A BDS survival guide


Students at UCLA’s iFEST celebrate Israel.

Most high school graduates who head off to college expect to be confronted with something new — new living quarters, new roommates, new classes and maybe even some cool (if overpriced) school merchandise. 

But Jewish students these days likely will experience something else, too: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

From groups holding Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus to formal votes by student groups in favor of divestment from Israel, the movement has become an in-your-face element of many of today’s colleges. This is especially true in the University of California system, where all but one of the campuses have voted to support BDS at some point in the past four years.

It can make for a hostile environment at times as tempers flare over passionately different ideologies pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether incoming Jewish students have a firm position on the issue or haven’t even thought about it, they should be ready to be in the middle of it. Here are some tips to help.

Brush up on your history

You may hear activists talk about Resolution 242 (the so-called “land-for-peace” resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1967) and the massacre of Deir Yassin (a 1948 attack on a Palestinian Arab village by Zionist paramilitary groups). If those terms are hazy or nonexistent in your memory, then it may be in your best interest to learn more about the conflict. Read, watch debates online and ask questions. 

This applies to everyone, since even those who do not intend to fight BDS should be prepared to form a position on the conflict and deal with the controversy. 

StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel education organization based in Los Angeles that provides support and guidance to campus organizations opposing BDS efforts, has numerous resources for students to educate themselves on the conflict on its website, standwithus.com. But students should also seek other perspectives by following current events and talking to those in the middle of the conflict when possible, according to SWU Director of Research and Campus Strategy Max Samarov. 

“I encourage people to take classes on the conflict and to read news from many different perspectives,” he said. “The reality is that depending on the news source you read, you’re going to get a different bias or point of view, so what has helped me a lot was staying in touch with current events from a lot of different perspectives. Also, get to know Israelis and Palestinians and try to hear personal narratives.”

Talk through disagreements

Instead of trying to talk over the other side, try talking to them.

 “People, especially students, should always seek to gain more understanding,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “Dialogue doesn’t equal agreement. But the alternative is fighting and narrow-mindedness, and the Jewish tradition rejects closing ourselves off from people who dissent. In fact, the very basis of our tradition, the Talmud, is based on the conversations between people who disagreed.” 

It’s important to educate the vast majority of students who don’t know much about the conflict. Even a casual dining hall conversation might make a big difference.  

Lerner added, however, that staunch supporters of BDS — such as members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — comprise only a small minority of students on campus and changing their minds teeters between difficult to impossible. 

 “Be strategic, don’t waste time yelling at people who can’t be convinced,” he said. “On our campus, there are only a handful of dedicated SJP members. With their allies, they might constitute a few hundred students. Focus instead on the other 29,800 students. When SJP does something that warrants a response, respond forcefully.” 

So while it’s OK to let criticism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians slide, don’t sit idly by as debate about BDS blends into anti-Semitism or questions Israel’s right to exist.

“Where I would draw the line is when someone in SJP or someone who supports BDS comes from a place that’s malicious,” Samarov said. “Where they don’t believe Israel has the right to exist or Jewish people don’t have right to self-determination. That’s the important thing to establish from the get-go.”

Join Jewish groups on campus 

Get involved in the local Hillel or Chabad, as well as other Jewish or pro-Israel groups your campus offers. These groups help students maintain a connection to Judaism and Israel, and also are sources to combat anti-Israel sentiment. 

Rachel Quinn, president of Southern California Students for Israel (SCSI) at USC, encourages all Jews on campus to join for a variety of reasons. “It is a huge educational and leadership benefit,” she said. “It is fun and you can meet other Jewish students, and we are all working toward a common goal, which is education about and celebration of Israel.” 

At USC, Quinn plans pro-Israel events throughout the year, often coordinating with leaders of other ethnic clubs through the university’s International Student Assembly, and other pro-Israel groups on campus. She also tries to involve Jewish students with Israel advocacy through “whatever their strengths or interests may be.”

According to Quinn, SJP and BDS are not very active at USC, especially when compared with UC colleges. There was a fear last year that SJP would hold an apartheid wall on the week of Yom HaShoah, she said, but it didn’t happen. For SCSI, the goal is for these groups to remain mild, Quinn said, while developing good relations with groups like the Muslim Student Union. 

Other schools have their own pro-Israel groups — such as UCLA’s Bruins for Israel (BFI)  — as well as their own challenges. 

At UCLA, for example, two separate BDS resolutions have been brought to the Student Association Council, failing the first time and passing the second. The experience shifted BFI’s approach to adversity on campus, according to its president, junior Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. 

In countering the first resolution, she said, “[We] mobilized the community to lobby members of the council before the meeting, to make public comments the night of the meeting, and to remain united, strong and respectful after the meeting.”   

This approach left the Jewish community emotionally exhausted, Mokhtarzadeh said. When another BDS resolution was brought to the council a year later, BFI decided to use a more collaborative tactic rather than a divisive one, through different projects that brought both sides together. 

An Israel “apartheid wall” at UC IrvinePhotos courtesy of StandWithUs.

“We rededicated ourselves to our community, to our values,” she said. “We taught the community about how they could get involved with several projects and initiatives that were working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, in contrast to the BDS resolution, which was tearing our campus apart.” 

The pro-Israel group also dealt with a three-day Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel with a sign reading “Zionism Is Racism.” During that span, BFI sought to ensure that Jewish students felt supported on campus and organized its own campaign titled #OneWishForPeace involving a social media campaign where students added banners to their profile pictures reading, “This Is What a Zionist Looks Like.”  

Look on the bright side

The Palestinian conflict is not the defining characteristic of Israel, nor should it be. Israel is a world leader in technology, cybersecurity, water, agriculture, and much more. For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, lasering in on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians undermines all of the country’s accomplishments.

“When it comes to Israel, to focus only on the conflict and to allow that alone to define what Israel is and stands for completely misses the mark,” he said. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but there is far more to Israel. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the region that has true freedom of speech, freedom of press — vibrant and open media — freedom of religion, women’s and LGBT rights, rule of law, and regularly scheduled elections where all parties accept the outcome. 

“Israel stands for tolerance, equality and respect for all cultures. We are very proud of our people and their accomplishments and the many lifesaving discoveries that are being continuously achieved in the fields of medicine, high-tech and innovation, and more. To speak of Israel only within the context of the conflict is to give only a fraction of her true picture and story, which is so much more.”

No matter how you decide to approach the subject, much is at stake, according to Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council.

“BDS is pursuing an agenda that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East conflict,” he said, adding that BDS propagates anti-Semitic stereotypes, spreads anti-American ideas, and targets Israeli and Jewish students who have nothing to do with politics. “This is why I believe that getting educated about BDS is mandatory for any Jewish student and why it’s important that we communicate to the broader American public how this affects every citizen of the U.S.” 

Nonetheless, openly advocating for Israel on campus is not dangerous or risky, according to Lerner. 

“There is a proliferation of scary videos and articles on Facebook which lead our community to believe the campuses are somehow dangerous for Jewish students, but those posts are often recycling a handful of truly offensive incidents which have occurred on campuses over the past five years,” he said.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that many actions taken in support of the BDS movement are purely symbolic. What matters, Mokhtarzadeh said, is how to respond as a community. 

“BDS passed on our campus, and, no, the sky did not come tumbling down,” she said. “UCLA did not divest, nor did the UC. And the pro-Israel community is stronger today than ever before. BDS cannot and will not define us.”  

Hillary Clinton to Israeli TV: Jihadists are praying for Donald Trump to win


Hillary Clinton told an Israeli TV news show that Islamist extremists are praying for a Donald Trump presidency, prompting an enraged rebuke from the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee, speaking to Israel’s Channel 2, was responding to a question about why she does not use the term “war on radical Islam” favored by Trump and other conservatives.

“Bringing Islam into the definition of our enemy actually serves the purpose of the radical jihadists and there’s a lot of evidence of that,” she said, citing a Time magazine op-Ed by Matt Olsen, formerly a director of the National Counterterrorism Center under President Barack Obama.

“I found it even surprising how clear and compelling the case was, where he quoted ISIS spokespeople rooting for Donald Trump’s victory because Trump has made Islam and Muslims part of his campaign, and basically, Matt Olsen argues, that the jihadists see this as a great gift, they are saying, ‘Oh, please Allah, make Trump president of America!” Clinton said in a preview of a longer interview embedded on Israeli news websites. ISIS is one of several acronyms for the Islamic State terrorist group.

“I’m not interested in giving aid and comfort to their evil ambitions,” she said. “I want to defeat them, I want to end their reign of terror, I don’t want them to feel as though they can be getting more recruits because of our politics.”

The Trump campaign addressed the clip in its daily email to reporters, taunting Clinton for her relative paucity of news conferences.

“It’s no surprise she’s resorting to unhinged and dishonest attacks, including claiming on Israeli TV that terrorists are praying for Mr. Trump to win,” Jason Miller, a campaign spokesman, said in the email.

Separately, Clinton and Trump appeared Wednesday evening on the NBC network in a “commander in chief” town hall forum answering national security questions.

Clinton again affirmed her support for the deal reached last year between Iran and six major powers, led by the United States, rolling back nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief. She said the deal freed the United States to focus on other Iranian malfeasance.

“What I am focused on is all the other malicious activities of the Iranians — ballistic missiles, support for terrorists, being involved in Syria, Yemen and other places, supporting Hezbollah, Hamas,” Clinton told Matt Lauer, the NBC interviewer convening the town hall. The question did not come from military veterans in the audience.

“But here’s the difference, Matt. I would rather as president be dealing with Iran on all of those issues without having to worry as much about their racing for a nuclear weapon,” she said. “So we have made the world safer; we just have to make sure it’s enforced.”

Controversy at UCLA spurs student transfer, complaint, criticism


Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the
caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
wThus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

Cruz may be down, but he is not out as a favorite of the pro-Israel right


Wednesday night’s gripping tale of a dramatic, sudden repudiation of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by Sheldon Adelson, the major pro-Israel philanthropist and Republican donor, seems a little less consequential in the light of Thursday morning, according to folks who are close with Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

There is no rift, they say, only a cooling off until after Nov. 8, Election Day. Until then, the Adelsons are invested in Donald Trump, while Cruz remains a darling of the pro-Israel right.

Reports Wednesday night said Cruz had been banned from Adelson’s suite at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland after Cruz declined to endorse Trump during his convention speech Wednesday night and exited the stage to boos from the delegates.

Describing what occurred as a snub or a ban would be to “utterly misrepresent” it, said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was present and issued a statement at the Adelsons’ behest.

“After the speech, given its newsworthy content, it appears that a large contingent of reporters followed the Senator as he made his rounds, including to the Adelsons’ suite,” Boteach said. “The decision was taken by advisers to the Adelsons not to make a spectacle in the small private suite given the intense media scrutiny engulfing the Senator at that moment and to instead meet him in private the following day.”

Boteach, whose advocacy group The World Values Network is funded in large part by the Adelsons, said the couple planned to meet privately with Cruz on Thursday.

“Whatever issues they would have had with Senator Cruz’s speech, they would never have chosen to disrespect a friend who is a United States Senator, a patriot, and a staunch friend of Israel,” he said.

Cruz still stands out as perhaps the best political friend to the wing of pro-Israel activists who embrace settlements and would like to put the two-state solution into deep freeze, according to Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America.

“There is no one better than Cruz,” said Klein, whose group is also a major beneficiary of Adelson’s largesse but who emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the casino magnate.

“I mean, others are just as good,” he said, naming former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee among once and possibly future presidential contenders. “But there is no one better.”

The Adelsons kept out of this presidential race for months, in part because their generous backing for Gingrich in the 2012 cycle is believed to have set back eventual nominee Mitt Romney’s bid to unseat President Barack Obama (who, like this year’s Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, they consider a greater threat than Trump).

Still, Adelson did reveal last year that he favored Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, while his wife was impressed with Cruz. Both candidates had what the pro-Israel right regards as unassailable records on Israel and on opposing the Iran nuclear deal.

Adelson did not pronounce his preference for Trump until May, after Rubio’s campaign imploded – he lost his home state, Florida, to Trump — and after Trump had emerged as the presumptive nominee, despite a formidable late-in-the-game challenge by Cruz. Adelson reportedly told Trump that he would back his campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

There was not much love lost between the two. When Trump was boasting last year that he did not need Adelson’s money, sources in the Adelson camp were quoted as saying that he had assiduously courted the casino magnate. Trump’s refusal to say he would completely kill the Iran deal – he says he hates it, but appears open to tweaking it as opposed to scrapping it outright – and his back-and-forth on whether he would be “neutral” on Israel were also of concern to Adelson and other Republicans.

So when it emerged late Wednesday that Adelson ordered Cruz turned away from his suite, there was speculation of a rift. Those reports appeared to be confirmed when Adelson’s adviser, Andy Abboud, posted a photo on Twitter of Trump posing with the Adelsons captioned, “The Adelsons and their choice for president!”

