered an American Yeshiva student named Ezra Schwartz in a drive-by shooting.  These attacks must stop immediately, and Palestinian leaders should condemn and combat incitement in all of its forms. 

More broadly, the United States and Israel need to work together to address three converging trends: the rise of ISIS and the struggle against radical jihadism, Iran’s increasingly aggressive regional ambitions, and the growing effort around the world to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

First, we must work with our friends and partners to deny ISIS territory in the Middle East, dismantle the global infrastructure of terror, and toughen our defenses at home.  We can’t just contain ISIS – we must defeat ISIS. 

Second, we have to send Iran an unequivocal message.  There can be no doubt in Tehran that if Iran’s leaders violate their commitments not to seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons, the United States will stop them.  They will test our resolve with actions like their provocative ballistic missile test, for which we should impose new sanctions designations.  They need to understand that America will act decisively if Iran violates the nuclear agreement, including taking military action if necessary.  

Third, we must continue to fight against global efforts to delegitimize Israel.   The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, known as BDS, is the latest front in this battle.  BDS demonizes Israeli scientists and intellectuals—even young students—and compares Israel to South African apartheid.  That’s wrong and this campaign should end. 

Some of the BDS movement’s proponents may hope pressuring Israel will lead to peace, but no outside force is going to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  Only a two-state solution negotiated between the parties can provide Palestinians independence, sovereignty, and dignity, and provide Israelis the secure and recognized borders of a democratic Jewish state.  As difficult as it is, everyone has to do their part to rebuild trust and create the conditions for progress.  Israelis and Palestinians should demand their leaders seek every opportunity to demonstrate commitment to peace.

With radical jihadism on the rise, Iran seeking to extend its reach, and growing efforts to delegitimize Israel, the United States and Israel need to stand together more than ever.  Israel’s search for security, stability and peace goes hand in hand with the broader effort of the United States to secure and stabilize the Middle East.  It’s time to take our alliance to the next level. 

As part of this effort, we need to ensure that Israel continues to maintain its qualitative military edge.  The United States should further bolster Israeli air defenses and help develop better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping.  We should also expand high level U.S.-Israel strategic consultations.  If we present a united front to the region and the world, I’m confident we can meet the threats and challenges we face today.

For me, this is more than policy – it’s personal.  I was born just a few months before Israel declared independence.  My generation came of age admiring the talent and tenacity of the Israeli people, who coaxed a dream into reality out of the harsh desert soil.  We watched a small nation fight fearlessly for its right to exist and build a thriving, raucous democracy.  And, through it all, Israel’s pursuit of peace was as inspiring as its prowess in war.  That’s why, like many Americans, I feel a deep emotional connection with Israel.  We are two nations woven together, lands built by immigrants and exiles seeking to live and worship in freedom, given life by democratic principles and sustained by the service and sacrifice of generations of patriots.

Yet even with all this history, with all our common interests and shared values, we can’t take this relationship for granted.  With every passing year, we must tie the bonds tighter and do the hard, necessary work of friendship.  Because there is a new generation in both countries today that does not remember our shared past; young Americans who didn’t see Israel in a fight for survival again and again, and young Israelis who didn’t see the United States broker peace at Camp David or kindle hope at Oslo or stand behind Israel when it was attacked.  They are growing up in a different world.  The future of our relationship depends on building new ties for a new time.


Hillary Clinton is a Democratic candidate for president. This essay was prepared for the Jewish Journal. The Journal will present views from candidates of all sides during the course of the 2016 election campaign.

Can Israel save itself?


Recent weeks have witnessed an intense debate surrounding the Israeli human rights group “Breaking the Silence” (BTS). Much of this is related to the Israeli government’s proposed legislation to require nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to display in demonstrable and public form the support they received from foreign governments, in sharp distinction from the free pass that the government gives to right-wing groups that receive a great deal of money from foreign, private sources. BTS, which receives part of its budget from the European Union, has been cast as the chief culprit, owing to its policy of reporting on abuses by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in the occupied territories. Both President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Tzipi Livni went out of their way to criticize BTS at the New Israel Fund/HaaretzQ conference in New York in mid-December. Far more gravely, the right-wing Israeli organization Im Tirtzu produced a provocative video that depicted a leading member of BTS as a sinister foreign agent who endangered the security of the State of Israel.  

