Jerry Silverman is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America
The globally coordinated delegitimization movement, started primarily by groups that do not support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) supporters are waging an economic, political and cultural battle on many fronts.
Many say that they support a two-state outcome and just want to apply political pressure to push Israel to improve its treatment of Palestinians. Yet the movement’s founders remain committed to an end of the State of Israel and have attracted many anti-Zionists, Israel-haters and downright anti-Semites to their campaign.
A dramatic example took place in January at a national LGBTQ conference in Chicago. Anti-Israel protesters shouting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” prevented participants from entering a reception hosted by A Wider Bridge, a U.S.-based group that builds connections to Israel. A Wider Bridge calls for a “time when Palestinians will live in dignity, free from occupation.” But that seemed meaningless to these protesters, who wanted to silence any supporter of Israel.
If these activists really cared about advancing the peace process and fostering self-determination to enable Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side, they would have advocated with A Wider Bridge activists instead of protesting against them. Time after time, loud, vocal, broad and sweeping animus toward Israel overshadows advocacy for peace and shuts down any possibility of dialogue.
We saw another example of animosity toward Israel early this month when the Movement for Black Lives released an extensive platform that raises important issues, including economic justice, voter rights and criminal justice system reforms. Unfortunately, the platform also includes provisions that demonize Israel, erroneously equating the experiences of African-Americans with Palestinians and outrageously calling Israel an “apartheid” state guilty of committing “genocide.”
Jewish Federations work to turn the tide away from delegitimization and toward support for peace efforts through the Israel Action Network (IAN). Created in 2010, IAN is our go-to network for anyone seeking resources to combat BDS. It provides training and strategies, fact sheets and talking points to counter attempts to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.
Often working behind the scenes, IAN can be found wherever BDS raises its ugly head: supporting Hillels on college campuses, advising professors in their classrooms and within academic associations, coordinating local efforts to adopt anti-discrimination legislation in states across the country, counseling fair trade-focused CEOs in board rooms and training church activists, just to name a few.
As a convener of organizations working to fight delegitimization of Israel, IAN leverages the strengths and assets of those groups. It provides education, training and speakers for major Jewish and non-Jewish conferences, as well as trips and education efforts for non-Jewish leaders of groups vulnerable to delegitimization efforts including interfaith, youth, women, minorities and journalists.
IAN’s key message is simple: BDS is an approach that seeks to shut out and shut down one party to the conflict. That can’t be the pathway to peaceful resolution. And increasingly, thanks to efforts by IAN and other groups, fair-minded people in mainstream Protestant church groups, academic associations, unions and many other settings get it.
Earlier this summer, at a national meeting of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), IAN led a broad grassroots mobilization that yielded impressive results. For the first time in more than 40 years, the PCUSA endorsed a Jewish right to self-determination, representing a monumental shift from recent dialogue in the church. In that same week, IAN helped New York University graduate students, who received the support of the United Automobile Workers International Union (UAW) in their efforts to defeat a divestment campaign. In doing so, UAW became the first union in the country to rule against BDS.
A recent event held with The Israel Project honored state legislators in an ongoing effort to support local leaders who take a stand against BDS. The two groups are working to ensure that where BDS is active, anti-BDS legislation is signed into law. As of now, 11 states have such laws in place. Twenty more states have passed or are considering legislation.
Those organizations that truly work to promote dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians seek strategic approaches to build relationships and foster partnerships between the populations. A true and lasting peace will result only from bilateral negotiations between the two parties, not a boycott of one.
Until those boycott efforts end, Jewish Federations’ Israel Action Network will be at the forefront of the battle against them.