However, a source close to the Adelsons immediately told CNN that they shut out Cruz because they did not want him to use the couple “as a prop against Trump” – suggesting that the distancing was about electoral strategies (which will be irrelevant post-Nov. 8) and not about a permanent falling out.

Cruz was a headliner at the annual ZOA dinner in 2014. The 2016 headliner is Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, but Cruz would get a hero’s welcome were he to turn up, Klein said. (The dinner takes place in December, after the election turns primaries tensions into mist.)

“Jews who are staunch supporters of Cruz, almost entirely because of his pro-Israel stance, I believe this will have little impact,” he said. “Because support for Cruz is all about his strong positions on Israel.”

Clinton supporters defeat ‘occupation’ language at platform committee meeting


Supporters of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic Party’s platform committee on Saturday rejected several proposals that would have undermined the party’s longstanding support for Israel.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) released a ” target=”_blank”> approved by the drafting committee in St. Louis a week earlier. “We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” the draft reads. “Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

On the second day of the platform drafting committee’s two-day meeting in Orlando, Florida, supporters of Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment that would add “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so they may live in” to the original language. The proposal was voted down 95-73.

The rejection led to loud boos and one man was escorted out by an officer in the room after he shouted out that Democrats had “sold out to AIPAC,” according to CNN.

Before the vote, Dr. Cornel West urged the passage of the amendment, to roaring applause and a standing ovation from Sanders supporters.

“This is a moral issue. This is an issue of our time. It has spiritual and moral implications,” West said. “This is not just about politics, not just about the next election. Democratic Party, you’ve been in denial for too long. Palestinians ought to be free.”

The committee also rejected an amendment to “rebuild Gaza which the UN warns could be uninhabitable by 2020, and where poverty and hopelessness undermine peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis” (95 vs. 72). Another amendment to remove the military option from the Iran non-compliance language failed 67-98.

Cuomo signs executive order to fight BDS


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday “>passed a bill, sponsored by Senators Jack Martins, a Republican from Long Island, and Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn, that prohibits the state from doing business with companies that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But the bill never progressed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. “Passing legislation even when you have good intent can often be a tedious affair,” the governor remarked. “And we want to take immediate action because we want the world to know and we want Israel to know that we are on their side.”

Cuomo called on governors from all states to follow his lead and take immediate action to fight the BDS movement. According to the governor’s office, Cuomo has been named as the Co-Chair of the American Jewish Committee’s Governors against BDS initiative. “This order sends the message that this state will do everything in its power to end this hateful, intolerant campaign. New York and Israel share an unbreakable bond and I pray that the Israeli and Palestinian people will find a way to live side by side and find peace, prosperity and security,” he said.

Following his speech, Cuomo marched in the Celebrate Israel parade on fifth avenue, alongside a truck blaring Israeli music. “I am the first governor in the country to sign an executive order saying we oppose the boycott of Israel. I am proud of it  and I hope other states follow our lead,” Cuomo told reporters before marching. “It is very important that Israel is strong, not just for the sake of Israel but for the sake of all democracies. Israel is an important strategic ally of the U.S. And we have to keep that relationship strong. And even in this difficult time of turmoil, I want Israel to know New York stands with them.”

Asked if he has responded to President Obama’s April letter requesting to lift state sanctions against Iran as part of the Iran nuclear deal, Cuomo said: “I would have to check. I don’t know if we have.”

Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott “>letter sent to 49 governors on May 31.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan applauded Cuomo for taking action after “it had become increasingly clear that the Assembly wasn’t ready to join us on this critical issue.”

Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of NY, said in a statement that the executive order “clearly demonstrates the discriminatory nature of BDS against the State of Israel and and we are proud that the Governor of New York State has taken this historic action to stand with Israel and reject the BDS movement.” The Orthodox Union and the World Jewish Congress also released statements commending Cuomo for the historic action.

Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking to reporters at an unrelated press conference on Sunday, said he would seek to introduce the same idea to fight BDS on a federal level. “I think what the governor has done is an excellent idea,” Schumer told reporters. “I think that the state (of New York) should not do any business with any company that participates in BDS, and I am looking at introducing a federal law to do the same thing. BDS is a movement that is just totally unfair to Israel. They hold Israel to one standard and hold the other countries, including those who are sworn enemies to Israel, to another standard.”

Corker: Republicans are not more supportive of Israel than Democrats


Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee pushed back against those who are trying to make the U.S.-Israel relationship a wedge issue in the presidential campaign, during an appearance at the AJC Global Forum on Monday.

“I would love to say to the audience that, you know, Republicans are much more supportive of Israel than Democrats are, but that’s not true,” Corker said during a discussion on the U.S.-Israel relationship. “Thankfully, that is not true.”

According to the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, while there’s an unprecedented “tenseness” that currently exists in the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, once a new president is elected, “What you are going to see is a return to the norm, regardless who comes out of this cycle.”

“But in Congress, certainly, there is bipartisan support for Israel,” Corker said.

A recent Gallup poll 

If pro-Israel voters had doubts about Hillary, few remain


Hillary Clinton can hardly be called a consensus candidate.

During her decades-long stint in national politics, there has hardly been a more divisive surname than “Clinton” — unless it’s Bush. But among pro-Israel voters, she’s quickly emerged as the candidate of convergence.

Last month, with two weeks left until California’s primary, Bernie Sanders, the first person of Jewish heritage to be a factor in the state’s presidential nominating contest, seems to have more or less broken with the tribe.

On May 23, Sanders appointed James Zogby, a pro-Palestinian activist, to a crucial Democratic National Committee (DNC) organ. 

The next day, Howard Welinsky, a Warner Bros. executive and Los Angeles Democratic leader, logged onto Facebook to register his outrage.

Throwing proper capitalization to the wind, he wrote: “I will never Forgive Bernie Sanders for appointing a supporter of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] of Israel to the DNC drafting Platform Committee! BDS is a form of anti-semitism. So what has he done?”

Welinsky, a Clinton supporter, has served three times on the platform committee, the larger body that amends and votes on a party platform written by the inner circle Zogby joined. Welinsky said he’s offered his experience to the Clinton camp as a participant in the July convention in Philadelphia.

“I’ll do anything that the campaign asks of me, really,” he said.

Describing himself as a “two-trick pony” who votes based on the issues of higher education and Israel, Welinsky called his support for Clinton a “no-brainer,” even though he supported Barack Obama in 2008.

As for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, Welinsky doesn’t see him as much of an option. 

“I’m not sure Trump knows what his position is on Israel, or it changes with whatever comes into his head at the moment,” he said.

The Zogby appointment wasn’t the first time Sanders has had a brush with the world of pro-Palestinian activism. 

Many of his supporters align with political identity groups such as Black Lives Matter, for which the Palestinian cause resonates. A case in point is another Sanders selection for the drafting committee, Cornel West, a patron philosopher of critical race theory who has spoken out for solidarity between the African-American struggle and Palestinian activism.

“[Sanders] is an anti-Israel person, so he acts accordingly,” said Haim Saban, an Israeli-American investor and philanthropist whose donations of more than $10 million to Clinton’s cause put him among her top donors.  

Saban added, “He appoints people who are pro-BDS, that don’t look at the situation in a balanced way, who are very clearly anti-Israel. It’s consistent with who he has been for 25 years. There’s no surprise there.”

By contrast, Saban described Clinton as a staunchly pro-Israel candidate: “If Hillary Clinton ran for prime minister of Israel, she would win,” he said.

Clinton has repeatedly affirmed her support for Israel. Most recently, she urged the United Methodist Church, of which she’s a member, to reject a divestment motion aimed at Israel.

So with Sanders playing the part of her foil, Clinton’s already warm relationship with the Jewish community seems, well – bashert, foretold.

“It remains to be seen what ultimately will happen at the convention,” said Sam Yebri, a business litigator and president of the Jewish- Iranian organization 30 Years After. 

But, citing Clinton’s record on Israel, he added, “I have confidence that given the many leading pro-Israel supporters that are backing Hillary, she’ll stand firmly behind the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Even among millennials he knows, Yebri said, Sanders has burned up a lot of goodwill that previously existed.

“Virtually all of my friends for whom Sanders’ messages resonated were turned off by his baseless criticisms of Israel and his desire to turn the Democratic Party back on 60 years of supporting Israel,” Yebri said.

In general, younger Jews relate differently to Israel than their parents, said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, who has an aggressive social media presence and is popular among many millennials.

Their self-conception as pro-Israel voters is based on 21st-century geopolitics: While Jewish baby boomers experienced an Israel defending itself from destruction, their children see a strong nation with an elite fighting force, he explained.

“There’s a huge love of Israel among so many millennials and college students,” Bookstein said. “But it’s definitely not the same kind of instinctual care and love that previous generations might have had.”

Combined with their more questioning relationship to Israel, a creeping sense of disenfranchisement has delivered many young Jews to Sanders, he said. 

“Are those millennial Jews on campus going to throw their support behind Hillary if she becomes the nominee, or are the disenfranchised going to go into hibernation and apathy mode?” he said. “I don’t know.”

The youth vote is by no means a monolith.

“A lot of my young female friends are incredibly enthusiastic about Hillary,” said Laura Donney, 25, who identified herself as a Clinton supporter and lifelong feminist.

She said that members of her generation who instinctually dismiss Clinton are succumbing to a false media narrative that paints the candidate’s internal contradictions — a mainstay of the human condition — as dishonesty.

“She’s this or that. … She’s either rich or wants to help, strong or weak,” Donney explained. “Hillary is and-both. She’s wealthy and she wants to help — and in what world is that impossible?”

Whatever the view from atop millennial shoulders, many Jewish Angelenos are increasingly seeing Clinton as the only viable option.

“For me, in this election right now, it’s been a very easy choice,” said Jesse Gabriel, a business litigation and public policy attorney. “I don’t see Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders as credible presidents.”

In addition to Clinton’s stance on Israel, Gabriel said he believes her domestic policy appeals to Jews by virtue of prioritizing children and other vulnerable groups in a way that is “consistent with the teachings of our tradition.”

An upper-cusp millennial, Gabriel, 34, sits on a generational divide: His younger friends and acquaintances skew Sanders, and those older than him skew Clinton, he said.

But in mainstream Jewish community circles, he sees support for Clinton approaching unanimity. 

As an example, the host committee list for a “Jewish Americans for Hillary” event scheduled for May 31 in Beverly Hills features dozens of prominant rabbis, community leaders, politicians and philanthropists.

“Virtually everybody I meet and speak with is supporting Hillary on the Democratic side,” Gabriel said. “And I think, folks who are involved in a serious way in the Jewish community — I can’t think of many people I know who are supporting Senator Sanders. Maybe one.” 

Trump: True hope for some, lesser of two evils for others


For Peter Weiss, an OB-GYN and director of the Rodeo Drive Women’s Health Center, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump wasn’t his first, second or third choice for president — but Hillary Clinton isn’t even his 10th. 

“It’s more of the lesser of two evils, and I look at Hillary Clinton as not accomplishing anything,” Weiss said. “They talk about experience, but experience only matters if you’re good at what you do.”

Weiss, 59, a self-described moderate, sees Trump’s “non-conservative” outlook and reputation as a “dealmaker” as assets — the very things many “Never Trump” conservatives see as liabilities.

But Weiss, who thinks Texas Sen. Ted Cruz “would have been a disaster” from the right, while Clinton could be “a disaster from the left,” said it will be enough if Trump focuses on improving the U.S. economy and strengthening national security. 

“We don’t need ideology from the left, and we don’t need ideology from the right,” Weiss said.

However, for Jonathan Stern, 32, a Trump supporter and local firearms instructor who identifies as a conservative, either Trump or Cruz — who posed the only real challenge to Trump throughout the Republican primaries — would have been fine.

“I was somewhat torn between [Trump] and Ted Cruz because, on the one hand, Ted Cruz is a very strong social conservative who’s also very, very religious and very pro-Israel, which appeals to me,” Stern said. “But I saw Trump as being more tough on Islam and on immigration, so that’s something that appeals to me a lot, too.”

Ultimately, Stern said, he thinks Trump is the type of “strong leader” who can put America “back on track.”

“We’ve veered so far off course in the last eight years, under Obama, from where we need to be, that it’ll take a tremendous amount of work to set things right again,” Stern said.

And while Stern acknowledges that Trump has changed his stance from numerous prior non-conservative positions — from gun control laws to the minimum wage — over the last two decades, he’s confident Trump will follow through on the campaign promises that helped catapult him to the top of a crowded Republican field.

“I really hope he sticks to his promises and follows through on those promises,” Stern said. “I believe that he will do his best to build a wall and deport illegal immigrants and stop Muslims from coming here.”

For Rabbi Jacob Rupp, a 32-year-old lecturer at a Southern California Jewish high school, Trump’s break from “traditional conservative beliefs” is not a deal breaker, even though he identifies as conservative.

“The Republican Party isn’t the final word on what a conservative is, or what the conservative stance should be,” Rupp said.