In the eyes of its opponents, the chief sins of BTS are two-fold: first, that it dares to criticize the most and perhaps only sacred institution remaining in Israel, the IDF; and second, that it does so not only at home, in Israel, but abroad, in Europe and the United States. Such reports abroad, it is argued, only strengthen the hand of Israel’s enemies at a particularly vulnerable point in time.  

This concern cannot be dismissed out of hand. There clearly is an uptick in anti-Israeli agitation in the West, especially through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which may well shift its tactic from attacking Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to advocating an academic and cultural boycott of Israel (and thereby questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist). This kind of agitation is often confused with, but nonetheless is distinct from, the decision by the European Union (EU) in November to label products coming from Israeli settlements. The EU’s policy is in fact an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist. Along with much of the world, it regards Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line as illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.  But it recognizes Israel’s right to live in peace and security within the Green Line. By issuing a kind of censure on settlement products, it is seeking to push Israel away from a dangerous cliff: If the country continues to entrench itself in West Bank settlements, there will be no Palestinian state. In addition to denying Palestinians their legitimate right to self-determination, continued occupation will likely also spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state, given the demographic trends in the land between the Jordan and Mediterranean. 

The EU, therefore, is attempting to shake up the current geopolitical stasis, a state that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems intent on preserving. In parallel, BTS is attempting to call attention to abuses that result from Israel’s occupation. Its decision to air accounts of Israeli soldiers’ transgressions is discomfiting, to be sure. It taps into a deep-rooted fear in Jewish tradition that regards entreaties to gentiles as the height of disloyalty. Medieval Jews regarded with unrestrained animosity fellow Jews (known as mosrim) who informed on others to the gentile state.  Similarly, it was considered a severe breach of protocol to seek to adjudicate legal matters between Jews in a gentile jurisdiction (arka`ot shel goyim).  

We live in a different world now. There is a self-standing and powerful Jewish state. But it is not unblemished. The logic of groups such as Breaking the Silence is that self-scrutiny by Israel alone is not always sufficient. The IDF, professional and well trained as it may be, is not the best vehicle to monitor or pass judgment on allegations of abuses within it. Nor is Israel’s current right-wing government, whose leaders sometimes seem less interested in upholding the country’s increasingly fragile democratic foundation than the army or security services. 

Can Israel save itself at this point? As the country marks the ignominious 50th year of the occupation in 2017, this is an ever more urgent question. There is no evidence to suggest that Netanyahu can or wants to take the difficult steps necessary to preserve Israel’s delicate democratic balance and realize the promise laid out in its founding Declaration of Independence from May 14, 1948. In light of that, one can either accept the current anti-democratic drift, with its potential to make a bad situation in Israel/Palestine much worse, or one can appeal, as BTS has done, to external audiences who are interested in peace and justice in this troubled land. 

Undeniably, this is a risky proposition.  There are actors out there in the world who desire nothing more than to condemn Israel to extinction.  But there are also actors out there, such as the European Union, which distinguish clearly between Israel’s right to exist and the illegality of its occupation. Distinguishing between the two kinds of audiences is tricky, and Breaking the Silence must be mindful of this.  But it is not impossible. Above all, it is necessary, since the policy of keeping Israel’s woes in-house has simply not worked.


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

UAW strikes down BDS resolution approved by local branch


The United Auto Workers International Union struck down a boycott resolution against Israel.

The University of California Student Workers Union, UAW Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the UC system, approved a resolution in December 2014 to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, against Israel.

On Tuesday the UAW International Executive Board stated its “unanimous belief” that BDS “espouses discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage.”

The board determined 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.”

The UAW board also called the BDS resolution “a clear and convincing breach” of the union’s constitution, and “would harm UAW-represented workers and other union members” by boycotting companies that employ these individuals, leading to “direct economic deprivation.”

Informed Grads, a UC student group that had opposed the resolution, said the UAW had set a national precedent by denying the local organization the right to adopt such a measure.

“The anti-Semitism and active promotion of hate that ran rampant throughout this BDS campaign cannot and must not be tolerated. We applaud UAW International for taking a firm position against BDS and discrimination based on religion or national origin,” Karra Greenberg of Informed Grads, who testified at the appeal hearing, said Wednesday in a statement.

Ayman Odeh brings his message of shared history — and destiny — to America


Ayman Odeh travels the land of his heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but prefers to deliver paeans to their inspiration not in their native English, but in Hebrew and Arabic.

