Roger Waters has been a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign within the cultural arena. He has lobbied countless artists to refuse to perform in Israel, while publicly criticizing others for doing so.

Wish You Weren’t Here Roger Waters


Boycott of Waters Launched With Petition, Website and Film

A group calling itself “We Don’t Need no Roger Waters” are calling for a boycott of musician Roger Waters. The Change.org petition wants a worldwide boycott of Waters until he renounces antisemitism and the unjust boycott of the State of Israel. The group has launched a website and Facebook page, and will be releasing a movie this summer.

The former frontman for Pink Floyd has increasingly used his rock-star status to defame and call for the boycott of Israel. He infamously flew a pig drone painted with swastikas and Stars of David at his concerts in 2013. Waters screens anti-Israel film clips during his live shows and viciously attacks any artist that chooses to perform in Israel.

Waters isn’t just anti-Israel, say his detractors, he’s actually a Jew-hater. They are firing back against his supporters by countering that Waters is not just anti-Israel, but actually a racist who espouses bigotry and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

According to the filmmakers, “Wish You Weren’t Here is a shocking, explosive and compelling film by award winning filmmaker/No.1 NY Times bestselling author Ian Halperin.” The film sets out to answer such questions as is Roger Waters an anti-Semite?

Halperin, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, traveled for two years researching his story, and the film includes interviews with leading figures such as including Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, Haras Rafiq, Palestinian and Israeli leaders, U.S., British and French government officials, The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Alan Dershowitz and Dr. Charles Small.

Instead of using music to build bridges and foster peace, it seems that Waters is actually another brick in the wall.

 

King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

Jordan’s anti-Israel rhetoric on rise despite security cooperation


The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which Israel fought against Jordan and other Arab states, is showing how much has changed in the Israel-Jordan relationship.

Since 1994, the two countries have had an official peace treaty, and over the years, security cooperation has deepened. Ties between their armies are close, and they share an interest in preventing unrest in the West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Furthermore, Israeli intelligence officials say the security cooperation and intelligence sharing between Jordan and Israel are stronger than ever. They count this cooperation as one of the strongest weapons in Israel’s arsenal and say it is crucial for both countries’ stability.

At the same time, however, popular sentiment in Jordan against cooperation with Israel is rising. Last month, a delegation of sheikhs from various tribes visited Israel, where they met with President Reuven Rivlin, whose father was one of the first to translate the Quran, the Muslim holy book, from Arabic into Hebrew and was an Islamic scholar.

The sheikhs spent five days touring Israel and meeting religious figures. When they returned, they encountered an outcry against them and their visit to Israel in the mainstream media and on social media. That anger intensified after two incidents — the first, when Israeli troops shot and killed a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker after he stabbed an Israeli policeman; the second, when Israeli troops in September shot a Jordanian tourist who tried to carry out a knife attack.

“There is a clear increase in anger and support for anti-normalization,” said Mohammed Husainy, the director of the Identity Center in Jordan.

Anti-normalization means opposition to cooperation with Israel in any field. It is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for a boycott of the Israeli government and Israeli citizens. For example, BDS has tried to prevent pop stars from giving concerts anywhere in Israel, not only in the West Bank.

After Israel and Jordan signed the peace treaty in 1994, Israeli tourists began to flock to Jordan, especially to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Jordanians began to visit Israel, although mostly to see relatives in the West Bank and to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Some Israeli analysts say that King Abdullah allows the anti-Israel rhetoric as a way for Jordanians to blow off steam.

“The Jordanian regime maneuvers between its need to cooperate with Israel and to address the sentiment of the population,” said Eyal Zisser, a professor at Tel Aviv University. “They do allow anti-Israel rhetoric in the media and at the popular level whenever there is a small incident.”

The situation is similar to that of Egypt, the other country with which Israel has a formal peace treaty. Although security cooperation is close, most Egyptians are vehemently anti-Israel. 

Egypt, Jordan and Israel have similar security concerns and all want to eliminate the terror threat from ISIS, which also has killed dozens of Egyptian police in the Sinai. All three countries see a nuclear Iran as a potential threat.

