By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
Group working on actionable recommendations for Jewish groups and Israeli gov’t.
The next few days will see the first meeting in Israel of a group of scholars and activists who are planning a new, aggressive Jewish response to the international “Boycott, Divestment, Sanction” (BDS) campaign against Israel.
The group, organized by McGill University history professor Gil Troy and American-Israeli policy analyst Mitchell Bard, is working on developing actionable recommendations for key Jewish groups and the Israeli government to combat what it calls a “full blown political, economic, cultural, ideological struggle against the very existence of Israel.”
The group was first formed in December as a “Delegitimization of Israel” working group at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, an annual gathering under the aegis of the Foreign Ministry.
After two days of discussions at the forum, the working group, then also chaired by Troy and Bard, produced a first draft of what has grown into a 14-page working paper that calls for a “new proactive agenda” in combating the delegitimization of Israel on campuses and in the media worldwide.
That document, completed in late January, has been the basis for discussions in recent weeks that will lead to the formation of “a smaller group” expected to meet in Jerusalem over the coming few days “to focus in on three to five recommendations [for combating BDS] for key Jewish organizations or the Foreign Ministry,” Troy told The Jerusalem Post this week.
Until recently, Jewish and Israeli responses to BDS have been lackluster at best, the group asserts.
“There is a need in the Jewish world today for more coordination, for more sharing of best practices, for more leadership in the fight against anti-Semitism. Activists in the field feel alone,” the working paper explains.
“Those who succeed are not sharing their successful tactics and strategies; those who are less experienced flounder, wasting precious time, resources, goodwill,” it continues.
However, the paper adds, the fight against BDS should be a relatively easy one.
According to the paper”s authors, it is not necessary – and may be impossible – to “win” a debate over Israeli settlements or Palestinian independence. But these are not the issues at the heart of the BDS movement, the paper asserts.
“BDS shifts the terrain, making the battle one over Israel”s right to exist, over the legitimacy of Zionism, over the anti-Semitic tropes shaping the anti-Israel movement, and the rank anti-Semitism behind the disproportionate, obsessive focus on Israel. It is also a battle about freedom of speech and of open discourses, given the BDS attempt to shut down normal flows of learning and commerce with Israel,” it states.
“This is not a carefully constructed, nuanced document,” Troy told the Post. “This is a brainstorming document that reflects different opinions that don”t always agree with each other. We put drafts up on the Web, and other people added to it. The result was a whole series of ideas, strategies, tactics that capture the growing indignation against this push to be so disproportionate in the zeal to demonize Israel.”
The key point of the final document, which the group hopes to turn into the heart of a new campaign by Israel and worldwide activists, is that “BDS draws a line in the sand.”
According to the paper, “By implicitly shifting the debate from Israeli policy to Israel”s right to exist, BDSers have provided what we could call “the J-Street Test.””
The “test,” Troy explains, is a way of drawing the line between honest criticism of Israel and its policies on the one hand, and demonization that seeks Israel”s destruction on the other.
J Street, much castigated by many the Jewish community for its ongoing, strident criticism of the Israeli government, “passes the test” as an honest critic of Israel because it condemned the BDS movement, he said.
The paper quotes Tal Shechter of J Street U, who wrote, “We should be investing – not divesting – in our campus debate, in our communities and in the people who will bring about change in the region. That”s why J Street U is launching an “Invest, Don”t Divest” campaign today to raise money for two organizations – LendforPeace.org, a Palestinian microfinance organization set up by students like us, and The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, which promotes Jewish-Arab Economic Cooperation in Israel.”
“I disagree with J Street, and I”ve written publicly about my disagreements,” says Troy, “But they didn”t get dragged, like some other well-meaning activists, into a prejudiced, obsessive campaign over Israel”s very existence.”
The working paper suggests that “critics of Israeli policy can in fact be particularly useful,” by demonstrating the difference between legitimate activist criticism and “demonization.”
Through the “extremism” of BDS, many of whose supporters have as their ultimate goal the end of Jewish statehood, according to group members, the new campaign hopes to “help heal some of the rifts in the Jewish community, assert a big-tent Zionism, and invite left-wing critics of Israel who nevertheless believe in Israel”s existence to stand up for Israel on this defining issue.”
Among the group”s specific recommendations are campaigning for the passage of legislation in relevant countries against “prejudiced” boycott and divestment campaigns; creating “best practices” for combating the BDS movement; creating networks that gather and share information on the movement”s funders and organizers to “name and shame” them; engaging with local lawyers and academics in various countries to conduct campaigns against BDS activism in their locality; and “pursuing a strategy of ridicule and satire – especially on the Internet.”
The full document, available on the Global Forum”s Web site since it was completed in late January, reads more like the minutes of a meeting than a carefully drafted policy paper.
It is, Troy says, “the start of a conversation” and the launching of “a grassroots movement against a well-organized but, ultimately, failing and marginalized effort.”