Rupp credits much of Trump’s rise to being a political “outsider” and speaking in a “very simplistic,” “fourth-grade reading level” manner. Cruz, meanwhile, came off as an “intellectual,” Rupp said.

Rupp thinks Mitt Romney did a poor job of rallying the Republican base and independents in 2012, and that Trump has figured out how to draw in those groups. “What ultimately this specific election is about is drawing in the outsiders of either side,” Rupp said. “You see it with Bernie Sanders’ tremendous appeal.”

Like Weiss, Tali Leitner, 30, a nurse practitioner, is a Republican for whom Trump is simply the least bad of the remaining options. She initially wanted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and then Ohio Gov. John Kasich after Rubio dropped out, and she said she sees a Clinton presidency as a four-year extension of the Barack Obama administration — and a Sanders presidency as even worse.

“Americans want to feel like Americans again — and that pride that they once had, and I feel like Trump brings that to a lot of people,” Leitner said. “I’m all about making America great again. I don’t believe in everything Trump says, but overall I think he’s a better choice than the other two candidates we have left.”

Leitner’s mother, Mali, who lives in the Orange County city of Villa Park, said she has usually voted for the candidate she thinks would be best for Israel (for her, that meant Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney). This election, she has supported Trump since the beginning of his candidacy last summer.

“I strongly believe that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, but the media somehow tried to make this man, in my opinion, not really who he is,” Leitner said. Asked about Trump’s comment in February that he would be “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians (a term he has not since repeated), Leitner said Trump “had to say that,” and that Trump has given “a lot of money to Israel,” is a “good friend of many, many Jewish leaders,” and pointed to the fact that he has a Jewish daughter (Ivanka), a Jewish son-in-law (Jared Kushner) and Jewish grandchildren.

For Edo Cohen, a local 36-year-old head of a digital marketing agency, his main issue, too, is immigration. 

“The biggest threat to the Western world is a demographic threat,” Cohen said, pointing to the influx of Arab immigrants to Europe as an example. “When people lose their borders and lose their identity, they slowly lose their country.”

While he liked Cruz for being a “constitutional conservative,” Cohen said he thinks conservatives sometimes “obsess a little bit too much on that.” Cohen sees domestic issues such as fiscal and economic policies as being reversible, while demographic transformations are irreversible.

“To me, the most important thing, and the thing you can’t reverse — you can always reverse economic policy — but you can’t reverse an invasion,” Cohen said.

Asked how his friends, Republicans and Democrats, view his decision to vote for Trump, Cohen said most of his Republican friends plan to vote for him, too, while his Democrat friends “are not very happy about it.”

“They think he’s a racist, and they think that he’s dumb, but I think that’s what they thought about every Republican candidate, so I don’t see the difference,” Cohen said. “The veil that Donald Trump is lifting on the political correctness front, on the nationalistic front … the fact you’re allowed to say things like, ‘This is my country, and I want to keep it’ — that’s the real appeal that I have for Trump.” 

Erin Schrode Q-and-A: Progressive, pro-Israel and possibly youngest member of Congress


Interview Via iMessage — Meet Erin Schrode: A Proud Progressive & Pro-Israel Candidate… and oh btw would-be-youngest Member of Congress: 

Ed note: Yesterday, we interviewed Schrode, a 25-year-old candidate for California’s Second Congressional District from Marin County. Rather than simply talk by phone, we interviewed Erin by iMessage. As a millennial candidate, we figured Erin would be a good choice to start our Interview via iMessage series.

So how does one decide to run for Congress and who did you turn to for advice?

I’m an activist, an educator, a social entrepreneur. Public service has been my life for over a decade, but never did I think that I’d be a “politician.”

I gave a speech two plus months ago — the throughline of which was “if not here, where?” about the impact of this place, of Northern California, of our CD-2 on my life, my values, my career. I walked off stage and people said, “how do we get you to run for office?!”

I called up my mentors, those I respect most, dear friends, and expected them to smack me down to size, but they all said “RUN!” We need THAT voice in government today.

Dream endorsement?

Dream endorsement… hmmm… Martin Luther King. Can you make that happen?

Hahaha wish we had that ability!

A human being with dreams, an activist on the front lines, one who envisioned a new reality, a leader who earned respect and commanded moral authority.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience living abroad in Israel?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

I never had any connection to the state of Israel. My grandparents raised my mother in a conservative Jewish home, she raised me with those traditions across the country, I was Bat Mitzvahed, but never had any desire to GO to Israel.

A friend convinced me to go on Birthright. I landed at Ben Gurion and had the most profound sense of homecoming, of belonging.

I emailed NYU to see about studying abroad at our campus in TLV as soon as possible — and returned the following semester.

We landed in Tel Aviv two days before January 25th, the day that many use to mark the Egyptian Revolution, six months before Syrian unrest reached a boiling point. It was a charged time in the Middle East.

Erin together with her mother on the roof of Azrieli Towers in Tel AvivErin together with her mother on the roof of Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv

We read somewhere that you pioneered a program on the ground…

I’m an environmentalist — it’s the lens through which I view my life.

I’ve come to see eco eduction as a powerful tool for communication. Issues of climate change, environmental degradation, resource conservation, public health, food security, waste are universal and know no boundaries of geography or religion or race.

I worked with FoEME and wrote the curriculum for the first environmental education center in the Palestinian Authority, bringing together Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian youth around issues of shared natural resources, of biodiversity, of greywater, of water conservation, gardening techniques — as a means of peace building and conflict resolution. Powerful.

I’m a huge believer in finding common ground, in the right to exist of both peoples, in open communication for building peace.

Erin overlooking the Negev outside Sde BokerErin overlooking the Negev outside Sde Boker

You’re backing Sen. Sanders, correct?

I’m proud to be a Democrat right now, where two candidates are talking about the issues that matter and putting forth real platforms with solutions. The movement that Sanders’ campaign is creating does inspire me — and we are tapping into that same energy around the ignored, the excluded, the disenfranchised.

If Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton or the DNC appointed you to the Democratic Platform Committee at the upcoming convention, would you push for changing the language on Israel and the Palestinians?

No.

I cannot accept such anti-Israel vitriol – and I don’t believe that any such change could ever come quietly. There is and will and MUST remain strong support for the State of Israel here in the USA.

I believe in a two-state solution and in the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Just to clarify — what do you mean by “and I don’t believe that any such change could ever come quietly.”?

I mean that I don’t think changing the language could happen without significant uprising from the Jewish community and leaders here in our country.

There’s a difference between advocating for a two-state solution while recognizing Palestinian rights and blatant anti-Israel rhetoric.

Even though we didn’t hear you say you’re officially backing Sanders, Sen Sanders has been quite critical of Bibi Netanyahu, specifically criticizing his speech in Congress in March 2015 calling Netanyahu “a right-wing politician” who “crashed the United States Congress”

You tweeted a quote from that speech… 

It was pre-campaign but what were your thoughts on the Prime Minister’s speech?

If you were in Congress would you have attended?

I wish that Congress hadn’t been playing partisan politics with it — Israel is our only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Absolutely, I would have been there!

…so was it a ‘crashing’ you think?

N-O.

…and by ‘Congress’ do you mean Republicans or Democrats? or both?

I mean both.

I just went back into my Twitter and searched for my other tweets that day.

Feel free to share

I also said this: “Whatever your politics, no doubt @netanyahu just gave an extremely powerful speech that made Obama’s life a lot more diff.”

He did not crash Congress. He addressed our government, as the PM of our only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Are you concerned about a growing divide among progressives and the state of Israel?

Yes. Supporting Israel and standing for human rights are not mutually exclusive. An anti-Israel bias among progressives does nothing to promote peace, security or conflict resolution.

Do events that occur overseas really matter to us back home or should we make domestic issues more of a priority as candidates Sanders & Trump have suggested?

We are one world – and a more interconnected one than ever before. Events overseas can define our lives, as events at home shape the world. People and elected officials alike must recognize and enact policy in line with that clear fact.

Should the U.S. continue to send foreign aid to the Middle East?

Absolutely.

What should the U.S. do in Syria? Nothing? No-fly zone? Boots on the ground?

This IS a long discussion, but one that merits our attention and action. As someone who has spent various weeks on the ground in Lesvos, Greece and Macedonia working with refugees fleeing the very violence of ISIS and Assad, I have heard it expressed time and time again that more must be done. Such action cannot be carried out by the US or foreign forces alone, rather driven by regional partners.

Somewhat related question — the activism that led you to places like Greece, Macedonia (Haiti after the disaster) was that at all influenced by your Jewish upbringing?

Tikkun olam is my life. If not acts of kindness to repair the world, then what?!

Those values of tikes olam, of tzedkah were instilled in my from my earliest of memories.

It harkens back to Pirkei Avot: if not now, when? It is not incumbent upon us to complete the work, but neither can we wait to begin.

Erin at the BBYO Conference in Baltimore interviewing two young Syrian refugees Erin at the BBYO Conference in Baltimore earlier this year interviewing two young Syrian refugees

Recently you’ve faced some anti-Semitic attacks online (after we linked to a article about you in the Daily Kickoff), something we’ve unfortunately seen too much of this election cycle, what can your generation do to improve the situation?

To be called a Filthy Jewess appalled me. I have never felt anti-Semitism directed toward me personally prior to that. In the face of ignorance and hated, we must remain vigilant and true to our values. I believe that we must speak about love and focus more upon what unites, rather than that which divides. We must honor our traditions and carry the torch proudly!

As an emerging Jewish leader, is there something specific you wish the Jewish community would do better/improve?

We can and should and must bring our people, especially young people, together – our משפחה! When we celebrate and honor our shared traditions, values, history, language, place (and food!), they thrive and take on new meaning. When we debate, we become stronger, better informed, and uniquely equipped to go forth. I am hugely proud to be Jewish and a part of such a rich, vibrant, resilient, charged community and tribe.

Is political/communal apathy the enemy?

Apathy is the single greatest problem plaguing our world today.

You mentioned food above, what is your favorite Jewish food item?

Charoset: I eat it by the bowl. Kasha varnishkes: I perfected a gluten-free version of my grandmother’s recipe this year. And latkes: my mom’s famous tricolor ones with beets, carrots, and zucchini are sensational with a dollop of homemade pearsauce (welcome to Northern California!).

I am also a Matzah mastermind: pizza, PB & J, avocado toast, you name it.

Erin's homemade latkesErin’s homemade latkes

What are the odds we’re calling you Congresswoman Schrode a year from now?

We’re a people who have long defied odds, לא?

Indeed!

I am laser-focused on our June 7 primary election here in California right now. If we make it through that, then the odds of Congresswoman Schrode increase significantly.

There is nothing more important that I feel I could be doing with my life, time, and energy. I have the opportunity to shed light on the issues that matter most to members of my community and to me personally – many of which we have spoken about here – at a precarious time in our history.

How the 2016 election is upending pro-Israel orthodoxies


When it comes to Israel, Democrats and Republicans simply do not see eye to eye, and for all their love of Zion, evangelicals will turn out for a candidate who is less than 100 percent on the issue.

Welcome to the 2016 presidential election, when the conventional pro-Israel wisdom has been turned upside down.

For years it was sacrosanct that whatever else divides the parties, backing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s line on Israel unites them. And Republicans who want to be elected better count on evangelicals and their rock-solid support for Israel.

This year, the presumptive Republican nominee is an unknowable provocateur who has said he couldn’t care less about pandering to pro-Israel donors. Democrats who bucked pro-Israel orthodoxies over the last year are confident they can reclaim the Senate and are setting their sights on the once-unthinkable — regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he would approach Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with neutrality and for weeks would not commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also told a roomful of Jewish Republicans that he did not want their money.

Trump seems unwilling to consistently pander — on Israel or anything else — to a constituency whose turnout many deem essential to a Republican victory in presidential elections.

Yet while much of the evangelical establishment loathes Trump, the real estate magnate’s support among evangelicals, at 36 percent, was commensurate with his support among Republicans overall, the Washington Post reported in March. And some leaders in the movement back him, most prominently Jerry Falwell Jr., who heads Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Pro-Israel insiders, attempting to explain evangelical support for Trump, point to disquisitions like one in the Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin and Peter Wehner, neoconservative commentators who distinguish between evangelicals who self-identify because of “broad cultural identification” (and are likelier to vote Trump) and those who do because of a “creedal faith” (less likely to vote Trump.)

It’s an old argument, but it explodes the conventional wisdom. David Brog, the one-time director of Christians United for Israel, would tell reporters year in and year out at CUFI’s conferences that the group had as one of its missions reminding Republicans that to win they needed evangelicals, and to win evangelicals they needed to be pro-Israel.

CUFI declined to comment, as did Brog, who now heads a Sheldon Adelson-funded initiative to advance pro-Israel activism on campus.

The end of the third rail 

Rabbi Steve Gutow also embodies the new normal: He helped set up AIPAC’s Southwest operation in the 1980s, helped found the National Jewish Democratic Council – for years the pro-Israel voice in the party — in the 1990s and for 10 years starting in 2005 directed the consensus-driven Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Last week, Gutow began working for J Street helping candidates who once may have been isolated for their criticism of Israel tap into what J Street calls “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American Jewish voters. Its affiliated JStreetPAC is raising money to support candidates who backed the Iran deal over AIPAC’s objections.

