With BDS spreading on American campuses, anti-BDS activity has moved up to the top of the agenda of the Jewish community. The latest entrant into the arena is the conservative billionaire and mega-donor to political causes, Sheldon Adelson. Co-chaired by Haim Saban, a big Democratic donor, a secret meeting in Las Vegas last weekend attracted some 50 participants representing a variety of groups. The event, called Campus Macabees Summit, promised to raise $50 million to combat campus BDS. According to estimates, $20 million was already pledged. Dr. Miriam Adelson, and the rabbi Shmuley Boteach, are slated to head the project.
Missing from the confab were J-Street, a liberal organization that opposes BDS and other liberal groups are concerned with the fact that the initiative is run by Adelson, a supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlement drive. Benji Cannon, in charge of J-Street on campus, warns that Campus Macabees will not sit well with liberal and progressive Jewish students. Other critics point out that the Adelson scheme considers all BDS proposals to be a form of anti-Semitism, or, as Boteach put, “the economic annihilation of Israel.”
It is too early to estimate the impact of the Campus Macabees initiative. It has the potential to make a real contribution, but it can also split the Jewish students into competing camps as epitomized by the Open Hillel movement.
Secret Sheldon Adelson Summit Raises up to $50M for Strident Anti-BDS Push
June 9, 2015
Pro-Israel activists headed home from Las Vegas last weekend resting easy that raising money to fight boycott and sanction campaigns on campus just got a lot easier.
Although checks have yet to be written, deep-pocketed donors like summit organizer Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban pledged tens of millions to their cause.
“You work together and we will raise you the money,” promised Israeli-American businessman Adam Milstein following the conference for Israel activists that took place there over the weekend. “You no longer have to worry about financing and fundraising. You just need to be united.”
Milstein, a California real estate developer, who was among the key organizers of the first Campus Maccabees Summit, as the gathering dubbed itself, made his comments to Boaz Bismuth of Israel Hayom, an Israeli daily owned by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the host of the closed-doors Vegas summit, which took place at Adelson’s own Venetian hotel. Israel Hayom was the only media outlet granted access to the meeting, which was otherwise closed to press coverage.
Participants, true to the maxim that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, declined to discuss any financial pledges made during the summit in Sin City. But based on the organizers’ own guidelines, it is clear that tens of millions of dollars were raised to combat campus campaigns to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — or BDS, as the movement is known.
Adelson and his fellow conference organizers limited participation in the event to donors willing to pledge at least $1 million over the next two years. With some 20 donors taking part at the meeting, the total dollar amount raised is estimated to be at least $20 million. A Jewish communal leader who did not attend the meeting but who spoke to the organizers said that, in fact, the overall funding goal for Adelson’s Campus Maccabees was $50 million.
Some in the Jewish community have voiced concerns about the right-leaning nature of the initiative, from which liberal Zionist groups were excluded, and the effect this might have on its prospects for success on campus. The two-day gathering brought together 50 Jewish organizations representing mostly right wing and hawkish views with some mainstream campus organizations taking part as well. Other key mainstream organizations dealing with BDS were invited but declined to attend.
Many of the groups attending prepared presentations to donors. After taking into consideration the pitch and additional information included in a book of programs given to participants, these funders will decide who gets funding and at what level. Presentations varied in form and topic, but all included suggestions for taking on anti-Israel expressions on campus.
“My recommendation is that all groups work together to demonize the demonizers,” Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, told the Forward before his presentation in Vegas. This, according to Klein, means “demonizing the racists by telling the truth about the Palestinian Authority and giving examples of what it does as a racist terror organization.”
Military leaders in Israel, which has accepted the P.A. as its negotiating partner in the now aborted peace process, have testified in the Knesset that the group’s security forces have actually helped Israel crack down on terrorism in the occupied West Bank. But Israeli officials vehemently protest the P.A.’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that rules Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel as a legitimate state. The United States and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.
Adelson and Saban, the two billionaires steering the Campus Maccabees effort, did not publicly commit themselves to any specific idea. But both stressed their view that BDS — a form of nonviolent protest promoted by a diverse array of groups opposed to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians — is simply a form of anti-Semitism.
“As a teenager, I suffered from anti-Semitism. A lot,” Adelson told Israel’s Channel 2 TV in an interview he and Saban gave the station. Adelson noted that today there is “little to no sign in American society” of significant anti-Semitism but added he was “absolutely positive that there is a lot of anti-Semitism on campus.” Saban, warned of “an anti-Semitic tsunami that’s coming at us.”
