November 20, 2019

Sheldon Adelson: Improve Israel’s odds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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