“Most of the folks who led for the Iran deal will have won reelection and those who opposed will have lost” come November, predicted Ben Shnider, J Street’s political director. “It’s not the single factor, but if you look at the calculus, supporting diplomacy was added value, and that will go even further in changing the dynamics.”

In an interview, Gutow said the willingness of incumbents to openly challenge pro-Israel orthodoxies came not just because of differences over the Iran deal, but had evolved as Democrats sought to salvage the two-state solution. He said the collapse of the U.S.-driven Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2014 meant that sentiments once uttered privately were coming out into the open.

“Why are people feeling more free to speak out?” Gutow asked. “It’s the length of the problem and the seeming insolubleness of the problem.”

AIPAC recognizes the challenges and this month named Jonathan Kessler, who set up the Israel lobby’s campus operation — one of its signal successes in recent decades — as a “director of strategic initiatives.” Kessler will identify new “outside the box” approaches, according to a release that cited “upheaval in the Middle East and real changes in Washington, D.C.” as reasons for the new position.

AIPAC remains steadfastly nonpartisan. A hallway at its annual conference in March was lined with posters profiling a diverse array of activists — black, white, Latino, Christian, Jewish, liberal, conservative.

“AIPAC is strongly committed to further strengthening the bipartisan pro-Israel movement in America both in its size and diversity,” Marshall Wittmann, its spokesman, said in an email.

But bipartisanship has its limits. For eight years, from 2007 to 2014, AIPAC hosted the Steny and Eric show. The titles varied – some years one was the majority leader, the other the minority whip and vice versa — but the script for Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Eric Cantor, R-Va., didn’t vary by much: It was a demonstration of bipartisan solidarity on Israel despite political differences.

“Although we’re on opposite sides of the political aisle, we are absolutely united when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Cantor said in 2008.

This year’s installment was very different. Cantor, booted from Congress in 2014 by a Tea Party challenger in the Republican primaries, was replaced by Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. All seemed good when he and Hoyer paired up in March at the AIPAC conference.

But McCarthy said the Obama administration sowed “doubt” about Israel, and Hoyer, his voice tense, interrupted the moderator to say the U.S. and Israeli security establishments “are cooperating as closely today as they have in the past.”

If the seams began to show, it was because it had been a rough year or so for unanimity. A year earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress, blasting President Barack Obama’s talks with Iran to achieve a nuclear deal. The speech and its fallout rallied the Democratic Party’s leadership to keep the deal alive, even as AIPAC led the charge against it.

The deal went through. AIPAC has profited from the perception, however mythical, that it can kill political careers. But with a new perception looming — of a lobby that no longer gets its way — the folks who would supplant AIPAC and its allies are ready to seize the day.

By April, when Hillary Clinton faced off against Bernie Sanders ahead of the New York Democratic presidential primary, the Vermont senator chided Clinton in the debate for her well-received speech to AIPAC.

“You barely mentioned the Palestinians,” he said, and the Brooklyn audience cheered.

Sanders did not win the primary, but his willingness to take on Clinton over an issue once seen as the third rail was the sign that the new normal had arrived.

Within days of the debate, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry — representing twice the administration firepower AIPAC had drawn just weeks earlier — were preaching tough love at J Street’s annual gala. Biden made headlines at the event, saying Netanyahu was taking Israel in the “wrong direction.”

NORPAC to host Cruz fundraiser on eve of NY primary


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is expected to spend the eve of the New York primary at a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by NORPAC in Manhattan.

The NYC fundraiser is hosted by the group’s president Dr. Ben Chouake, Elliott Lauer, Ben Heller, Batya Klein, and Steve Lonegan among others, according to an invitation obtained by Jewish Insider.

NORPAC is a non-partisan political action committee whose primary purpose is to support candidates and sitting members of the Senate and House of Representatives who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel. however, in February, Chouake announced his endorsement of Cruz. “Since entering the Senate, Ted Cruz has made support of US-Israel relations a priority,”he said in a statement. “He has used the legislative powers of his office to advance the relationship, and his bully pulpit to add a moral voice for America’s most important ally in the Middle East. It is evident that Senator Cruz’ support for Israel is heartfelt and effective.”

Chouake later joined Cruz’s Jewish Leadership team.

On Thursday, after touring a matzah bakery in Brooklyn, Cruz told Jewish Insider that he hopes to see the Jewish community pay him back for his steadfast support of Israel by voting for him in the remaining primary contests. “We are fortunate to enjoy tremendous support in the Jewish community here in New York and across the country,” Cruz said. “I think that’s the result of having built a long record – fighting to strengthen our relationship with the nation of Israel and fighting to defend religious liberty.” Asked if he expects to see his steadfast support of Israel pay off with votes in the April 19 primary, Cruz said, “I certainly hope so. It the right thing to do so, regardless, but I would be grateful if it also earned the support of many people in New York and elsewhere.”

The Cruz campaign announced on Friday that it had raised more than $12.5 million in the month of March, making it the highest amount raised in one month during the entirety of the campaign.

On Israel Apartheid Week, some pro-Israel students find silence is best response


When Israel Apartheid Week came to Columbia University in early March, there was potential for great agitation at the heavily Jewish campus.

The local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the nation’s leading campus proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, set up a mock “Israeli apartheid wall” in front of the steps leading up to the iconic Low Library. Across the way, a handful of students affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace manned a table promoting boycotts of the Jewish state.

A few pro-Israel counterprotesters mounted a 12-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio doll one day that week to call out what they said were lies being propagated by anti-Israel students. But the doll had not explicitly been permitted by Columbia’s student government, and after an hour or so the students were told to take it down.

“We switched the conversation to talking about the Pinocchio,” said Rudy Rochman, the Columbia junior who is president of the local chapter of Students Supporting Israel, which organized the Pinocchio display. “That was really the goal of putting it up. We wanted our messaging to be louder than theirs and to destroy their message.”

For the most part, however, pro-Israel students at the Ivy League school seemed to be laying low, and the week passed largely uneventfully. The anti-Israel groups hosted lectures, screened films and staged dance performances, while Columbia’s largest pro-Israel student group, Aryeh, hosted a lecture by anti-divestment law professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University that attracted about 80 people. The pro-Palestinian groups drew their loyalists, the pro-Israel students spoke to their constituents and the vast majority of Columbia students paid little attention to either.

That, say many pro-Israel activists on campus, is what success looks like when it comes to Israel Apartheid Week. As the annual event has become a fixture on college campuses, many pro-Israel activists say their most successful strategy is simply to ignore it.

“Being out there devolves this into color war; it makes both sides look crazy,” said Daniella Greenbaum, a Barnard junior and president of Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel. “We want to have elevated discourse on Israel. That’s why we’re not out there this year.”

Dozens of university campuses around the world now mark Israel Apartheid Week. Usually scheduled anytime from late February through early April, the weeklong series of student-organized events is meant to highlight alleged Israeli misdeeds and promote the BDS campaign. Anti-Israel speakers deliver lectures, students mount public demonstrations and guest columnists publish pro-BDS Op-Eds in campus newspapers.

At some campuses, the events prompt open conflict between anti- and pro-Israel students, and students on both sides have complained of being harassed.

During Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University, pro-Israel students countered anti-Israel displays with a 12-foot-tall Pinocchio doll meant to call attention to During Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University, pro-Israel students countered anti-Israel displays with a 12-foot-high Pinocchio doll meant to call attention to “lies about Israel,” March 1, 2016. Photo courtesy Students Supporting Israel – Columbia

“Our biggest fear and concern is that you have so much conflict that Jewish students don’t want to do anything Jewish because this becomes a conflict space,” said one Northeast Hillel director, who asked that his university not be named so as not to fuel anti-Israel agitation on campus. “Most college students are conflict averse. College is such a fun place. When you make a space a conflict space, our fear is that people won’t want to come in.”

The Hillel director says one of his main strategies to avoid being drawn into the conflict with the pro-Palestinian groups is to ignore them. Instead, he focuses on staging positive Israel events.

“It’s kind of a big nothing,” he said of Israel Apartheid Week.

At Columbia, Aryeh polled about 200 students a couple of years ago and found that Israel was very low on the list of issues that interested them. That’s why the group was against the decision by Students Supporting Israel to mount a counterdemonstration opposite the mock apartheid wall, Greenbaum said.

“We have found the days we’re not there people either don’t stop by the wall or don’t notice,” Greenbaum told JTA. “It’s best to avoid calling attention to the whole thing.”

At some campuses, conflict has become unavoidable, some Jewish students say. At the City University of New York, Jewish students at four campuses — Brooklyn College, Hunter College, the College of Staten Island and John Jay College — have complained of being harassed, slurred and silenced by hostile pro-Palestinian students.

On Feb. 16, students at Brooklyn College disrupted a faculty meeting to demand that “Zionists” leave campus and called one professor a “Zionist pig.”

Last week, at a panel discussion at Hunter held as part of Israel Apartheid Week and International Women’s Day, Students for Justice in Palestine student leader Nerdeen Kiswani accused Israel of using “mass rapes of Palestinian women” as part of a campaign to “perpetrate genocide” on the Palestinian people.

“Israel is a state that is built on murder and mass rape of Palestinian women,” said Kiswani, who also has called for an intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israel.

The panel was moderated Saadia Toor, an associate professor of sociology at CUNY. The accusation went unanswered and Kiswani was applauded for her remarks. About 65 people were present for the event.

On Feb. 24, the Zionist Organization of America sent CUNY Chancellor James Milliken a long letter detailing Jewish students’ complaints of anti-Semitism and warning that they violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that federally funded universities ensure that Jewish students and others suffer no discrimination on campus.

CUNY launched an investigation into the allegations and the university says it is assembling a task force to promote a more respectful environment on campus.

The Anti-Defamation League also has highlighted alleged anti-Semitism at CUNY while applauding Milliken for his response. New York City Council members reportedly are drafting a bill that would require CUNY to report all campus bias incidents to the City Council.

For their part, SJP and pro-BDS activists say they are not anti-Semitic, and that pro-Israel groups are trying to muzzle them through efforts that amount to witch hunts that risk violating their free speech rights.

“Rather than protect students from bigotry,” a Jewish Voice for Peace spokeswoman said of the proposed New York City Council law, it “is intended to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights, often by falsely conflating criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism.”

Though news headlines often make it seem like U.S. college campuses have become the sites of pitched battles between anti-Israel and pro-Israel students, many campus professionals – including at colleges where anti-Semitic incidents allegedly have occurred — say that’s simply not the case.

Nadya Drukker, the executive director of the Hillel chapter at Brooklyn College, said more than 30 student leaders on her campus are focused on organizing pro-Israel events. One of the events that took place this semester was even co-sponsored with the local chapter of the Muslim Students Association, which largely steers clear of the Israel-Arab conflict.

The event, which was also co-sponsored by a Christian student club, was a trivia game called “Getting to know each other’s religion.”

Marco Rubio’s big Jewish backer and seven other important facts


After Marco Rubio’s strong performance in Wednesday night’s Republican primary debate, many Americans are taking a second look at the U.S. senator from Florida. Here are a few things American Jews might want to know about him.

1. Rubio had humble beginnings — and rose quickly

The junior senator was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban parents who moved to the United States in 1956 and later found work in bartending and housekeeping. After high school, Rubio paid for his first year of college with a football scholarship and then took out student loans. Rubio later repaid $100,000 in student debt out of the $800,000 advance he received for his 2012 book, “An American Son.” (He also sprung for a fishing boat.) While studying law at the University of Miami in the mid-1990s, Rubio interned for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., the first Cuban American elected to Congress and a staunch supporter of Israel. Rubio won election in 2000 to 

2. Rubio’s biggest patron is a past president of the Miami Jewish federation

Billionaire auto dealership magnate Norman Braman, a past president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, isn’t just the single-largest backer of Rubio’s presidential campaign. Braman also helped finance the young senator’s legislative agenda, employed Rubio as a lawyer, hired Rubio’s wife (a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader) as a philanthropic adviser, helped fund Rubio’s position as a college instructor and assisted Rubio with his personal finances. In 2010, Braman and Rubio went to Israel together shortly after Rubio’s election to the U.S. Senate.

3. … But Sheldon Adelson may not be far behind

Rubio may be the candidate of choice for Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent between $100 million and $150 million of his estimated $32 billion fortune backing Republicans in the 2012 presidential campaign. Sources close to Adelson told Politico in April that the billionaire likes the Florida senator’s strong stance on defense, including his strident support for Israel. And after Rubio declared he’d run for president, the Adelson-owned Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, gave Rubio coverage some reviewers described as “fawning.”

