October 19, 2019

Don’t hide behind a boycott Israel ad; Jewish students want to hear you

A recent Torah reading dealt with the Golden Calf—Jews turning away from the Torah and going against other Jews. The coincidence shouldn’t be lost that, at the same time, the organization that ran a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times accusing Israel of “apartheid” against the Palestinians and promoting a boycott of Israel by the entertainment community, is Jewish Voice for Peace.

Throughout history, Jews have been Jews’ own worst enemies, from Egypt to Spain to Nazi Germany, where many Jewish leaders believed Hitler and they led their own communities to “relocation camps.”  The cost: 6 million Jews. Today is no different with Jewish Voice for Peace leading many toward Israel’s destruction, and doing it in the name of the Jewish people. 

Equating Israel with the reprehensible apartheid country of South Africa, propagandizing lies to engage minorities, and boycotting Israel is part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Movement’s playbook.  Doing it in Hollywood is polishing their script.

That the Los Angeles Times partnered with JVP (especially after Variety rejected it); they did not publish one letter opposing the ad; and they’ve given several op-ed opportunities to JVP’s executive director, is for another piece. 

The uninformed may see JVP’s ad as humanistic and altruistic. However, it is easy to throw stones and label a person or country as racist, even if it is blatantly false. Backing up their rhetoric and lies is more difficult, and that is where JVP falters.  

The nonprofit I founded, The Israel Group, established a unique initiative, the High School Speakers Program. It brings to high schools one speaker each month with a different perspective about Israel’s history and today’s political climate. The goal is to educate, guide, and prepare students in a safe environment, while allowing the students to ultimately reach their own conclusions. We currently have eight high schools and more than 600 students participating in our program, with a goal to expand nationally.

All of the speakers we bring are distinguished and pro-Israel. Some might even be referred to as “right wing.” Speakers include, among others, Ben Shapiro, Charles Jacobs, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, Itamar Marcus, Gary Kenzer, Ken Abramowitz, Dan Diker, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, and me, as well as student speakers from organizations such as the Jewish fraternity, AEPi, and Students Supporting Israel.

However, in a well-researched, calculated, and strategic move that goes against our community’s traditional and failed methods, we also invited Jewish Voice for Peace. We came to that conclusion because our students will hear JVP, but it won't be in a safe environment with us helping the students to understand JVP’s nuanced, insidious, and dangerous fabrications; it will be on a university campus and JVC will be their professors, rabbis, teaching assistants, and friends. Isn’t it better allowing JVP to speak openly about their positions, and then we spend the year empowering students to deconstruct what JVP said so they can arrive at their own conclusions? 

In reality, if, after listening to 10-to-15 hawkish/pro-Israel speakers over one entire school year, our students are swayed by one JVP speaker, then isn't it time for us to re-evaluate our entire educational process?  More importantly, if one speaker with an opposing view can sway our students, then we should understand why so many students today in universities are turning against Israel and toward groups like JVP and J Street.

Rabbi Ari Segal, Head of School at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, one of our participating high schools, explained, “The High School Speakers Program is based on inoculation and inspiration through deep nuanced education. We have learned that, unfortunately, indoctrination does not work. A quick hitting one-sided presentation of the situation leaves us feeling good in the short term, but leaves our kids ill-equipped to fight the good fight on campus. 

And so I believe The Israel Group has the right idea. Incredible pro-Israel speakers who truly educate our students to be able to present the issues in a nuanced way on campus along with an occasional speaker from the other perspective to give our students a taste of what they will face when they get to college.

I have learned that doing anything else is like teaching our students to swim exclusively in the shallow end of the pool with rubber floaties on and then throwing them into the deep end suddenly and hoping they can apply the principles from the shallow end. This is not a great recipe for success.”

Subsequently through email correspondence with JVP's Los Angeles coordinator, I wrote that, “We want someone who can represent your organization's POV in a tolerant, open, and engaging environment.”​ ​

JVP responded that, “Due to the many requests we are getting in SoCal and limited time and resources, we often have to choose which projects we take part in. Unfortunately, we won't be able to take this on at this time.​”​

I questioned if it was their “official position that JVP does not have the time or resources necessary for one person (professional, board member, volunteer, or otherwise) to represent JVP's views by speaking 90 minutes to students at two Jewish high schools in Los Angeles.” 

I clarified that it would not be a debate, but rather an opportunity for JVP to express their position in a peaceful and respectful environment, but the students would be allowed to challenge their positions. 

JVP never responded to my email. 

Apparently, JVP has neither the desire nor resources to defend their anti-Israel platform in front of Jewish high school students in Los Angeles, yet they have the resources to disseminate lies about Israel in a full-page LA Times color ad and on billboards in seven cities, including in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

Where are you, Ed Asner, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Tony Kushner, James Schamus, Wally Shawn?  Rather than hide behind an LA Times ad and New York billboards, why don’t you defend your organization’s position in front of Jewish high school students? J Street already accepted. 

Jack Saltzberg is the founder and executive director of The Israel Group, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting Israel in the Diaspora. Saltzberg​, an IDF combat veteran,​ has been in pro-Israel leadership for nearly 20 years and ​speaks at high schools, universities, shuls, synagogues, and churches nationally on extremely effective methods to combat BDS. js@theisraelgroup.org