Advocates of BDS, meanwhile, point out that many among their number, including the group Jewish Voice for Peace, are themselves Jewish. Activists for Students for Justice in Palestine, another key American advocate of BDS on campus, report that Jews make up the second largest ethnic group in its ranks .
Both Adelson and Saban stressed that their overarching goal was to get all pro-Israel actors on campus to work together against BDS.
“It’s a challenge to get Jewish groups to work together,” Adelson said in his remarks to Channel 2 TV. “Going back in history, the arguments and debates between Jews brought down the Temple.” The purpose of his gathering, he stressed, was to unite forces and “put boots on the ground” on college campuses.
Adelson described three components of his Campus Maccabees concept: donors who will fund the operation; activists on the ground willing to take the fight to the campus; and researchers who will supply information about the anti-Israel groups and recommend possible legal avenues to block their activities.
The researchers will also provide input on messaging that can help win over hearts and minds, he told Israel Hayom. It is an American based effort, though a communal official informed about Adelson and Saban’s intentions said they see a role for Israel in the research component. The pro-Palestinian groups the organizers identified as causing Israel the most damage were Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, which Adelson described as “BDS and Co.”
Despite the theme of communal unity the organizers touted, many of the Jewish community’s key players were not invited or chose not to attend. The conference also eschewed any mention of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the way these policies are used to recruit supporters to the BDS camp.
This is a mistaken approach, argued Kenneth Bob, national president of Ameinu, a liberal Zionist organization that runs an anti-BDS campus program. Ameinu, which was not invited to the Las Vegas conference, aims to convince progressives not to join the boycott drives. There is a need, Bob argued, to “speak to liberals in a language they understand.” This involves admitting Israel faces challenges and acknowledging the problems created by its occupation of the West Bank. Otherwise, he warned, BDS will continue to try and “make itself the social justice cause of our times.”
Ameinu’s campus program, the Third Narrative, has gotten very little communal funding so far. “The Jewish community at large has not adopted our approach,” Bob said.
Adelson and Saban made clear they want to see the impact of their campaign noticed on campus as early as this fall, when students return to college. This would require funding being determined and provided in the upcoming weeks.
Daniella Greenbaum, president Aryeh, a pro-Israel student organization at Columbia University, heard about the Vegas donor meeting, but had her own take on what is needed for helping activists like herself fight anti-Israel sentiments on campus.
“To talk about ‘fighting anti-Israel college activism’ is to fuel the fire,” she said. This battle, Greenbaum said, means entering “into a never ending game of whack-a-mole — a game that is as unproductive as it is exhausting.”
The focus, she believes, should be on strengthening U.S.-Israel relations and educating students on this issue.
In their joint TV interview, Adelson, a Republican party mega-donor, and Saban, a major supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, seemed to marvel at the idea of their partnership for Israel, a collaboration that began several years ago when both helped fund the Israeli American Council, an organization of Israeli expatriates living in America.
“When it comes to Israel we’re absolutely on the same page. Our interest is to take care of Israel’s interest in the United States. Period. Over and out,” Saban declared during the Channel 2 interview.
When the interview ended, Adelson announced it was time for dinner.
“I support that 100%,” Saban replied, and the two men smiled to the camera and high fived.
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nathanguttman
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman
Sheldon Adelson's anti-BDS summit is doomed because he offers no alternative to occupation
To fight BDS, Jewish Americans must articulate an alternative vision for Israel's future that progressive students can get behind.
By Benjy Cannon | Jun. 3, 2015 | 2:18 PM |
The upcoming anti-BDS summit hosted by Sheldon Adelson and other Jewish patrons is the latest episode in a now familiar saga. This saga is one in which major voices in the American Jewish community pour valuable resources into combatting anti-Israel activities. Yet, as good as their intentions may be and as promising as the initiatives that emerge from this convention may seem, I strongly suspect they will prove futile.
Why? Because no amount of money or secret conferences will dent the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for as long as the people behind them refuse to offer a credible alternative to what's really eroding Israel’s reputation: the occupation.
Raphael Magarik, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote last year that his experience fighting BDS opened his eyes to the self-defeating nature of mainstream pro-Israel activism. You “cannot convince progressives that Palestinians are responsible for their own suffering," wrote Magarik.
He’s right. Apart from hard-core anti-Israel activists, BDS draws much of its support from a truthful and widely shared sentiment among students: that the Israeli military occupation of millions of Palestinians living beyond the Green Line has to end. Trying to convince would-be BDS supporters that the occupation doesn’t exist, or that it isn’t a violation of human and civil rights, is a waste of time.