4. Where is Rubio on issues of concern to Jews?

On domestic issues, Rubio wants to repeal Obamacare, opposes abortion and has waffled on immigration reform. First, as a member of the so-called Gang of Eight, Rubio championed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have opened a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. But he backed away from that strategy once the bill failed and instead suggested a more piecemeal approach focusing first on border enforcement. On foreign policy, Rubio is a vocal Israel backer, opposed the Iran nuclear deal and wants stepped-up Iran sanctions and favors a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq to fight the Islamic State. Rubio also opposes the Obama administration’s normalization of ties with Cuba.

5. Is it true that Rubio was once a Mormon?

Yes. Though born a Catholic and now a Catholic, Rubio spent three years of his youth as a Mormon after his parents baptized him in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints while they were living in Las Vegas. In the early 2000s, Rubio attended a Southern Baptist church, Miami’s Christ Fellowship, for about four years, and donated at least $50,000 to it. Nowadays, he goes to Catholic mass on Sundays, according to his book.

6. Rubio says Israel should get unconditional U.S. support

Like practically all of his fellow Republican candidates for president, Rubio has taken a hawkish line when it comes to Israel, slamming the Obama administration’s treatment of the country and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “If America doesn’t stand with Israel, who would we stand with? If Israel — a democracy, a strong American ally on the international stage — if they are not worthy of our unconditional support, then what ally of ours around the world can feel safe in their alliance with us?” Rubio said in a Senate speech on March 19.

7. What’s this I hear about Rubio and Hitler?

In September, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, blasted Rubio for doing a fundraising event on Yom Kippur at the Texas home of Harlan Crow, a conservative philanthropist whose art collection includes two works by Adolf Hitler, a signed copy of “Mein Kampf,” and “cabinet full of place settings and linens used by the Nazi leader,” according to Wasserman Schultz. Rubio’s defenders called the attack a cheap shot, noting that the Nazi memorabilia constitutes a tiny part of Crow’s very large collection and had nothing to do with Rubio’s fundraiser.

8. Rubio went to bat for justice for Alberto Nisman

After the mysterious killing in January of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was investigating the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Rubio called on Secretary of State John Kerry to establish an independent, international probe into Nisman’s death. Rubio questioned the ability of Argentina’s government to conduct a fair investigation (Nisman had accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of impeding the AMIA investigation), prompting a rebuke from Argentina’s government for his meddling and “imperious behavior.”

Pope Francis: Attacks on Israel are anti-Semitic


Pope Francis said that attacks both on Jews and the State of Israel are anti-Semitic.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the pope said in a private meeting at the Vatican with Jewish leaders on Wednesday, according to a statement from the World Jewish Congress. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.” 

WJC President Ronald Lauder praised the pope’s comments, saying the relationship between Jews and Catholics had never been stronger. “Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us,” Lauder said.

Pope Francis also met publicly with nearly 150 delegates and members of the World Jewish Congress’ governing board on Wednesday. The meeting marked the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a landmark declaration that rejected the charge of Jewish responsibility for the killing of Jesus and helped transform the relationship between Judaism and Catholicism.

“Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that,” Pope Francis said, according to the WJC statement.

The pope’s comments come at a time of strife in the Middle East and heightened violence in Israel. At a meeting on Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board “reaffirmed its continued support of a two-state solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.”

The board also called upon the international community to maintain and, if required, expand sanctions on Iran pending verification of its complete compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal.

Matisyahu, the Iran deal and the college campus


Do we need to have a definition of anti-Semitism?  Most people think they already know what it means.

And sometimes the answer is obvious. Think, for example, about the vandals who recently scrawled the words “Yids out” on the fence of a girls’ primary day school in London.

Or consider Matisyahu. What else can you call it when Spain’s annual reggae music festival, Rototom Sunsplash, cancelled a scheduled appearance by this Jewish American singer.  Organizers argued that the rapper is a “Zionist” and supports the practice of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. in anti-Semitology to know what that was about.

Often, though, there is room for disagreement.  When Israel’s critics use double standards, are they just being advocates, or have they crossed a line? For that matter, when some who support President Obama’s proposed Iran deal speak of their opponents’ “money” and “lobbyists,” are they mobilizing anti-Jewish sentiment or just being “realistic”?
            
Consider how some of the Iran deal’s supporters lambaste Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the president’s top Senate allies, for opposing the deal. The Daily Kos ran a cartoon showing Schumer with an Israeli flag, calling him a “traitor.” MoveOn.org lumped Schumer together with another famous Jewish Democrat, saying, “our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate.” These organizations clearly crossed a line.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone who supports the Iran deal is an anti-Semite. Nor is it anti-Semitic merely to disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s view of the world.

Definitions are like fences. They wall some things in and others out. It is not just that we need to be clearer about what should be condemned as anti-Semitic.  We also need to be clearer about what is not anti-Semitic and should not be unjustly maligned.

Unfortunately, our best definitions are now under attack. Earlier this year, Jewish Voice for Peace assailed the U.S. State Department’s authoritative definition of anti-Semitism.  The State Department definition is important because it embodies Natan Sharansky’s “3-D Test.” Many criticisms of Israel are not anti-Semitic. But they may enter that territory when they Demonize the Jewish state, Delegitimize Israel, or apply Double standards.

Anti-Israel activists are incensed that the State Department’s definition includes “demonizing,” “delegitimizing,” and “applying a double-standard” to Israel. They want to redefine anti-Semitism so that extreme anti-Israel activism will no longer be considered anti-Semitic.

Fortunately, the State Department rebuffed their efforts. In an important August letter, Special Envoy Ira Forman, the Obama administration’s point man on global anti-Semitism, explained that his department’s definition is important to his work and has not led to any encroachments on free speech.

Although Israel’s critics targeted the State Department, the real battle is over higher education. In response to a rash of anti-Semitic incidents, several student governments and advocacy groups, including the Louis D. Brandeis Center, have urged broader use of State Department standards in higher education.

Several months ago, a report jointly issued by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College demonstrated that over 50% of Jewish college students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism during the 2013-2014 academic year. Earlier this summer, nearly three quarters of Jewish students responding to a Brandeis University study reported having been exposed to at least one of six anti-Semitic statements, such as claims that Jews have too much power and that Israelis behave “like Nazis.” Jewish students have reported being punched in the face, called derogatory epithets, and harassed in many ways.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not yet apply the State Department’s definition to American colleges.  If a French university were to tolerate a hostile environment for Jewish students, based on behavior that demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state, the State Department would understand when a line is crossed.  But if the same thing happens in California, New York, or Florida, the U.S. government would not be able to say whether the conduct was anti-Semitic, because domestic agencies are not coordinating with State.  Obviously this problem must be fixed.

At the same time, university leaders should educate their communities about the lines between legitimate political discourse and anti-Semitic intolerance.  This doesn’t mean censorship.  It does mean that universities should take their educative function seriously.  In September, the University of California Regents, the University’s governing board, is expected to discuss adopting a statement of principles on intolerance.  This would be an excellent opportunity for the Regents to assert leadership by taking a well-defined stand against prejudice.

Marcus is President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (www.brandeiscenter.com) and former Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Oxford University Press will publish his new book on The Definition of Anti-Semitism in September.

Jewish groups to protest pro-Palestinian gathering in Berlin


A coalition of Jewish and pro-Israel groups is planning to protest a pro-Palestinian event in Berlin that is alleged to have ties to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Fearing a resurgence of the hate speech and violence that marked last summer’s anti-Israel protests in Germany, the coalition named Berlin Against Hamas will protest on Saturday outside the Berlin Arena, where the 13th Conference of Palestinians in Europe is to be held. More than 3,000 people are expected at the conference, which is co-organized by the Palestinian Community of Germany and the British-based Palestinian Return Center.

Politicians from all parties represented in the Berlin legislature have added their support, the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee said in a statement.

According to the Berlin Department for Constitutional Protection, the conference has become “the most important activity of Hamas supporters” in the city.

“If political and legal means are not enough to stop this kind of event, then it’s time for the democratic civil society to show their true colors,” Deidre Berger, AJC’s director in Berlin, said in the statement accompanying the protest call.

Sebastian Mohr, spokesman for the Berlin Against Hamas initiative, applauded the readiness of politicians and NGOs to take a stand “against the hate of the terrorist Islamist group Hamas.”

Volker Beck, a Green Party legislator and chair of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag, said in the joint statement that the conference “does not further either peace in the Mideast or the legitimate interests in peace and security for Palestinians or Israelis. Just the opposite: it’s a place where prejudices are stoked and, even worse, Hamas’ terror and violence is legitimized or even glorified.”

The Berlin Arena’s managing director, Jana Seifert, told the German news agency dpa that government authorities had investigated but did not find any connections between the conference organizers and Hamas.

Nevertheless, Seifert said the venue insisted on contractual assurances from the organizers that the program would not break the law. It is illegal in Germany to incite violence or hatred based on such categories as religion, ethnic or racial origin, or sexual orientation.

It would also be illegal to incite hate against Israel: Earlier this year, a court in Essen set a legal precedent by finding a defendant guilty of incitement to anti-Semitism by calling for “death and hate to Zionists.”

Meanwhile, Berlin police said there also will be a demonstration in central Berlin on April 25, the Day of Palestinian Prisoners. Organizers registered some 3,000 participants.

With Barbara Mikulski departing, Senate losing pro-Israel stalwart


The pending departure of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has the Jewish community wondering who will fill the vacuum left by the fiercely pro-Israel liberal leader.

Mikulski’s announcement on March 2 that she would not seek re-election in 2016 triggered fond memories for Jewish leaders of the career of the longest-serving woman in Congress’ upper chamber, as well as anxieties about who would take her place.

“During her many years in Congress, Senator Mikulski has been a stalwart supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Marshall Wittmann, the spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “particularly in her leadership role on the Appropriations Committee in ensuring vital security assistance for our democratic ally.”

Mikulski, 78, represents what some in the pro-Israel community fear is a vanishing breed: a staunch liberal who earns kudos on the left for her advocacy on issues like women’s rights and combating poverty yet one who is also unstinting in support of Israel.

“In an era when we’re beginning to see some seepage among some of those on the left in support of Israel, I think her strength stood out and was a galvanizing force,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

As chairwoman from 2012 to 2015 of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski was the lead voice when her committee drew up its annual federal budget. She was a principal player in defense funding, which included significant levels of military aid to Israel and money for joint projects such as the Iron Dome missile defense system. That included last year’s unanimous passage of $225 million in emergency funding to supply Israel with additional Iron Dome munitions after its stockpile was depleted in last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip.

“Jewish Democrats couldn’t design a better elected official,” Halber said. “She not only stood up for the most progressive values in the Jewish community, but she was also a consummate professional and always willing to go across the aisle to work with Republicans to pass legislation.”

Domestically, Mikulski was the key architect of Department of Homeland Security funding for nonprofits, an initiative that dispensed millions of dollars annually since its inception in the mid-2000s, much of it to Jewish institutions seeking to upgrade their defenses.

“She was a real champion for [the program] from its inception and helped us ensure that funds were appropriated for it each year, including this year, which was a very difficult year,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, which lobbied for the funding together with the Jewish Federations of North America and Agudath Israel of America.

Despite the recent congressional fight on Homeland Security funding over unrelated immigration issues, $13 million went to the nonprofit grant for fiscal year 2015, in large part because of Mikulski.

Mikulski, a Catholic whose grandparents immigrated from Poland, has said she feels a connection to Jews and Holocaust survivors in particular. On Jan. 27, she introduced a resolution to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

“As someone who is very proud of her Polish-American heritage, I visited Auschwitz,” Mikulski said from the Senate floor.

“I wanted to see it when I had the chance to learn more about my own heritage. I wanted to see what happened there so that I would remember,” she said. “Touring the concentration camp was an experience for me that was searing. Even today I carry it not only in my mind’s eye, but I carry it in my heart. You know I’m a fairly strong, resilient person. I think we’ve even shared stories that I was a child abuse social worker. I have seen tough things, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw that day.

“I knew when I left Auschwitz, I knew and I understood why, first of all, we should never have genocide in the world again,” Mikulski continued. “The second thing, and also so crucial to my views, is that there always needs to be a homeland for the Jewish people. It’s the reason we always need an Israel. Why it has to be there, survivable for the ages and for all who seek a home there and refuge there.”

Jewish communities in Baltimore and in Washington’s Maryland suburbs still have a Senate address in Cardin, a scion of one of the leading Jewish political families in the region. Still, the departure of a senator with 25 years of experience will be felt.

“This is not a knock on any of her potential successors but because of her seniority — last year she was the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee and now she’s the ranking Democrat,” Diament said. “That is a lot of ground to make up no matter who succeeds her.”

The two declared candidates for Mikulski’s seat, Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, both of Maryland, have had uneven relationships with the pro-Israel community.

Van Hollen surprised Jewish backers in 2006 when he wrote the Bush administration saying Israel’s bombing of Lebanon that summer harmed U.S. and Israeli interests. He later walked back the comments and, by 2008, when he was heading the Democrats’ congressional election committee, was strongly backing Israel in its 2008 campaign in Gaza.