Most analysts say that in the long run, the common security interests will continue to overshadow the public anger at Israel. 

Screenshot from Sears.com

Sears website offers clothing with slogan calling to ‘Free Palestine’


Clothing with slogans calling to “Free Palestine End Israeli Occupation” are for sale on the Sears website.

[UPDATE: Sears to pull ‘Free Palestine’ clothing from site amid complaints]

The clothing is being offered for sale by another company, Spreadshirt Collection, and includes tank tops, and t-shirts and hoodies featuring a variety of pro-Palestinian messages. The garments are being sold through Sears Marketplace, which offers a platform for third-party sellers to offer their wares through websites managed by Sears.

The availability of the designs was first reported by Reuters.

The designs include a clenched fist in the colors of the Palestinian flag and statements opposing the Israeli occupation.

In a statement on its website, the Germany-based Spreadshirt Collection calls itself a “global platform for personalized clothing and accessories, we are the go-to-place for anyone looking to realize their creative ideas on quality fabrics. We value freedom of expression, whether it’s with your own designs or those made available by our community.”

The company’s code of responsibility says that it does not print things that are “bound to offend people.”

“Just like with other things in democracy, there are natural limits to our freedom of expression. We do not print things that are bound to offend people, e.g. pornographic material and content designed to insult and discriminate against genders or religious and ethnic groups. We won’t print anything that’s not right and fair. Above all, a code of ethics applies. This implies that we do not condone any designs displaying hate and contempt for others,” the statement says.

Elsewhere on its site, the company says that it values free expression. “Therefore, we print almost all designs sent to us whether we, as a company or personally, like them or not.”

Demonstrators protesting outside the Spanish Government Delegation in Barcelona, Oct. 20, 2015. Photo by Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

BDS, back to front


The BDS phenomenon is not new.

Prior to Israel’s declaration in 1948, a boycott was initiated in 1882 against the Jews of Europe.

The sole purpose was to isolate and destroy their social, economic and intellectual lives as advocated by the Anti-Jewish Congress in Dresden 1882. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the slogan “Don’t buy from Jews” was deemed illegal, so they changed their slogan to “Buy from Christians only.”

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Nazi guards stood in front of Jewish shops and offices of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and engineers, denying entry and assaulting their clients.

The Polish government followed suit. Occasionally these boycotts ended in pogroms such as at Przytyk. The boycotts went hand in hand with the government’s encouragement of Jewish emigration. Clergy like the priest Stojalkowski publicly supported the boycotts, not unlike Bishop Tutu and some other churches that today promote the boycott of the Jewish State.

The Arab League started a boycott of “Jewish products and manufactured goods” in 1945 which was formalised in 1948 with the establishment of the Arab League’s Central Boycott Office in Damascus. The boycott was total and included blacklisting of firms that did business with other firms doing business with Israel.

Thus, companies such as British Aerospace, Shell, BP and major banks, joined Germany’s Telefunken, BASF and Siemens in complying with the boycott. Norwich Union Insurance Society dropped Lord Mancroft, a Jew, and former government minister, from its Board of Directors.

All of this prior to the occupation.

In 1977, Congress prohibited US companies from complying with the Arab boycott. Most countries however continued to comply.

In 2001, the anti-Israel BDS movement was formed to isolate and ultimately destroy Israel, since wars were unsuccessul. The boycott extended to academia and entertainment. Thus, Tutu tried to block the Cape Town Ballet from performing in Tel Aviv and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd continues to pressurise entertainers from visiting Israel.

Many BDS supporters maintain that they only boycott West Bank products. However in my conversations with such people, they admit to boycotting all Israeli products as they ”cannot be sure if these products might be linked in some way to the West Bank.” An Israeli soldier in Ma’ale Adumim eating an ice cream manufactured in Tel Aviv would be such a link.

The fact that many computer, cell phone, bio-medical technologies, pharmaceuticals, IT security, water and clean energy technologies were developed in Israel is an inconvenient fact and makes these selective BDS advocates hypocritically absurd.

BDS advocates use Israeli products each day.