As the National Board president of J Street U, the campus arm of J Street, I’ve seen a story play out countless times on countless campuses. It goes like this: A student group or coalition of groups proposes a BDS resolution. Pro-Israel groups form a coalition against it, which pays lip service to peace and a two-state solution, but never actually objects to the occupation or offers a good way for students to positively advocate for a resolution to the conflict. The BDS resolution passes, or perhaps it fails, but only by a small margin.
Each year, new campuses endorse BDS, and each year the American Jewish community twiddles its thumbs as Israel elects increasingly hawkish governments, settlements continue to grow, and the occupation deepens.
Members of the American Jewish community are left with a choice: support the status-quo of occupation and oppose BDS, or support BDS and oppose the status quo. For your average progressive student, the latter choice is a no brainer.
But there must be another way. Leaders of our communities have to articulate a path for those of us who want to see a Jewish and democratic future for Israel without the blight of the occupation. We want to be able to oppose the occupation and oppose BDS.
Unfortunately, we cannot expect Adelson's conference to find a solution to that end. Adelson is not interested in opposing the occupation. This a man who has called the Palestinians a made up nation who exist only to destroy Israel; a man who has suggested that the United States should drop nuclear bombs on parts of Iran, and publicly mused that it would be no big deal if Israel ceased to be a democracy. His views on Israel may be miles away from those of most American Jews, but respected leaders in our community have no problem taking his money – and, with that, his agendas – to "fight" BDS. They do not realize, or perhaps they simply ignore the fact, that Adelson’s money dooms their anti-BDS efforts to being indifferent to (or in denial of) the occupation – and, therefore, to irrelevance.
J Street U, unlike other major pro-Israel, anti-BDS campus groups, was not invited to this summit. Our organization has advocated tirelessly for strong leadership in the American community toward a two-state solution and an end to the occupation. Clearly, those who convened this meeting would rather stick their heads in the sand than confront challenging truths.
But if American Jewish leaders want to succeed, there is a truth they must confront: Convincing liberal college students to reject BDS requires recognizing the occupation and touting the promise of a more just and democratic Israel. If they are serious about defeating BDS, American Jewish leaders must forfeit Adelson's money for the sake of engaging in honest conversations that generate positive results. And the outcome of these conversations must offer a credible alternative to BDS, articulating a vision for Israel’s future – and a path for working toward it – that progressive students can get behind.
There is no other way to confront BDS, and no other way to secure Israel’s future.
Benjy Cannon is the President of J Street U. He holds a B.A. in Government and Politics and Philosophy from the University of Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @benjycannon.
OPINION By SHMULEY BOTEACH \ 06/08/2015 21:47
No Holds Barred: Miriam and Sheldon Adelson's fight against BDS
BDS seeks nothing other than economic annihilation of Israel. BDS is not about opposing occupation.
The participants in the anti-BDS conference in Las Vegas this past weekend witnessed a memorable spectacle. Here was Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, a couple ranked among the 20 wealthiest in the world, sitting for two days through 50 presentations of organizations committed to fighting for Israel both on and off campus.
Sitting alongside them and not missing a session were Haim Saban and his wife Cheryl. The sight of some of the world’s most influential Jews totally dedicated to fighting Israel’s enemies was inspiring. The attacks that followed from people like J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami – who attacked me alongside them – were revolting and beneath contempt. But we have come to expect such hatred from J Street toward Israel’s defenders rather than its enemies.
In my presentation at the conference I noted the old joke about the professor who was asked what was worse, ignorance or apathy. To which he replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The Vegas conference took a giant step toward ending both the ignorance and apathy that has allowed BDS (the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement) to grow.
When I took to the stage Friday morning, I began by telling the crowd that there was a blessing in BDS. For the first time, I argued, a challenge has come forth to bring American Jewish youth into the ring, and demand they stand as Maccabees in Israel’s defense. It’s no longer just Israelis age 18-21 who have to battle for Israel’s survival.
American Jewish youth have joined the fight.
Hillel’s excellent past president Richard Joel famously coined the Hillel phrase “Do Jewish.” But in the age of BDS, every Jewish student has now been forced to “Choose Jewish.” The BDS assault to destroy Israel and make it a pariah state has raised the stakes and drawn the battle lines more clearly than ever before. Sitting on the fence is, today, no longer an option.