Edwards, whose House of Representatives runs have been endorsed by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, has clashed with center and right-wing pro-Israel groups, particularly over her sharp criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies.

Hillel, we are not your tools but your partners


When Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut announced his decision to withdraw a commitment to speak to over 1,000 students at the upcoming J Street National Conference, he expressed only one major regret.

In his statement last week, Fingerhut lamented that he would miss the opportunity to “thank those who have been active in the fight against BDS.” Indeed, he made clear that the reason he was interested in attending in the first place was “to thank those who have joined in the fight against BDS and anti-Semitism on college campuses, and to urge everyone to take up this crucial cause.”

Fingerhut is right in that hundreds of J Street U students have fought BDS campaigns on their campuses. This is because we believe in a pragmatic solution — two states for two peoples as the only way to guarantee self-determination and sovereignty for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The international BDS movement rejects the two-state solution and offers no workable solution of its own. It does not recognize Israel’s right to exist or the need for a two-state solution, nor does it differentiate between Israel within the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and the occupied West Bank. Indeed, it deliberately works to obscure and deny that there is such a difference.

Yes, J Street U opposes BDS. But fighting BDS is not the reason we exist.

We are a pro-Israel movement that believes to be truly pro-Israel one must work for a better, safer future that ensures Israel’s survival as a Jewish democracy. It further means opposing the ongoing occupation that continues to be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of that better future.

We did not invite Eric Fingerhut to our conference simply to speak about BDS. We invited him to discuss how Hillel International can partner with us to promote and advance a two-state solution.

Hillel’s official Israel guidelines state that “Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations.” The two-state solution is clearly the only plausible way of supporting that vision of Israel, a vision that J Street U passionately believes in and works toward, with the support of campus Hillel staff, on over 60 campuses.

Yet we have not seen Mr. Fingerhut or Hillel International’s leadership demonstrate any interest in our efforts. Where are their initiatives in support of two states? What have they done to encourage the thousands of student activists working for such a solution?

Rather than empowering youth to become active in the Jewish community around the issues they are passionate about, which so many other Hillel professionals do, Eric Fingerhut has said to J Street U and to the rest of the Jewish community that the only way to be pro-Israel is to fight BDS. When 1,000 passionate pro-Israel student activists are regarded by Hillel’s leader as merely foot soldiers in a vitriolic campus war with the BDS movement, something has gone wrong. It begs the question: Is Hillel a pro-Israel organization or just an anti-BDS organization?

Moreover, if Mr. Fingerhut does mean to fight BDS, he’s modeling the least effective way to do so. His office claims that he withdrew from the conference because he could not be listed in the same program alongside Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority. What example does it set for students and for campus discourse to walk out on a conversation and refuse to speak simply because someone else (speaking the next day!) might say something with which you strongly disagree?

The late Jewish philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, a major supporter and friend of Hillel, once said, “True learning comes from engaging in discourse with those who are profoundly different. Your mind may not be swayed, but the interaction may open up your eyes.”

Just a few weeks ago, Hillel participated in a national event that called on students “to commit to disagree more constructively.” Mr. Fingerhut’s actions seem to indicate that for him, these are just empty words. If anything, his logic echoes many in the BDS movement that we should exclude and silence those with whom we disagree.

As a tool to combat BDS, this approach is useless. It only alienates and angers the concerned and conflicted students who we should be engaging. If Mr. Fingerhut’s mission in addressing J Street U students was to instruct us in how to defeat BDS, he has failed there as well.

We are sorry that Hillel’s president won’t join us, but we will continue to work for peace, security and civil rights for Israelis and Palestinians nonetheless. We will continue to oppose BDS in order to better support the two-state solution and an end to the occupation. And we will continue to ask our communal leaders not to use us as tools, but to work with us as partners.

(Gabriel T. Erbs, a senior at Portland State University, is the northwest representative to the J Street U national student board. Amna Farooqi, a junior at the University of Maryland, is the southeast representative to the J Street U national student board.)

A memorable march


Some 70 years ago, my now-89-year-old grandfather, Andrew Gardner, marched.  He marched, by force, in death marches, alongside so many who eventually perished at the hands of the Nazis.  This week, my grandfather marched through the vast Walter E. Washington Convention Center during the AIPAC Policy Conference.  He proudly marched with me, one of his ten grandchildren, by his side, along with 16,000 other pro-Israel activists. 

My grandfather, originally from in Gyongyos, Hungary (50 miles east of Budapest), was first sent to a forced labor camp in 1939 at the age of 15.  In 1943, he was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp.  In 1945, he was evacuated from the camp via a 10-day death march to Gunskirchen where he was ultimately liberated in May of that year.  During the war, he lost his parents, grandparents, three of his four brothers, and counting no further than first cousins another 63 family members.  He immigrated to the United States, arriving in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1949.  He later settled in Los Angeles, California in 1951, where he currently resides with his wife, Yvette Gardner.  Together, they have three children, 10 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.

The details and story of my grandfather’s march and journey are well known to me and are my personal source of inspiration for my commitment to Israel, AIPAC, and pro-Israel activism.  Amazingly, his current march, our journey to Washington D.C., in and of itself was an inspiration to so many others.  Merely seeing him, a Holocaust survivor, attending and walking about the conference touched so many people, in such a deep way, that they felt compelled to share their thoughts with us, and no doubt impacted so many more beyond those that made themselves known to us. 

During the long marches from general plenaries, to breakout sessions, to receptions with members of the United States Congress, we were stopped countless times, easily close to 100 occasions.  Individuals approached us time and time again, without any knowledge of his past journey, and would greet my grandfather and say “Thank you so much for being here.  It means so much to us.”  And, “You are an inspiration to all of us.”  Numerous Congressmen and Senators literally embraced him and said, “It is an honor to meet you.”

Gardner with Senator John McCain (AZ)

As we marched together, arm-in-arm, so I could help him keep his balance, as he did some 70 years ago with his uncles supporting each other to simply stay erect and alive, others would approach us and comment, “It is so inspiring to see you and your grandfather here together.”  Others would remark, “It is so special that the two of you can share this experience.”

Gardner with Representative Pete Aguilar (CA-31)

Rising early in the morning, not for a lineup in a forced labor camp, but to line up to clear security for the Prime Minister of Israel, some directed their comments to me, “The way you care for your grandfather is so touching,” and “It is beautiful to see the way your treat your grandfather.”  What they failed to understand, and what I tried to explain, was that it is a privilege and honor for me to accompany him.

Gardner with Representative Steve Israel (NY-3)

On many other occasions, as we marched back to the hotel to rest in the afternoon and late evening, a luxury not afforded to him 70 years ago, I noticed those who observed us and commented privately to each other.

My grandfather’s journey from marching in morning lineups in a concentration camp and a death-march, to today, marching to hear a speech from the Prime Minister of the State of Israel and climbing the steps of the United States Capitol to meet with members of Congress and lobby on behalf of the US-Israel relationship is truly remarkable.  It inspires me, and rightfully inspires so many others. 

I pray that I will continue to have the privilege to march alongside my grandfather as he continues inspiring others to support and advocate for the State of Israel, that he loves so dearly, for many more years to come.


Andrew Gardner currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Yvette Gardner.  The Gardners are longstanding and passionate AIPAC members and have been instrumental supporters of numerous local Jewish institutions and Israel related organizations including JNF, Israel Bonds and Shelters for Israel. 

Michael Buchman is a pro-Israel activist and a member of AIPAC’s Los Angeles Young Leadership Council.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

Angela Davis Should Not Pervert MLK’s Legacy About Israel


Had he lived, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., would be turning 86 this year. There are certain soaring themes of Reverend King’s message—for example, that people should be judged by the content of their characters, not the color of their skin; that nonviolent protest is the way to bring about necessary social change—that speak as much to our time as to his.

Reverend King’s message about the Arab-Israel conflict also speaks to our time. Interviewed by the editor of Conservative Judaism on March 25, 1968, just ten days before his assassination in Memphis, King declared: “I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can almost be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

How many people today, so reverential toward Dr. King yet so hypercritical of Israel, know that about his consistent embrace and defense of Israel throughout his short public career?

We point to Reverend King’s principled belief that Palestinian rights must be achieved in a manner consistent with Israeli security and survival because his message is now being perverted by so-called “progressive leaders” who should know better.

Professor Angela Davis, who is no stranger to the barricades at places like UC Santa Cruz where she teaches, is speaking at the Thirty-First Annual UCSC Convocation Martin Luther King, Jr. on “From Ferguson To Palestine.” Sponsors include the UCSC’s Chancellor’s Office.

During her “Revolutionary Communist” heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s that landed her in hot water with the law, Davis was profoundly influenced by Jewish leftists like Herbert Marcuse and Herbert Aptheker. It is important to note that she has never indulged in anti-Semitic rabble rousing, as too many other African American radicals have. On the other hand, her animus against the Jewish state, and lack of balance about the Israel-Palestinian dispute, is public record.

Such anti-Israel bias expressed on the day when Americans gather to celebrate the vision of the iconic Civil Rights prophet dishonors Reverend King’s memory. Davis’ intent may not be anti-Semitic, but she is almost certainly going to “apply double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Here we quote our own U.S. State Department on what it considers to be a paradigmatic example of anti-Semitism.

During last summer’s Gaza War, Israel’s Defense Forces struggled mightily to minimize—not  maximize—Palestinian civilian casualties despite Hamas’ use of Palestinian civilians as “human shields.” That war was made by Hamas when Israel was forced to act to end thousands of rocket attacks and terror tunnel incursions into southern Israel. Another trigger was the ruthless kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas cell.

As the slogan proclaims, “Black lives matter.” So, too, Arab and Jewish lives.

But there are no calls for a level playing field when it comes to the blame game for the current Palestinian-Israel impasse. Israelis are cast as the heartless occupiers.

Yet the facts reveal a more complicated reality. Tzipi Livni—certainly no “right winger” and an opponent of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the upcoming Israeli elections—has recently recounted how not too long ago Netanyahu agreed to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians on the basis of terms proposed by President Obama and Secretary Kerry. President Abbas’ response? He said “No” preferring yet another counterproductive attack on Israel at the UN. This is the fourth time in under 15 years that the Israelis have said “Yes”—and the Palestinians “No”—to peace.  And as we write these words, an instructional video on “How to Stab a Jew to Death,” has gone viral in Social Media.

What would Reverend King have thought of an officially-sponsored one-sided address by Angela Davis lambasting Israel—with no alternative voice invited to share the podium?

Reverend King—perhaps  anticipating the smoke screen of “Some of my best friends are Jews—it’s the Zionists I hate”—responded  thusly to a hostile question on an Ivy League campus: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.”

His words-which cannot be drowned out by extreme ideologues– ring as true today as they did then.

*Historian Harold Brackman, a  consultant with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is the coauthor with  Ephraim Isaac, an Ethiopian Jew, of: From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, forthcoming). Aron Hier is the Director of Campus Outreach at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

‘What have blacks ever done for Jews?’: Answering the question


Except for the absence of Ramadan which is half a year away, this season’s  convergence of Christmas and Hanukkah with Kwanzaa (meaning “first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili) makes it such a great time to invoke the ecumenical spirit—especially among African Americans and Jews. Then In January and February come MLK’s Birthday and Black History Month.

In the seventies, soon after Maulana Karenga (who grew up in LA) began popularizing Kwanzaa, I wrote a doctoral dissertation at UCLA on the history of Black-Jewish relations with a “downer” for a title, i. e., “The Ebb and Flow of Conflict.”

Perhaps this is the season for me to correct the balance by emphasizing the positive. There’s a new film, Selma, that covers the archetypal instance of interracial-interreligious cooperation about which virtually all readers will know: Reverend King and Rabbi Heschel marching hand-in-hand for voting rights for African Americans in the South. The Paramount film will be given a special showing on Saturday night at the Museum of Tolerance with Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier providing some historical context.

The general public is pretty much ignorant of an instance of Jewish-African American cooperation from  a century before the Selma March during an even more bloody episode involving racist violence: the 1863 New York City Draft Riots during the course of which over 100 people died —including many “black lives that mattered” who were lynched or burned.   I will allow William P. Powell, an African American doctor, to tell his story: 

On the afternoon of [July 13, 1863] my house . . . was invaded by a mob of half grown boys. [They] were soon replaced by men and women. From 2 P.M. to 8 P.M. myself and family were prisoners in my own home to king mob, from which there was no way to escape but over the roofs of adjoining houses. . . . How to escape from the roof of a five story building, with four females—and one cripple—besides eight men, without a ladder, or any assistance from outside, was beyond my not excited imagination. But the God that succored Hagar in her flight, came to my relief in the person of a little deformed, despised Israelite—who, Samaritan-like, took my poor helpless daughter under his protection in his house, where I presume she is now, until friends send her to me. He also supplied me with a long rope. I then took a survey of the premises, and fortunately found a way to escape . . . through the pitchy dark.