Meeting me here last week in the cafeteria of the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill, where he has just completed a meeting with another civil rights-era hero, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Odeh ventures gingerly into an interview in English until my pronunciation of an Israeli term gives me away.

“You speak Hebrew?” he asks. His eyes light up, and Hebrew guides us into the familiar zone all strangers seek — in this case, between a Jewish-Israeli and an Arab-Israeli, or as he prefers, an Arab citizen of Israel.

Odeh, 40, is more than just a citizen: He is the first Arab-Israeli to unite four parties into a single list, and his Joint List won 13 seats in the March elections, making it the third largest faction in the Knesset. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of this year’s top 100 global thinkers.

His message, like his affect, his embrace of Hebrew and Arabic, is one of outreach. Odeh wants to bring Arabs and Jews together, and he is enervated by those who would divide them — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, although he is careful in how he frames it, the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.

“The boycott must be against the occupation in the clearest way,” Odeh tells me, saying he prefers the narrower boycott of products from Israeli settlements. “With a clear agenda, which the end is the end of the occupation.”

That’s a pronounced distinction from the BDS movement’s stated goals, which embrace the “right of return” for the descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel, a path Israelis believe leads not to two states, which Odeh favors, but a single binational one. He does favor a right of return to their ancestral villages for internally displaced Arab-Israelis.

But before he gets to policy, Odeh wants to get to know his countrymen, wherever they are. In the bustling, buzzy basement of a Capitol Hill office building in Washington, D.C., perhaps the most significant Arab-Israeli politician of this generation sets about making me feel like a landsman. Where are you from? Where is your family? How do you get away with not wearing a tie?

It’s the quintessential question for an Israeli male greeting another while traveling abroad. His staffers – some of them Jewish-Americans who immigrated to Israel – roll their eyes.

“He’s a journalist,” one says. “Not a visiting parliamentarian.” Odeh adjusts his tasteful burgundy tie and grimaces.

The schmoozing is replicated, multifold, an hour or so later as he heads into the Palestine Center across town.

“My people are from Haifa,” where Odeh was born and still lives, a shy young woman tells him, and he hugs her. Odeh started his political career straight out of obtaining a law degree in Romania, at 23, running for the Haifa municipal council. He is married to a physician and has three children.

He delivers his talk in Arabic – allowing for slight changes in emphasis, it is essentially the same pitch he delivered to me in Hebrew an hour or so earlier.

Ayman Odeh casting his vote at a ballots station in Nazareth, Israel on election day, March 17, 2015. (Basal Awidat/Flash90)Ayman Odeh casting his vote in Nazareth on Israel’s Election Day, March 17, 2015. Photo by Basal Awidat/Flash90

Odeh quotes extensively from his American inspirations and embraces the anger of the Palestinians, citing Malcolm X. But he believes the best path to equality is through working together with Jews, referencing King.

In this setting at the Palestine Center, an advocacy group for the Palestinian cause, he is slightly more deferential to the BDS movement, but gets to the same point: Narrow the scope to the occupation.

“I’d like to salute the people who are working on BDS because it puts Israel on the spot in world public opinion,” he says, answering a question from an activist for Jewish Voice for Peace, a non-Zionist group that backs BDS. “This effort, the more it is focused on the central issue of occupation, then it is going in the right direction.”

Notably, he had to be reminded to answer the question on his BDS position, which was included among several proffered to him at once, and when he gets around to it he speaks of BDC, not BDS, until a host’s whisper corrects him. Pressed further by the audience, Odeh finally betrays a flash of anger, wondering at outsiders who would prescribe his politics.

“I tell people who try to tell us to boycott other things, I say, ‘We understand our situation well,’” he says.

My questioning earlier about the particulars of the movement similarly seems to annoy him. I tell him it’s likely to be on the agenda when he meets leaders of U.S. Jewish groups in New York, but he waves away the questions, saying he is unfamiliar with the instances of BDS movement targeting I mention, including SodaStream seltzer machines and Sabra hummus.

Odeh does not deemphasize his Palestinian identity, but wraps it into a broader identity that he wishes his interlocutors would understand is more nuanced and complex.

“We are not just a national minority, we are also natives, and the country that we are citizens of is occupying the people we belong to nationally,” he tells me, repeating the same locution to the Palestine Center crowd. “To give a true answer, we must see the complexity of the issue.”