I further offered the definition of a Maccabee: a Maccabee is an individual who will fight against all odds in the firm belief that he can change the course of history. The Maccabee trusts in the sacred words of the great Martin Luther King, who famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Maccabee is unfazed by a superior enemy, and unintimidated by a protracted, uphill struggle. He knows that it is not numbers but courage that counts. After all, he knows with certainty that, in the end, history will submit to the justice of his cause.
A few years back, I heard legendary Apple Macintosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki say that, at its inception, Apple employed counterintuitive marketing: from the outset they sought to polarize and bifurcate their audience. In essence, they were unafraid of factionalizing the public into those who would love them and those who would not.
It’s a lesson that some of the big Jewish student groups who are reluctant to stand up for Israel on campus have to learn. Don’t be afraid of being controversial. Drop the argument that if you stand up for Israel you’ll alienate left-leaning Jewish students who might not stop by for chicken soup on a Friday night. To the contrary. Courage is courageous. They will be inspired by your example and will follow your lead.
I often hear myself described as “controversial.” No doubt I am a rabbi who is both loved and hated. A preparedness to be unpopular is what I have learned from Judaism, not to mention the world’s most influential figures. No one experiences greater rejection by the Israelites than Moses, the great prophet who redeemed them from slavery and gave them the Law. Mordechai spares the Jews a holocaust but is described as being admired only by “most of his brethren.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe saved the Jewish people from spiritual extinction yet even today his legacy remains “controversial.” No American was more hated in his lifetime than Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, and Winston Churchill was fired by the British right after defeating Hitler. But each of these men saved their nations from extinction. And Jews today must fight to save Israel from destruction, even if it makes them controversial.
And make no mistake – BDS seeks nothing other than economic annihilation of Israel. As I’ve said many times, BDS is not about opposing occupation. If it were then none of its proponents would ever use an iPhone since China has been occupying Tibet since 1951, and they would never have a Turkish coffee since Turkey has been occupying Cyprus since 1974. Nor would they drink Stolichnaya since it’s made in Russia, which is occupying Crimea.
Less so is BDS about Palestinian rights. If it were, it would be boycotting Egyptian cotton over the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes on the Gaza border last October to stop Hamas from smuggling weapons.
BDS has no interest in protecting Arab life. If it did it would be boycotting the Assad regime for murdering 200,000 Arabs.
The truth is, it’s about none of those things, and holds no values except anti-Semitism and no goals except Israel’s economic strangulation. As such, it cannot be fought through passive means.
Many well-meaning pro-Israel activists believe we can fight BDS by pointing to Israel’s nice and cuddly side.
They show the world statistics proving how much Israel recycles and show photographs of Israel’s friendly restaurant scene. Unfortunately, it won’t work. South Africa also tried to show off a nice side, including the world’s first heart-transplant. But nobody cared. All anyone did care about was that South Africa was a racist, apartheid regime.
Israel-haters like Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS, want to falsely compare democratic and just Israel to apartheid South Africa; a vile, fraudulent comparison of a racist regime to the Middle East’s only democracy and the only place in the region where Arabs enjoy full human rights. The only way to fight Barghouti and those like him is to attack their credibility and point out their rancid lies.
Barghouti, for example, is both a hypocrite and a fraud.
Even as he calls for an academic boycott of Israel, Barghouti earned a masters degree from Tel Aviv University, and is currently a doctoral student at the same institution.
In effect, he is boycotting his professors, his peers and even himself.
Though 184,000 people signed a petition calling on the school to expel him, Tel Aviv University has refused to eject a student on political grounds. That speaks volumes about Israeli justice and righteousness. Yet Omar Barghouti wants every Israeli academic to be ejected from the academic world due his despicable hatred of Israel.
Barghouti was low enough to say that Israeli security checkpoints, designed to prevent Jews from being blown to smithereens by Islamic terrorists, are “reminiscent of common Nazi practices against the Jews.” To Barghouti’s nauseating morality, opening the trunk of a car is similar to forcing a child into a gas chamber.
Leaving no stone unturned, Barghouti compares Israeli policy to South African apartheid, even as he receives treatment equal to that of any Israeli citizen, including subsidized higher education and the unrestrained right of freedom of speech.
It is time to take Israel out of the defendants’ dock. It’s time for the Jewish community to embrace its own BDS, being Bold, Decisive and Strong in the defense of the Jewish state.
Sure, some will accuse us of playing rough. Some will always favor a softer, more agreeable stance.
But to them, we must respond: if controversy is an inevitable outcome of an effective campaign to defend the Jewish state, then it is one we must embrace.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including the forthcoming Israel Warrior’s Handbook. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley