On March 11, 2014, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published the following op-ed written by the CEO/Presidents of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA; Jerry Silverman) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA; Rabbi Steve Gutow). With permission, we are reprinting excerpts of this article below.
JFGI is proud of our JCRC, which works to strengthen the understanding of and support for Israel among the policy, civic, business and faith leaders in the greater community. In the coming months, JCRC plans to roll out programming that will help members of our Jewish community become confident advocates and effectively combat the efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel. You may contact Linsey Mintz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
NEW YORK (JTA)—Leaders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement say they are simply protesting Israel’s policies in the West Bank. They are doing far more than that. BDS advocates routinely oppose a two-state solution and seek to delegitimize the sovereign, Jewish State of Israel. In some cases, BDS becomes the latest form of anti-Semitism.
The BDS movement aims to isolate and punish Israel, using the same techniques applied to apartheid South Africa. Not hesitating to misrepresent facts and ignore context, these Israel bashers take advantage of ignorance and naïveté within civil society circles to advance their anti-Israel agenda.
BDS advocates cite the security checkpoints that make life difficult for Palestinians, but conveniently overlook the reasons for those checkpoints. They ignore the fact that hurting Israel’s economy would also hurt Palestinians who earn their livelihoods from Israeli-owned businesses. They don’t bother to protest the many countries that have horrific human rights records, instead singling out the world’s only Jewish state, often based on false information.
With calls for BDS escalating in the mainline Protestant churches, on college campuses and elsewhere, Jewish community leaders realize that the situation calls for more than an ad hoc approach: local communities need a strategic approach with national support and coordination.
In 2010, the Jewish Federations of North America, representing 150 local federations, allocated significant resources so that the Israel Action Network could serve this purpose. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs—with its 16 national member organizations, including all four of the religious movements, and 125 Jewish Community Relations Councils, which work with non-Jewish coalition partners on a range of international and domestic concerns—was the JFNA’s obvious partner.
One principle that guides this work is that we should understand our audiences. When we speak with others, we should do so with respect for the sensitivities of that constituency so that our important messages are authentically heard. Whether on a campus or in a church, we should always be clear that we stand as partners, sharing the goal of a future with peace and security—not one of conflict and BDS.
Experience and research demonstrate that what works best is not an all-good-vs-all-bad characterization of Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, a more nuanced narrative is more likely to defeat the one-sided and hostile stance of those seeking to delegitimize Israel. This means honestly conveying the situation’s complexity, expressing empathy for suffering on both sides (without implying moral equivalency), and offering a constructive pathway to helping the parties move toward peace based on two states for two peoples.
In addition to exposing the true goals of the boycotters and their allies, Israel’s supporters must also go on the offensive and drain the swamps of ignorance that allow the poisonous ideas of the Jewish state’s opponents to incubate. Thus, we are taking the initiative to inoculate vulnerable politically progressive sectors, presenting a factual perspective on Israel and taking prominent leaders to the region to see the real situation firsthand.
There is no imminent threat to the critical and broad North American support for Israel. But American support for Israel is not something to be taken for granted in light of the organized campaign we now face. While we should not be panicked, we cannot be complacent either. We pledge to continue to work hard to prevent any erosion of that support.