He does not like the name “the Joint Arab List,” the term sometimes used to describe his faction in the Israeli media. The party he leads, Hadash, the one-time Communist list, has historically had Jewish and Arab members.

To me and at the Palestine Center, Odeh praises the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, quoting Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, as saying that the primary reason he killed him was because he relied on the votes of Arab Knesset members.

“The strength of Rabin is that he saw in citizenship such a value, he allowed himself to rely on Arab voters,” Odeh tells me, and he repeats something close to it later. “Rabin started taking them out of the cycle of marginalization.”

It’s telling: With an Israeli Jew, it’s safe to assume a shared affection for Rabin. That’s not the case among pro-Palestinian advocates.

It’s an expression of shared citizenship and history he wishes were reciprocated among Jewish-Israeli leaders. He rattles off annual Israeli confabs that focus on security, on Jewish identity, on economic equality, and he identifies one lacking: a conference that would advance a civil society that embraces all of Israel’s citizens. He plans a march next year from Nazareth to Jerusalem that would celebrate the value of citizenship, and hopes to launch an annual conference on the topic in Haifa.

Odeh is not sensing a love of civil society from the current Israeli leadership, noting Netanyahu’s now notorious appeal to Likud voters on Election Day scaring up an image of “hordes of Arabs” heading to the polls. Scooting past the U.S. Supreme Court in a cab, he mutters “huh, no earth movers,” and then explains his reference to Moti Yogev, the Jewish Home member of Knesset who recently joked that he’d like to upend the Israeli High Court of Justice with bulldozer-like machines.

He does not spare the Zionist left, decrying its talk of the necessity of preserving a Jewish majority.

“If I am part of the demographic problem, when will my turn come?” Odeh says at the Palestine Center.

In his week here, Odeh meets with Congress members, including Lewis and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, with senior Obama administration officials at the White House and State Department, and with Jewish officials, although his staff won’t tell me which Jewish leaders — apparently his interlocutors are sensitive about the meeting. There were also meetings here and in New York with Arab-American groups and leaders of progressive think tanks.

What’s his message for American Jews? Odeh hearkens back to the era of King and Malcolm X.

“I call on them the way they stood on the right side in the 1960s, to stand with us now,” he says. “It will be added value for everyone.”

National Women’s Studies Association votes to join international BDS movement


The National Women’s Studies Association voted to join the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The vote on the BDS referendum passed 653 to 86 at the organization’s annual conference earlier this month, the association announced last week. Slightly more than a third of the members voted.

The recommendation to join the BDS movement was sponsored by Feminists for Justice In/For Palestine, an ad hoc group founded at the studies association’s annual conference in Puerto Rico in 2014.

In January, the association released a solidarity statement against a litany of injustices, including “settler colonialism.”

“As feminist scholars, activists, teachers, and public intellectuals we recognize the interconnectedness of systemic forms of oppression,” the recommendation to join the BDS movement reads. “In the spirit of this intersectional perspective, we cannot overlook the injustice and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated against Palestinians and other Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, within Israel and in the Golan Heights, as well as the colonial displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba [a term that means “catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the Palestinians’ perception of Israel’s founding].

“These violations, which severely impact the daily lives and working conditions of Palestinian scholars, students, and the society at large, are also enabled by U.S. tax dollars and the tacit support of western powers, thus making any taxpayer in the West complicit in perpetuating these injustices.”

Established in 1977, the association, according to its website, “has as one of its primary objectives promoting and supporting the production and dissemination of knowledge about women and gender through teaching, learning, research and service in academic and other settings.”

A number of academic associations and unions support the BDS movement.

Eagles of Death Metal producer denies reports of upcoming Israel concert


Contrary to earlier reports, the American band whose Paris concert was attacked on Friday has not confirmed any plans to perform in Israel.

On Monday afternoon, the Times of Israel quoted the Eagles of Death Metal’s Israeli producer as saying earlier Israeli media reports were based on “unconfirmed rumors” and were “simply not true.”

Ynet reported earlier in the day that the band, which performed in Israel last summer despite pressure from the BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, had confirmed plans to return in the summer of 2016.

Eighty-seven people, including three of the band’s crew members, were killed at the Eagles of Death Metal’s concert on Friday after gunmen entered the Bataclan theater and began shooting into the crowd. The attack was one of several terrorist attacks in the French capital that left 129 dead and more than 300 injured.

None of the musicians was hurt in the attacks.