Nor is the historical record lacking in reciprocity by African Americans and Africans. The NAACP’s William Pickens, who had made friends with Arnold and Erna Kalisch during a European vacation in 1932, was kept informed by them of the deteriorating German-Jewish situation between then and April, 1933, when they fled Berlin for Denmark. In addition to doing what he could to help the Kalisch family and other Jewish refugees, Pickens urged the NAACP to respond positively to an appeal by the International Relief Association. Assuming the editorial reins of The Crisis from W. E. B. Du Bois, Roy Wilkins also of the NAACP took a similar position then and again at the time of the 1938 Evian-les-Bains Refugee Conference. Later, Wilkins lobbied both the Truman Administration and independent Liberia during the battles over the 1947 UN Partition Resolution and 1948’s U.S. recognition of Israel.

If one wants to go really far back, it was Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian royal servant of King Zedekiah (c. 600 BCE) and a possible convert to Judaism, who intervened to save the life of the Prophet Jeremiah, who had been sentenced to languish at the bottom of a cistern or pit (Jeremiah 38:7, 39:16).

These are just some of the answers to those who raise the question: “What have African Americans ever don’t for Jews?”

*A Wiesenthal Center consultant, Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ethiopian-Jewish scholar Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, forthcoming).

Reframing the BDS debate at UCLA


We, the pro-Israel and Jewish student leaders of UCLA are extremely proud of our Jewish and pro-Israel student community. We stand strongly in support of Israel and against the BDS movement that is trying to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Over the past few weeks a small group of students leveraged last year’s student government election results to ensure that their anti-Israel efforts would dominate the agenda. This came to fruition Nov. 18 when they passed a symbolic resolution recommending that the University of California divest from companies that do business with Israel.

We are, of course, disappointed that eight members of our undergraduate population of nearly 30,000 students chose to vote in favor of Tuesday night’s resolution. Their decision was irresponsible because they purport to speak for the entire undergraduate community.

The reality here at UCLA is that a majority of students reject this resolution and reject the use of our student government to further special-interest, non-student issues, such as attacking the Jewish homeland. Meanwhile, the primary student concern, the UC tuition crisis, rages on.

In a mere four days, we collected signatures from nearly 2,000 undergraduate allies here who are united against a student government council that prioritizes international politics over real student issues. 

We learned from our experience fighting BDS last year that a student government vote to divest from Israel is predetermined by campus group coalitions long before the night of the hearing. Talking points don’t matter in this context, only coalitions. This year’s dominant coalition happens to be pro-divestment, and student majorities, feedback, and talking points fall on deaf ears.

We refused to be a validating party to a  student government  forum that puts Israel on trial. We, the leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community at UCLA, vehemently voiced our strong objections. We also agreed as a community that we would not unnecessarily dignify, legitimize or extend a biased and flawed hearing. This was not giving up. It was attacking from a different means.

Yes, we lobbied council extensively in advance of the vote. And we ensured that all the arguments which would have been given at public comment were presented. We invested hundreds of hours in fighting, just as we did last year. But we also we offered a fresh, innovative approach. 

We staged an alternative meeting on the night of the vote, one designed to uplift rather than tear down. We held a memorial for the most recent Israeli victims of terror and engaged in a productive community discussion about how to positively address the situation in the Middle East without attacking another community. We are proud that our efforts reframed the conversation while simultaneously denying these bigoted anti-Israel activists any additional undue attention.

Hillel at UCLA is and has continuously been a bedrock of support for Jewish students in all aspects of life, especially in empowering students. They help us cultivate vibrant Jewish life on campus, and trust us as we choose how to respond to attacks on our community. Their approach guides us and respects us as young adults, and they are engaging thousands of Millennials on campus because they focus on student empowerment. 

As a result, Pro-Israel and Jewish life at UCLA is strong, vibrant, and student led. We continue to lead events for all students that highlight Israel as a vibrant democracy in the Middle East, while we also grapple with the complexities of the conflict. Our ask of you as a Community is this: Guide us, support us, trust us, and invest in us as we continue to pilot the Jewish future.

Signed:

Natalie Charney, Hillel at UCLA Student Board President

Eytan Davidovits, President, Bruins for Israel

Omer Hit, Vice President, Bruins for Israel

Gil Bar-Or, President, J Street U

Tammy Rubin, President Emeritus, Hillel at UCLA


Natalie Charney is student board president of Hillel at UCLA; Eytan Davidovits is president of Bruins for Israel; Omer Hit is vice president of Bruins for Israel; Gil Bar-Or is president of J Street U; and Tammy Rubin is president emeritus of Hillel at UCLA.

An unfit, collegiate Israel advocate


I can remember sitting in my high school seminar class, called Modern Israeli History—a class invented, essentially, to equip us with political Israeli defense before we were sent off to college—into what was advertised as the anti-semitic abyss. There were one hundred fifty or sixty students in my grade, back in 2007, so the course was split into several separate classes, a few different teachers, but the message was unified: with this knowledge imparted onto you, and the past four years of education at Milken Community High, it is your responsibility to represent the Jewish Homeland, wherever you may be. Which I take to mean, in hindsight, you don’t have to wear a beard, nor all black, but your parents just invested a fortune in your Jewish identity, now do your best at Herzl.

That I did. It was an elective class with little academic significance—we had already gotten into our colleges, there were no grades, no final exam.  But I probably took it more seriously than any other class I’d taken. I often found myself reading texts twice instead of once, participating vocally, emailing Mr. Bloom questions sheerly out of personal interest. If I were to have taken my actual classes as seriously, my parents would have probably been more satisfied with my final transcript.

I took the message of Modern Israeli History to heart. Probably too much so. When I began my Freshman year of college at UC Irvine in 2007, I entered excited, energized; ready to take on my anti-Israel foe. I developed a nearly flawless thesis, developed off of key quotes, decisions and meetings in Israeli history—catered for length and delicacy, of course—that I was prepared to present at any moment somebody called Israel an ‘Occupier’ or racist.

In early 2008, Israel began to respond to the bombardment of rocket attacks coming the recently evacuated Gaza Strip. Right around then, an imam came to campus to speak under the theme of ‘Genocide: Auschwitz to Gaza.’ I remember my initial fury upon seeing caricature pictures of larger than life Israeli soldiers with swastikas on their uniforms pointing machine guns at little babies; in addition, a desperate responsibility to dissuade people from buying in to this. I skipped class that day, heard the imam equate Zionists to terrorists, then stuck around with a dozen AFI’s (Anteaters for Israel), ready to engage the imam’s empathizers, who stuck around chanting ‘end the occupation’ in unison.

We AFI students and MSU (Muslim Student Union) students started talking. It did not require much time before this “intellectual quarrel” warranted the presence of cops standing nearby, watching, prepared to act. Getting nervous now, but more so feeling the stronger obligation to act, I turned to talk to a female MSU member standing close to me. In a timid voice, I explained to her the logical fallacies in the imam’s speech, but she basically ignored me. I tried to speak more loudly, but in the face of this chaos, I realized I didn’t have it in me. What value did my self-created theses have in the forum of passionate, educated college students going at it?

I decided I needed confidence, a mentor, somebody to learn from. And so I chose to become a disciple of Isaac Yerushalmi—the fearless president of Anteaters for Israel, also a fellow AEPi. “That kid’s got balls,” Rosen, the tallest, toughest member of our fraternity said once, while we watched Isaac stand in the center of an intense anti-Israel rally with a mien of steadfastness, holding up a sign with statistics and phrases that contradicted the MSU’s message.

As the year continued, I followed Isaac around. I helped him in many ways—unloading and loading stuff into his car, telling my friends to come to events, helping him videotape things—but when it came to the intellectual, or the argumentative, Isaac kept it sort of to himself.  “What are we going to do, Isaac?” I asked, stressing the ‘we,’ when the pro-Israel body would have to act. I never got clear answers. Isaac had an impeccable ability to dodge a question with mum silence, and have you not take offense—a tremendously valuable skin nowadays. You just figured he was thinking ahead, or thinking more deeply. In truth I envied a Batman and Robin dynamic, where I, Robin, possessed an energetic yet untamed courage, who could only mature into an asset once disciplined by Batman himself. The dissension arose, perhaps, from how Issac saw me for what I was: a neurotic, timid freshman, rather than who I wanted to become: an influential, confidently speaking pro Israel leader on campus.

I ended up transferring out of UC Irvine in favor of UC Santa Barbara. There, I met Eli Levine, a very talented leader of the pro-Israel body. He, unlike Isaac, seemed eager to have somebody young and energetic get carried under his wing. And I, being the Israeli groupie of sorts, was the one he picked. But it was at an AIPAC Policy Conference in 2010, where I had become Liasion at UCSB and Eli lined up with a fine gig at Hasbara, that I let Eli down before we began work. See, I missed my flight to the conference, and ended up hanging out at LAX for over a day and a half, missing half the conference itself. I got incessant, disappointed text messages from Eli: “Where are you? Loads to discuss.” I explained what happened. “This is ridiculous,” he said. He had a aggressive manner of forming important relationships and building connections, and each time I sought to contribute to them, I didn’t fail to underperform.

Then there was Leah, president of American Students for Israel, who I always sought to please, but I couldn’t work well with because I’d always end up having feelings for her. She applied a blend of work-oriented discipline and coquettish push-pull that I had never experienced before. In result, any time we met to discuss campus activity, I pondered telling her how I felt.

The following summer I became an intern at AIPAC in San Francisco, but that did not translate to glory either. I lacked professionalism and truly feared the concept of a cold call. To make matters worse, my mother had a meltdown and made a call to a VBS rabbi, begging him to reach out to the right people at AIPAC and have me return to Los Angeles without negative repercussions. This, obviously, didn’t boost my credibility within the reigns of the AIPAC office.

During this entire aching for relevance to the pro-Israel movement on college campuses, I wasn’t eligible for Birthright until turning twenty-two, given that I had attended the March of the Living trip in high school. The trip for UCSB’s Hillel delegation was taking off on June 15th, 2011—one day before my twenty-second birthday.

“I’m eligible to go, right, Rabbi? Does one day actually make a difference?”

 “I spoke to them,” the rabbi said softly. “And the age restriction is firm. We’re sorry,” the rabbi said.

But sometime around early June two weeks away from graduation, a call from a strange number woke up my excellent daytime nap.

“Hello?” I asked.

“I’m calling from Taglit. A few extra spots have opened up for the Hillel group with Stanford University. There may be other students from other universities, but as of now I don’t think you will know anybody else on the trip.”

“I’ll take it,” I said.

I mention Birthright because I think the highlight of my Israeli advocacy came on this trip, in a very unexpected way. Ten new friends I had made and I sat in the backseat of the bus, driving back from the Dead Sea, and a handful of them said that they were having an excellent trip thus far, but were curious: Why was bloodshed so often associated with Israel? Why is the country relentlessly warped in a field of controversy? These were Stanford students, so I knew it was not ignorance, or an incapacity to process information, which prevented them from knowing this. Lilach, our guide, sought to answer these questions, but her explanations did not quite suffice to the level of detail these students needed. Before thinking about it, I commenced an impromptu lecture: starting from 1922, I then delved into the UN Partition Plan, the War of Independence, Six-Day War, various Peace Treaties, and now the complicated relationship between Hamas, Fatah and Israel. I spoke with a loud, clear voice that I never had in college as fifteen Birthright fellows encircled me and we cut through the South of Israel. I attributed this great moment to a vast intellectual shift made subconsciously. I finally used my privileged education from to engage others, rather than feed my identity. It was essentially everything I wanted out of Israel advocacy.

What I deduce from all this, other than missing my Birthright trip, is that one only encounters personal satisfaction when staying true to their path, to their skill set. Forcing myself to be a leader, I think, is not doing so, unless it happens organically. So often we’re instructed to be leaders, to influence others with a superior goodness. There’s an underrated value in simply acquiring information and passing it on to the next curious mind, as I did on that bus.

Dear Ryan Kavanaugh: Thank you


Last week, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh became the first major Hollywood executive to publicly oppose a letter condemning Israel signed by Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. “It makes my blood boil,” Kavanaugh told The Hollywood Reporter. “As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, anyone calling it Israeli 'genocide' vs. protecting themselves are either the most ignorant people about the situation and shouldn't be commenting, or are truly anti-Semitic.”

Dear Mr Kavanaugh, 

I am writing to thank you for being a lone voice in an overwhelming and deafening sea of silence.  I am 26 years old and currently based in London, having recently graduated from LAMDA*.  I am American. I am Jewish. 

The past few weeks have been some of the most trying and isolating I have ever experienced. In the arts world especially, I feel as though I am on an island of one, as any voice of support for Israel is met with accusations of war mongering, genocide and disgust.  

My parents raised me to always use my voice.  

I don't understand why so many titans whose voices could be heard around the world refuse to use theirs.  

At a time when Jewish businesses are being fire-bombed in Paris, when Jewish families in Amsterdam have had to remove mezuzahs from their doors for fear of being attacked, and when Jewish storefronts in Rome are being vandalized with swastikas and tags such as “Jew your end is near,” I can't help but fear for the future.

