The debate about fighting BDS has turned from a trickle to a deluge. The number of entities that are fighting BDS has skyrocketed from a few three years ago to some thirty in 2015 and the number of pundits and experts who write about it runs into the hundreds. Unsurprisingly, virtually every week a new report offers suggestions for taking on BDS.
The recently released report of the Jewish People Policy Institute stands out in the crowded field. The JPPI is a highly respectable think tank and one of his authors is Dennis Ross, an esteemed former American diplomat. The analysis was discussed during a cabinet meeting with Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The report concluded that, based on the number of BDS resolutions, the BDS danger on campuses is overstated. As for how to fight BDS, the authors recommended “shaming anti-Israel activist scholars, founding new Israel studies programs, and mobilizing Jewish donors to pressure universities not to hire anti-Israel faculty. The report describes the handling of Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois as a model for this type of action. As IAM noted, the University of Illinois' president refused to honor a departmental decision to offer Salaita a tenured position.
There are a number of problems with the report. First, counting BDS resolutions is a rather superficial way of assessing the success of the movement. As indicated, even when a BDS motion fails, it “educates” the students on campus about Israel. Samuel M. Edelman and Carol F.S. Edelman coined the phrase “when failure succeeds” to speak on this issue, in the book by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, (eds.) The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2015).
Second, shaming anti-Israel professors or even firing them, and mobilizing Jewish donors to pressure the academic authorities may backfire, as the Salaita case demonstrates. The virtually unknown Salaita, who taught in a modest college in Virginia, became the poster child of what was described as Jewish efforts to stifle free speech on campus and, more consequentially, landed a job at the American University of Beirut.
Theoretically, creating Israel studies programs seem like a good idea, but its track record is poor. In many cases. Israelis (and others) picked to teach classes in the program were post-Zionists who had contributed to the delegitimization of Israel in the first place. Arguably the most notorious case pertained to Oren Yiftachel who used his visiting position in one of the programs to travel around the United States to promote his theory that Israel is an apartheid state. The Israel study program at Columbia University, is another case in point. Created to offset Joseph Massoud, a notorious anti-Israel scholar, it hired Yinon Cohen as the Yerushalmi Professor of Israel and Jewish Studies for the position. Cohen has used his perch in New York to promote his own brand of post-Zionism. No systemic study of the effectives of Israeli studies programs has been available, but anecdotal evidence indicates that they have made little impact on the discourse.
Much as the recommendations of the JPPI are welcome, it is obvious that they may collide with campus reality. Unfortunately, those who want to fight BDS would encounter even more complexity a topic explored in a follow up post.
Take the offensive against anti-Israel academics, top think tank urges
JPPI hands Prime Minister Netanyahu series of recommendations, including emergency immigration plan for French Jewry
BY EYTAN WEINSTEIN June 29, 2015, 3:08 am 23
A major Jewish think tank of Sunday urged the denunciation of American college faculty who demonize Israel, cautioned against support for right-wing parties in Europe, and stressed the imperative for Israel to nurture key bilateral partnerships, notably with the US, India and China.
Leading with a section on the exigency of battling the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the report released by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) also covered subjects ranging from the rising trend of assimilation among secular Diaspora Jewry to the growing anti-Semitism on college campuses. It also presented an emergency plan for French Jewish immigration to Israel.
The nonprofit organization presented the assessments and recommendations of its 2014-2015 report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet members.
After the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the PM gave a briefing on JPPI: “The Jewish people have no future without the State of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora have no future without the state of the Jews. Thus, in order to ensure the future of the people, one must ensure the future of the state,” he said.
“The very existence of the State of Israel is under attack from two elements — first, the physical threat as reflected in Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons; and, second, the threat posed by the global delegitimization campaign that denies our right to exist,” continued Netanyahu, who added that Israel is waging a campaign against the BDS movement.
“The key to dealing with these threats is an active — not just defensive — approach; we must denounce those who would slander us and seek our ill.”
JPPI — which is chaired by former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross and former US ambassador Stuart Eizenstat — is a think tank that was established by the Jewish Agency for Israel in 2002 to protect and advance the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Among the findings in the 2015 report, the authors advocated an “offensive-minded campaign against the promulgators of Israel delegitimization in the West.”
“The Jewish People Policy Institute [JPPI] is working to recruit and organize […] a group of international public intellectuals and opinion makers (especially non-Jewish ones) from a broad political spectrum who support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, to assist the fight against the international delegitimization of Israel,” the report claimed.
As part of its endeavor to understand and improve the three-way relationship between Israel, the United States and Diaspora Jewry, the policy institute “conducted a structured dialogue process with more than 40 Jewish communities around the world to consider questions of Jewish ethics in armed conflict.”
Three insights from these discussions were conveyed in the report: Jews across the world accept Israel’s need to defend itself; on the other hand, they have lost a measure of faith in Israel’s desire for peace; and, finally, they do not trust Israel to take their interests to heart.
The dispatch also cautioned against supporting “radical right-wing parties, gaining popularity in Europe, [which] are focused on an anti-Islamic and (sometimes) pro-Israel message, and are seeking support from Israel and the local Jewish communities (in their countries) […], because of present or past links to anti-Semitic activity and Holocaust denial, and which espouse policies that in practice would limit Jews in practicing a Jewish lifestyle in Europe.”
Two other segments reviewed the importance of maintaining and strengthening Israel’s relations with the US, India and China.
Using the visual cue of odometers, the report rated the status of five elements of Jewish society, two of which were in decline — “bonds within and between communities,” and “identity and identification.”
In response to the concern that the bonds between Israel and the Jewish world are in decline, a Diaspora Ministry spokesperson said, “As part of the Joint Resolution of the Government of Israel and Diaspora Jewry, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs will be launching projects in 2016 designed to strengthen Jewish identity within the mainstream Jewish communities in the US and other countries.”
Two other topics addressed by the JPPI report — “Geopolitics” and “Material resources” — remained the same as last year, with one ranked as “troubled” and the other as “prospering.”
A final topic, “Demography,” was controversially marked with slight improvement.
The assessment also discussed the bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of European immigrants, expounding on them in a nine-page appendix titled “Emergency Plan for French Aliyah.” The appendix set forth a six-part proposal for efficient absorption, including recommendations to ease the transferring of businesses to Israel.