New York City Council members posing with JCRC-NY Vice President and CEO Michael Miller (fourth from left) and Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora (and settler) Yuli Edelstein (center), September 2012.
When New York public officials criticized Brooklyn College for hosting a BDS event with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, their claimed interest in the matter was that the college was a public, taxpayer-funded institution and that, at best, the event was “one-sided” and needed “balance.” Yet this wasn’t the first time New York officials had mobilized against BDS. In March 2012, some of these same elected officials issued public statements against a proposal for an Israel-boycott referendum at the Brooklyn-based Park Slope Food Coop—in a campaign coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY).
Fighting the Coop boycott
The campaign to defeat the Coop boycott proposal was detailed in a recent report entitled IAN Facts 2: Best Practices for Countering the Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy, published by the Israel Action Network (IAN).
The Israel Action Network is a $6 million anti-BDS initiative established in October 2010 by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). At the time of its founding, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that
The network is expected to serve as a rapid-response team charged with countering the growing campaign to isolate Israel … The network will monitor the delegitimization movement worldwide and create a strategic plan to counter it wherever it crops up.
The JTA article quoted Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the JFNA: “Israel’s government has been advocating for this, especially over the past six months or eight months.”
IAN Facts 2 provides fourteen case studies of recent campaigns to “counter the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.” The first case study is entitled “Defeating the Boycott at the Park Slope Food Coop,” and is authored by Hindy Poupko and Noam Gilboord of the JCRC’s Israel and International Affairs division.
According to Poupko and Gilboord,
To ensure the BDS measure would not pass, JCRC-NY looked to secure the support of New York’s elected political leadership. Statements were gathered from federal, state, and municipal leaders urging PSFC members to reject the proposed boycott and posted on www.VoicesAgainstBDS.com, a resource hub created by JCRC-NY…
The website VoicesAgainstBDS.com, set up just weeks before Coop members were to vote on the boycott proposal, published statements by several New York public officials calling on Coop members to vote against the boycott proposal. The officials named on the website were:
- Senator Chuck Schumer
- Congressmember Yvette Clarke
- Congressmember Jerrold Nadler
- NY State Assembly Member James Brennan
- NYC Council Member Tish James
- NYC Council Member Brad Lander
- NYC Council Member Stephen Levin
- Public Advocate Bill de Blasio
- Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz
Additionally, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn issued her own statement in opposition to the boycott proposal on the day of the vote.
With the exception of Schumer, all the officials named above would later sign on to Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s “progressive” letter against the Brooklyn College BDS event. Two of the three New York City council members listed on the website also signed on to Lewis Fidler’s city council letter threatening funding of Brooklyn College for hosting the event.
(A few other officials made statements against the boycott proposal: Mayor Bloomberg expressed criticism of it when asked by reporters, and City Council Member Domenic Recchia posted a statement on Facebook on the day of the vote. City Council Member Dan Halloran publicly expressed his disapproval, but could not have signed on to the Nadler letter, which was reserved for “progressive” officials. He did sign on to the Fidler letter, however.)
A “local face” that is not the JCRC
In IAN Facts 2, Poupko and Gilboord explained how they directed the campaign while keeping the JCRC’s involvement on the down-low:
Like all community relations activities, the heart of the campaign was grassroots community organizing. In keeping with its culture of community relations, JCRC-NY gathered a group of Park Slope rabbis to present a local face to the campaign and formed the Coalition of Brownstone Brooklyn Rabbis. This group, guided by JCRC-NY, developed a campaign with messaging that would resonate with the local community…
Here, Poupko and Gilboord apply the term “grassroots” cynically, admitting that they were the ones who organized the coalition of Park Slope–area rabbis “to present a local face to the campaign,” and that the coalition continued to be “guided by JCRC-NY.” The JCRC “also produced flyers, posters, and post cards which were distributed through the Coalition of Brownstone Brooklyn Rabbis.” The report reproduces the flier below as an example:
Note that the flier only says that it is “Sponsored by the Coalition of Brownstone Brooklyn Rabbis,” with no mention of the JCRC, while the accompanying caption reveals its true provenance.
And though the JCRC now takes credit for having mobilizing the elected officials, it did so less publicly during the campaign. In fact, VoicesAgainstBDS.com, which is now acknowledged as “created by JCRC-NY,” contained no information about its proprietor and made no mention of the JCRC.
The only contact details provided at www.VoicesAgainstBDS.org
One day before the Park Slope Food Coop general meeting to consider a boycott referendum, Lander posted the following tweet, where he claimed to have “helped set up” the Voices Against BDS website with interfaith leaders and elected officials:
As already noted, the website was not set up by Lander, interfaith leaders, or elected officials. The domain was registered by JCRC Program Director Noam Gilboord, with the JCRC’s address and phone number:
While battling the Coop boycott proposal, the JCRC also organized a panel discussion entitled “Progressive Voices Against BDS,” featuring speakers from “progressive” anti-BDS organizations J Street, the New Israel Fund, and Americans for Peace Now.