Yet there is a case for BDS.

The same EU countries that uniquely insist on “Occupied West Bank” labels for Israeli products, rushed to sign huge deals with Iran that has one of the highest execution rates in the world. In 2014, Bishop Tutu, together with Kofi Annan, visited Iran, grinning in photo ops with their leaders. They praised arch terrorist and “Death to America and Israel” supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Their visit occurred during a “normal” fortnight of about 40 executions that included Iranian poet Hashem Shabaani.

If Tutu, academics, entertainers and BDS leaders like Mohamed Desai in South Africa who goose stepped in front of Jewish students and wrote that “Hitler was right in what he did,” have a need to BDS, they should focus on the Palestinian leadership.

The PA violates the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Child Soldiers Protocol.

Activists need to BDS the Palestinian leadership that ruthlessly exploits and abuses children who are rewarded to kill Jews.

They need to BDS the PA that praises suicide bombers as young as 13. Some 160-plus small children as young as 7, have been crushed to death, forced to build Hamas terror tunnels with their tiny bodies.

The criminal Palestinian leadership has trashed the aspirations and dreams of an entire generation.

They need to BDS the PA for the ongoing honor killings of women which violate the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Instead, Norway, whose trade unions support the BDS, paid for the Palestinian Women’s Centre, named after Dalal Mughrabi who murdered 38 Israelis.

Gays flee for their lives to Israel. In Gaza they are punished by being thrown off the tops of buildings. Journalists, human rights activists and critics are tortured in jail—another good reason to BDS.

Activists need to BDS President Abbas in the 12th year of his 4-year presidency who cannot account for billions of dollars that disappeared. The Palestinians receive more aid than any other cause in history, including post-war Germany which worked hard to rebuild itself.

Abbas the multi-millionaire refugee leader cries all the way to the bank having made victimhood into a lucrative business.

Munib al Masri, worth some $5 billion, enjoyed a close bond with Arafat, and lives an opulent lifestyle outside Nablus. This “refugee,” supports the BDS against Israel.

Another BDS target could be Jibril Rajoub, jailed for terrorism, who continues to encourage the kidnapping and killing of Israelis on PA TV. He also said, that had the Palestinians obtained nuclear weapons they would use them.

Rajoub, who criticised the proposed minute’s silence for the murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, heads the Palestine Football Association and Palestine Olympic Committee.

BDS advocates need to focus on the Palestinian leaders whose terrorism led to thousands of checkpoints in airports around the world. Thanks to them, toothpaste tubes are confiscated and millions experience the humiliation of having to hold up their pants while clutching their belongings after their jackets, shoes and belts were removed.

The ruling CDU party in Germany has deemed the BDS campaign to be antisemitic, reminiscent of their Nazi past. Spain, France, and all 50 states in the USA have legislated against the BDS.

BDS activists who need a cause, should therefore rather focus on the murderous kleptocracy, the PA.

One of the Ten Commandments states,”Thou shalt not steal.” This also applies to stealing the truth.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow of the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism and the author of the satirical novel,”The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

Matthew Modine, Ed Asner, actress Ruby Modine and Hilary Helstein, executive director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Photo Credit: James Franklin at RozWolfPR

Defending Ed Asner, and Israel


The defenders of Israel fought a noble battle last week on behalf of the survival Jewish state. They forged a united front, raised their voices and rallied their troops. They charged into battle and came close, very close, to defeating their common enemy: Ed Asner.

Yeah, really. Ed Asner. The actor from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant.” The voice of Carl Fredricksen in “Up.” Santa Claus in “Elf.”

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival was all set to honor Asner with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its gala opening on April 26. Days before the event, two self-appointed defenders of Israel sent out a mass email denouncing the festival for choosing Asner, and calling on advertisers and attendees to boycott the event.

Their issue was that Asner, who is 87, is listed on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an advocacy group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.  BDS seeks to protest and reverse Israel’s policies, including its occupation of the West Bank, by boycotting all Israeli products and services, including its academic and cultural institutions. As I’ve written many times, it is a deeply anti-Israel movement under the guise of an anti-occupation movement. 