What example are we setting? 

What legacy are we leaving?  

Israel is fighting for her survival in a unique moment of absolute moral clarity, and some of the most accomplished and successful artists in the world have labeled this genocide.  Where is the overwhelming disgust? Where is the backlash? At best, where is the education?  

Here in London, a friend returned home yesterday to a swastika painted on her door.  Another woman was surrounded and verbally and physically assaulted by a violent gang on Oxford Street (a major shopping street in central London) after being identified as a Jew. As I type to you, the ISIS flag is hanging from a government funded housing estate bordering Canary Wharf (the financial centre of London).   

Artists are being persecuted as well. The UK Jewish Film Festival was banned from The Tricycle Theatre, its home of the past 8 years, after first refusing to allow its films to be pre-screened and potentially censored and then refusing to return the funding of the Israeli Embassy (a known sponsor of the past 17 years), and formally cut all ties to Israel.  (It is important to note this is the first time the theatre has ever made such a demand or instituted any policy regarding government funding. The policy is also exclusive to funding from the government of Israel. The theatre is in fact heavily funded by the government of Britain.) Just north of London, at the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival, two shows from Israel were kicked out of their theaters and are no longer part of the festival. 

And this is in London, where the Blitz not 80 years ago destroyed over one million homes and killed over 40,000 civilians.  

It is on these very streets that had to be re-paved and rebuilt where weekly, protesters shouting “From the river to sea, Palestine will be free” stand a few hundred yards from my flat. 

Surely these people would understand something about being constantly bombed by terrorists?! Instead there is a call for the total destruction of the State of Israel. One English MP labelled his county, an “Israel free zone” and demanded a boycott against all goods, services, academics and tourists from Israel. Israel, a democratic multi cultural and inclusive society wherein an Arab citizen serves on the Supreme Court.  (Is a single Jew even allowed to live in Gaza?)  

A doctor in Belgium who refused to treat an elderly Jewish patient citing the situation in Gaza continues to practice, free of reproach or consequence.  An Imam in Germany who called for the annihilation of the Jews continues to spew his murderous hate speech, free of reproach or consequence.  A pop star in Turkey who tweeted, “May G-d bless Hitler.” not only continues to publish her anti semitic filth, free of reproach or consequence, but was publicly applauded by the Mayor of Turkey's capital city.  

Where is the outcry?

After the dust of World War II settled, the civilized world made a promise- Never Again. Last week, the Bergische Synagogue in Germany, previously destroyed during Kristallnacht, was set ablaze from three molotov cocktails. I am now asking for those with a voice, especially within the entertainment industry, to stand up for that promise. 

The blatant double and ultimately suicidal standard by which Israel is being judged is not a reasonable critique of a military situation; it is in fact a thinly veiled anti semitic assault perpetrated by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Navi Pillay and echoed by throngs of ignorants around the globe to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state.  These extraordinary standards to which no other country in history have been held are part of a larger movement that is unearthing and harnessing the virulent, deep seated and devastating tides of victriolic hatred that too often seem to percolate just beneath the surface against the Jewish people. In my lifetime the tide has never been stronger.   

Israel is fighting for her survival, and she needs your support, you in Hollywood whose voices cut across oceans.

Israel is on the front lines of a campaign against Radical Islam, the same Radicals who are beheading children and slaughtering thousands of Christians in Iraq, and she needs your support, you in Hollywood whose voices cut across oceans.

Jews around the world who are being assaulted and maligned need your support, you in Hollywood whose voices cut across oceans.

Mr Kavanaugh, thank you for cutting across oceans, for not only cutting across, but for leading by example. 

As I stare at the sea of articles posted by fellow actor “friends” on Facebook, all riddled with mis-truths vilifying Israel, and hear the faint cries of a “peaceful” protest rejecting Israel's right to exist through my cracked window,  I cannot begin to articulate how much I appreciate your public and definite stance both supporting Israel and condemning the horrific and dangerously false accusations towards Israel by certain celebrities.  

And for a brief moment, six thousand miles away, I don't feel so completely alone. 

You are leading the charge in Hollywood for someone to take a stand at a watershed moment when good must triumph over evil, when civilization must triumph over barbarism, and when the sons of light must prevail over the sons of darkness.   

I implore you, encourage your friends to do the same. Help cut across oceans. 

For if not now, when?

Respectfully and thankfully yours,

Taube Brahms


Los Angeles native Taube Brahms is now a London-based actress/singer-songwriter. She was formerly an undergraduate fellow with the Foundation for Defense with Democracies and a White House intern.

*The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art

Los Angeles community reacts to violence in the Gaza war


Two simultaneous events in Los Angeles last week that focused on Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip revealed a community split between progressives who expressed some criticism of Israel even as they supported its efforts at security, and more unconditional supporters of the Jewish state.

On July 31, more than 1,000 people attended an event at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a large Conservative synagogue in Encino. The event, titled “Shoulder to Shoulder: A Community Gathering in Support of the People of Israel,” displayed American-Israeli solidarity to full effect. 

“We have a strong Jewish community in this country and around the world. And we are organized, and we are powerful, and we’re inspired. And we know that we have a homeland to fight for that is just, that is moral,” Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel said at VBS, appearing alongside the congregation’s Rabbis Ed Feinstein and Noah Farkas, as well as Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, and others. 

At the same time, about 250 others from the Jewish community wrestled with issues pertaining to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza at an event titled “Crisis in Israel: What Now What Next?” at the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC). The town hall-style event featured Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund, UCLA Jewish history professor David Myers, Americans for Peace Now’s David Pine and J Street’s Yael Maizel. 

“Tonight, we actually come together to reflect and to think about and hear about how we got to this place, and what in the world we can possibly do so that we might be able to find our way out of here,” Brous said, explaining her discomfort with Israel’s activity in Gaza. “There are so many Israelis who are taking the lead in this conversation now, artists and activists and thinkers and academics, people who are, with their own broken hearts, able to say, ‘What kind of country do we want to build, what are [the] great dreams we want to dream?’ We wanted to create a space for that conversation to happen here in Los Angeles, as well.” These two events illustrated how, even when the L.A. Jewish community is united in support of Israel during this latest operation against Hamas, turning out repeatedly in recent weeks in large numbers at rallies, vigils and memorial services for the three kidnapped and slain teens Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel — a Saban Theatre shloshim on July 30 drew more than 1,000 people and featured speakers Roz Rothstein of Stand With Us, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Journal President David Suissa and others — it is not homogenous in how it processes what is happening inside Gaza. 

Some have found an outlet by expressing absolute harmony with the decisions of the Israeli government. 

Others are trying to carve out a moderate position between those who would call Israel’s action “genocide” (more on that later) and those who are embracing Israel now more than ever. 

Chabad of Northridge congregant Andrew Miller is an example of an ardent Israel supporter. An attendee at the VBS event — where audience members wore yarmulkes with Israel and U.S. flags stitched to them, and a video screen situated between a U.S. flag and an Israeli flag displayed pictures from Israel -— Miller said the event demonstrated that the American-Jewish community stands behind Israel. 

“It’s so nice that we had the opportunity to all get together and show our support for Israel, especially now, when they need it most,” he said. 

For some, neither option suffices. This appeared true at the Westside JCC, where emotions ran high when one audience member, L.A. Jews for Peace member Rick Chertoff, yelled out and interrupted the panel’s discussion to declare that the death of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s current war with Hamas is more than just collateral damage — these deaths, he said, reflect a concerted Israeli effort to wipe out Palestinians. 

Security officers quickly escorted Chertoff out of the event because of his disruption, which also included cursing at other members of the audience. 

It was clear that, for the segment of the Jewish community present at the JCC — whom Sokatch described as the “progressive Jewish community of Los Angeles, who care deeply about Israel and who care deeply about Palestine” — Chertoff’s claim that Israel is intentionally targeting Palestinians is too radical. 

“We do not believe Israel engages in deliberate slaughter of its neighbors and represents the sole criminal actor on the world stage,” Myers said.

“[But] I think that as we contemplate the prospect of moving forward, we have to hope for a mix of more sophisticated statecraft [in Israel] … for realist morality that has been sorely lacking for the last number of years now,” Myers said. 

Later the same week, on Aug. 2, between 1,500 and 3,000 people turned out for a pro-Palestinian rally in Westwood. And they signaled that they would, likely, dispute Myers’ remarks. Marching to and fro between the Wilshire Federal Building and the headquarters of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, which is located just over a mile west of the Federal Building, protesters carried signs that read, “Zionists, Get Out of Gaza Now!” and “Israel Is Mass Murdering Children.”

The event, as has been true of other rallies on both sides during the past several weeks, had its share of rowdiness. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrested one person for sexual battery, according to LAPD-West L.A. Division Officer Hornback, who described the incident as “involuntary touching of a private area.” No further details were available. 

Additionally, Israel activist Steve Goldberg, carrying a large Israeli flag, engaged in shouting matches with a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at one point; a woman covered in fake blood carried a baby doll also covered in fake blood and marched with duct tape over her lips; demonstrators clashed with Bible-thumping Evangelicals who stationed themselves on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard behind a banner proclaiming support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

“We stand with you,” 22-year-old Cerritos College student and pro-Palestinian group ANSWER Los Angeles member Waylette Thomas told the Journal when asked if there was any message she’d send to Hamas, the governing party in Gaza.

The climax of the event occurred about two hours in: A sea of protesters were marching eastbound on a closed-down Wilshire Boulevard under the 405 Freeway, their pro-Palestinian chants echoing against the walls of the underpass. 

Viva, viva, Palestina,” Spanish-language protesters chanted as they made their way back to the Federal Building later that afternoon. 

“We’re demanding that Israel end its indiscriminate bombing and its indiscriminate genocide of the civilian population — we ask it to end and demand for it to end its siege on the Gaza Strip,” Gus Hussein, 25, a Palestinian UC Riverside graduate student and Students for Justice in Palestine member, said, marching with the large group. 

The tone of the rally was not only vastly different from the sentiments expressed at the Westside JCC and VBS, but also from those expressed at an Aug. 5 morning ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall, where L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s top leaders, including City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who organized the media event, officially expressed their solidarity with Israel. But even in those Israel-friendly rooms, there was a universal eagerness to see the conflict end as soon as possible. 

Siegel predicted, however, that Israel will face difficulties even after it ends its war in Gaza. (As of press time on Aug. 5, a 72-hour cease fire had gone into effect and peace negotiations were expected to begin soon in Egypt, with both sides already claiming victory, according to a JTA report.)

“The day after this conflict is over, it only just begins,” Seigel said, noting that the country will face “one-sided international investigations” aimed at limiting Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Brous, meanwhile, expressed hopes for a day when events like the ones last week won’t be necessary. 

“I want to suggest there is another way for us, not to put aside the pain and suffering but to hold it and grieve over it and to contemplate what in the world we can do to get out of this place, so that we don’t have to meet again in another 18 months, or two years, to have a community forum in which to grieve the loss of so many more lives,” she said.

Pro-Israel, pro-peace rally draws 3,000 in San Francisco


SAN FRANCISCO (j. weekly) — Some 3,000 Israel supporters turned out in downtown San Francisco for a pro-Israel, pro-peace rally.

The Bay Stands With Israel solidarity rally on Sunday began across the street from San Francisco City Hall, with speakers from Jewish organizations, synagogues, and state and city government. Police estimated the crowd at 3,000.

Afterward, some 1,200 demonstrators marched along Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza, a mile away, under police escort.

In contrast to anti-Israel demonstrations held in the city the previous two weekends, the pro-Israel event was peaceful. Six counterdemonstrators, one holding a large Palestinian flag, stood near the rally, and a few protesters followed the post-rally march, but no altercations ensued.

Among the signs on display at the demonstration were placards reading “I stand with Israel,” “Kids deserve peace,” “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where they don’t burn American flags” and “More Hummus, Less Hamas.” There were also hundreds of Israeli flags.

“Israel has been vilified in parts of the Bay Area,“ Rabbi Doug Kahn, head of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, said in his speech to the crowd. “For what? For defending its citizens from incessant rocket attacks? For caring enough about its citizens, Jewish and Arabs, to build an elaborate defense system? For risking its own soldiers’ lives to minimize casualties among innocent civilians used by Hamas to hide behind?

“Enough of the hypocrisy by Israel’s detractors. We must dedicate ourselves more than ever to share the real Israel that we know and love.”

The rally was spearheaded by a group of young Israeli-Americans and co-sponsored by 38 Jewish organizations.

Austrian Jews Stage Flashmob


Rather than pursuing the traditional protest route, hundreds of Jewish youths in Vienna staged a flashmob in a major plaza center on Thursday, July 24. Simulating tzeva adom, an early warning radar system that detects incoming rockets fired by Hamas, a siren blasted through the unsuspecting plaza as the flashmob immediately responded with a “duck and cover.” Activists held a banner: “In Israel You Have Fifteen Seconds to Save Your Life”