The JCRC itself is not progressive on Palestine/Israel—not even by the low standards of the self-proclaimed “progressive” organizations named. According to its mission statement, “JCRC-NY’s policies on Israel and other international concerns should be consistent with positions determined by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.” The Conference of Presidents, in turn, takes positions consistent with those of AIPAC.
Why, then, did the JCRC organize an event billed as “progressive”? Poupko and Gilboord explain:
[I]t is exceedingly important to identify and refine the right message and messengers for the target audience … In particular, progressive voices reached out to like-minded people who were the primary targets of the campaign and successfully drove a wedge between progressive values and the BDS movement.
Thus the JCRC used these “progressive” organizations—and these organizations allowed themselves to be used—as “wedges” to strengthen the power of the non-progressive forces.
JCRC relations with New York elected officials
The JCRC was able to recruit elected officials for the Park Slope campaign because of its history of courting people of influence in New York. One man in particular, JCRC Vice President and CEO Michael Miller, has fostered close relationships with officials and community leaders on behalf of the organization.
The JCRC’s Michael Miller speaking at the NYPD High Holiday Briefing, Sept. 5, 2012. The JCRC supported the NYPD when it came under attack for spying on Muslim communities.
Christine Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker and possible future mayor, praised Miller at a JCRC rally in support of Israel’s Nov. 2012 Gaza offensive:
I want to echo the thanks to Michael [Miller] and the JCRC—not just for pulling us together today, but keeping us on a daily basis in New York City focused and united in our support of Israel.
One of Miller’s duties is to accompany elected officials and community leaders on JCRC-sponsored junkets in Israel several times a year.
For instance, Quinn, a signatory to the Nadler letter, has traveled to Israel and the Occupied Territories on JCRC-funded trips three times since becoming the New York City Council Speaker in 2006—approximately every other year. Her first trip was in February 2007, when she traveled with 11 other city council members. In February 2010, she was flown to Israel with 14 other city council members, including Fidler-signatories Gale Brewer and Sara González. And last February, she traveled to Israel with 10 other council members, including Fidler-signatories Mark Weprin and David Greenfield.
One-fifth of the New York City Council pose for an El Al photo during a JCRC-sponsored Israel junket in February 2012. Among the pictured are anti-BDS letter-signers Quinn (center), Weprin, and Greenfield (third and second from right, respectively). Third from left is Domenic Recchia, who also speaks out against BDS, but only on Facebook.
New York State Assembly members have their own JCRC-funded trips. Pictured below is a photo from a delegation of 19 assembly members—comprising 13% of the New York State Assembly—taken in December 2008 in the occupied West Bank. Nadler-signatory Hakeem Jeffries is in the back row, second from left. Alan “Second Holocaust” Maisel is in the second row, fourth from the left. Michael Miller is in the second row, far right, and next to him is then–JCRC President Janice Weinman Shorenstein.
And the man in the blue sweater standing next to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver? That’s settler leader Shaul Goldstein, then-mayor of the Gush Etzion Regional Council.
Paid Congressional trips are easier to track. Jerrold Nadler received six paid trips to Israel since 2000, three of which were sponsored by the JCRC, while the remaining trips were paid by similar mainstream Jewish organizations. The JCRC also paid for a separate trip for a staff member from Nadler’s office.
Nadler-signatory Yvette Clarke received one JCRC-sponsored trip to Israel and two from similar organizations, and a staff member received two paid trips, one of which was paid by the JCRC.
A sample itinerary from a February 2010 JCRC junket shows trips to several settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights and no meetings with Palestinians for “balance.” Some JCRC itineraries do show visits to meet with unidentified “Arab Israeli” officials.
Quinn regularly cites her 2007 visit to Sderot, when a Gazan rocket landed about a mile away. “It really deepens your commitment to Israel,” she said. NYC Public Advocate and Nadler-signatory Bill de Blasio cites his Aug. 2011 trip to Israel as an inspiration for his campaign against Iran.
City Comptroller and Nadler-signatory John Liu received a free JCRC trip to Israel in August 2010, as he noted in a press release announcing the city’s “re-commitment to State of Israel bonds”:
Israel has long been an ally and friend to New York, and there is no better way to reaffirm our commitment to the Israeli people than the investment of these funds in their country.
Only afterward does the press release suggest that the bonds are a good financial investment for the city.
Even Brooklyn Borough President Mary Markowitz, a Nadler-signatory, got a free trip to Israel. “This is a working trip to honor Brooklyn’s connection to Israel and reaffirm our support of its goals,” he explained.