The connection between Asner, BDS and JVP — which, spoiler alert, turned out to be far more tenuous than it first appeared — raised the defenders of Israel to DEFCON 5.  Immediately, they sent out an email whose subject line read, “SHAME ON THE LOS ANGELES JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL.”

Because TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal, is the sponsoring organization of the festival, we found ourselves at the bizarre end of a very small but very noisy pro-Israel advocacy effort.

As the events of the week played out, the experience gave me time to reflect on how the Jewish community decides who is inside and outside the tent, who is kosher and who is treif

In Israel, this has become a policy issue with diplomatic implications. The same week two well-meaning L.A. Jews were trying to take down a third for not meeting their standards of “pro-Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed the German foreign minister because the minister refused to cancel his meeting with the anti-occupation groups B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

And since at least 2010, Netanyahu’s government has passed laws against not just those who support BDS, but those, like many Israeli artists, who support in principle a boycott on goods from the West Bank.

The aim of these actions is to normalize Israel’s now 50-year occupation and criminalize opposition to it. Those who oppose it went from being dismissed as doves to being persecuted as outlaws.

BDS poses a unique threat to Israel, though not necessarily an existential one. But one could easily make the argument that the occupation, if it results in a single chaotic binational state or apartheid rule over Palestinians, poses a far greater, truly existential threat to a democratic Jewish state.

The point is, we can have an argument over this without criminalizing, demonizing or ostracizing those who take one position or another. Some BDS folks really do want to erase Israel. But the (mostly) young Jews who are attracted to the movement see it as a way to redress an injustice. I think they’re wrong, but I want to engage them.

Similarly, those who think annexing part or all of the West Bank is the best way to manifest Jewish destiny or achieve security are wrong — and possibly even more dangerous to the state’s future — but I want to speak with them, as well.

Ed Asner, it turns out, doesn’t support BDS. In an interview with Avishay Artsy before the festival, he told the Journal he was rethinking it. Later, he flatly denounced it.

“I just want peace,” he said.

That didn’t quiet the defenders of Israel. They called him and the festival frauds because Asner was still listed as an adviser to JVP. Because at 87, after receiving more Emmy Awards for acting than any male in history, after standing up for the rights of workers, the oppressed and the disabled his whole life, after donating endless time and money in support of Jewish and non-Jewish causes, after playing an active role in his own Jewish community — in other words, after doing more for humanity and the Jewish people than the vast majority of us — Asner still wasn’t kosher enough.

Ridiculous.

It’s important to note that not one of the major groups that support and defend Israel — StandWithUs, the Zionist Organization of America, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee — signed on to the anti-Asner campaign. They cut the guy some slack — maybe because they assumed he heard the word “peace” and said, “Sure, use my name.” Or maybe because the Jewish people and Israel have real enemies to fight, and Lou Grant isn’t one of them.

The night of the gala, the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills was packed. Asner stood and received his award to a standing ovation.

And, I’m happy to report, somehow Israel survived.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Ed Asner. Photo from Wikipedia

Ed Asner: ‘I do not support BDS’


Legendary television actor Ed Asner made clear Tuesday morning that he no longer supports the movement to Boycott, Sanction and Divest from Israel, known as the BDS movement.

“I have a deep commitment to Jewish life, the Jewish people and the unity of the Jewish people worldwide,” Asner said in the statement, released through a publicist.  “I do not support BDS. I just want peace.”

The 87-year-old actor sought to clarify his position after a handful of critics took issue with his receiving an Award from the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Asner is set to receive the award at the Festival’s opening Wednesday evening. (The LAJFF is a program of TRIBE Media, which also publishes the Jewish Journal).

The BDS movement has been criticized by a broad segment of the Jewish community as being anti-Israel because it promotes the boycotting of all of Israel and not just the disputed territories.  Left of center groups like J Street and New Israel Fund have gone on record as being against BDS.

After Asner viewed information LAJFF provided him about BDS, he released the statement.

In an interview with the Jewish Journal’s Avishay Artsy earlier this month, Asner had already distanced himself from supporters of BDS.

Ahad Ha'am, c.1913

Would Ahad Ha’am be denied entry to Israel today?


While reading an interview in the Forward with the 87-year-old literary critic and polymath George Steiner, I couldn’t help but think about the string of troubling bills that have been passed by the Knesset over the past few years.

The most recent bill, from March 6, denies entry to any non-Israeli who “has knowingly issued a public call to impose a boycott on the State of Israel.” It should be added that the bill includes those who call for a boycott of products produced in the settlements, which is a very different matter than calling for an academic, cultural or economic boycott of the State of Israel. A good number of prominent Israeli and Diaspora Jews support a settlement boycott, while a much more marginal group supports a boycott against Israel.

To the best of my knowledge, George Steiner has not called for a boycott of Israel. That said, he defines himself as “fundamentally anti-Zionist” in that he believes that Jews are called upon to be “the guest(s) of other men and women.” Given how things are going, I couldn’t help but wonder if the day might arrive soon when Jews deemed ideologically unacceptable — for example, self-declared anti-Zionists such as George Steiner — might be denied entry to Israel.

Steiner belongs to a long tradition of modern thinkers who have defined Jewishness as the quest for intellectual, cultural or ethical excellence, rather than as the aim to attain political sovereignty. Some of these thinkers have even been Zionists. Figures such as Martin Buber, Akiva Ernst Simon and Judah L. Magnes, founding chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, made aliyah based on the belief that Judaism would reach its greatest fulfillment in the Land of Israel. They also held to the view that Zionism should not aspire to the formation of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, but rather should share power with the Arab population in a binational state.

One wonders how welcome such figures would be in the Israel of today. The Knesset has been chiseling away at the edifice of Israeli democracy through a raft of laws. In July 2016, it scaled back the principle of parliamentary immunity by making it easier to expel Arab parliamentarians. In the same month, it passed a law that called for new scrutiny of organizations that support a range of progressive causes in the country. Just last month, the “Entry Bill” turned the focus on individuals who, because of their political views, would be denied entry to the country.

Of course, many countries have used ideological beliefs as a criterion to deny entry to prospective visitors. The United States has done so itself, particularly in periods of heightened xenophobic and anti-immigrant fervor, such as the 1920s and 1950s. It is not something to be proud of. More recently, the U.S. Congress limited the practice of ideologically based exclusion through the Immigration Law of 1990 that prohibits entry only to those whose “proposed activities within the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

That is a pretty high bar. It is hard to see how a single person expressing her views, even in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, would cause “serious adverse foreign policy consequences” for Israel. It is especially hard to see how Israel gains by denying entry to someone who expresses opposition to the occupation via a ban on settlement products, which he may believe to be essential in order to preserve Israeli democracy! Indeed, as a general matter, the Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

What also is unsettling about the law is that it cuts against the tradition of sharp dissent that has been a constant feature of both Jewish and Zionist thought. The Zionist movement was born in contentious and productive disagreement, from the very first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. It was at Basel that Theodor Herzl gave definitive public expression to the idea of a state for the Jews. It also was at Basel that another prominent Zionist, Ahad Ha’am, declared that he felt like “a mourner at a wedding feast.” Ahad Ha’am believed that Herzl’s emphasis on achieving sovereignty did not address the key problem of the day, which was the atrophying of Jewish and especially Hebrew culture. His solution was to promote a spiritual and cultural center in the land of Israel that would radiate out rays of vitality to the Diaspora. Ahad Ha’am was a central Zionist figure whose focus was on Jewish culture rather than power.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the divergence of views in various Zionist camps — Socialist, Religious, Revisionist, among others — was a source of strength, not weakness. This diversity allowed for different groups of supporters to enter the Zionist fold through various portals, as well as for a robust competition that fortified each ideological strain.

What has changed since that formative period? Simply put, Zionism has succeeded in placing a Jewish state on the map — and not merely a state, but a powerful, technologically advanced state without peer in the Middle East. It is strange to consider the prospect that this powerful state might no longer be open to the likes of Ahad Ha’am.


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

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.”

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.”

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.

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.