Advocating BDS against Iran
And despite the claims of New York officials that BDS is “wrongheaded and destructive,” “simplistic and one-sided,” no compunctions exist when the JCRC proposes such tactics against Iran.
State Assembly Members Brennan, Camara, Jacobs, Jeffries, and Millman—all signatories to the Nadler letter—voted for the Iran Divestment Act of 2012, which “would prohibit entities that invest in the Iranian energy sector from receiving [New York] state contracts.” Also voting yes to the act was Alan “Second Holocaust” Maisel.
To introduce the Iran Divestment Act of 2012, New York State assembly members posed with representatives of the JCRC, the ADL, the United Jewish Appeal, and the American Jewish Committee. Apparently no Iranians were available to be photographed.
Meanwhile, NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was promoting his own BDS-against-Iran group called Iran Watchlist, created in conjunction with Iran180 (a JCRC “astroturf” front group) and United Against Nuclear Iran (yet another neocon “non-partisan advocacy group”).
In a Times of Israel interview explaining his advocacy for Iran BDS, de Blasio explained that “people in New York City and in the US” would support using “the economic strength of government to achieve these important goals.” Asked whether BDS against Iran would be seen as only hurting the Iranian people, de Blasio replied:
We vetted that argument with UANI, Iran 180 and, more recently, with AIPAC. The answer has been consistent in each case—this argument is a red herring.
Ironically, as Benjamin Doherty has noted,
one of the firms that IranWatchList.com targets is French-Japanese automaker Renault Nissan, which, The Electronic Intifada revealed in 2010, is helping build transportation infrastructure linking Israel’s illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank.
That is, one of Iran Watchlist’s targets is a also a potential target for BDS against Israel.
NYC Public Advocate and anti-BDSer Bill de Blasio calling for BDS against Iran. (photo: Sam Levin)
But whereas Israel BDS is a true international grassroots movement working in solidarity with its target’s victims to compel Israel to end its human rights and international law violations, BDS against Iran is a top-down strategy, with a more extreme application, bent on regime change for geopolitical advantage (for both the US and Israel), with only token regard to the regime’s victims.
Prior New York censorship on behalf of Israel
Despite claiming to respect academic freedom and freedom of speech, some of the Nadler signatories have previously promoted censorship on behalf of the JCRC.
In 2010, following the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, New York activists scheduled a talk at a Brooklyn church for three Mavi Marmara passengers—Brazilian filmmaker Iara Lee, British political leader Kevin Ovenden, and former Turkish parliamentarian Ahmet Faruk Unsal— to speak about what they had experienced.
In response, the JCRC issued a petition calling on the State Department to deny visas to the speakers under the pretense that an investigation would reveal that these speakers had ties to terrorist organizations. To boost the petition, the JCRC arranged a rally in Times Square that featured City Council Speaker (and Nadler-signatory) Christine Quinn and five New York congress members, including Jerry Nadler.
As Alex Pareene reported in Salon, “Nadler had an extended bit about how we would respond if New York were under rocket attack—from New Jersey.” Nadler also stated,
It’s incredible that Israel released all the terrorists—all the non-terrorists, but also all the people who were wearing bulletproof vests, who had $10,000 in cash in their pockets, and who had apparently done the fighting, and they apparently released them all. They should not have done so, and those people should not be permitted into this country.
Although Public Advocate Bill de Blasio did not attend the rally, the JCRC released a statement from him where he said, “Anyone connected with a terrorist organization should be investigated before they are allowed to tour our City.”
In the end, Unsal’s visa was denied, but the event proceeded with the remaining speakers.
Nadler (at the podium) and Quinn (left) at a JCRC rally calling for passengers of the Mavi Marmara to be banned from the United States, or at least from New York. Times Square, June 14, 2010.
Packing JCRC rallies with New York officials
On Nov. 20, 2012, during Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Cloud,” the JCRC organized a support rally across from the Israeli Consulate in New York. Once again, several elected officials lined up to be counted, including Nadler, Fidler-signatories Greenfield and Weprin, and five Nadler-signatories: James, Quinn, Liu, Thompson, and de Blasio. Even Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes stood in line for his opportunity to defend Israel. (Hynes has been accused of granting special treatment to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish leadership in Brooklyn when confronting allegations of child sexual abuse within their communities.)
At the rally, Michael Miller explained:
The purpose of this gathering is to express the unequivocal support for the State of Israel among New York’s political, communal, ethnic and faith leaders.
Among the many officials appearing at this rally in support of Israel’s Gaza offensive were Nadler-signatories Bill Thompson (blue tie on the left), Christine Quinn (red hair, center), and John Liu (right). The ubiquitous Michael Miller appears to the left of Liu.
Other recent JCRC-sponsored rallies featuring New York officials include a rally against the International Olympic Committee for not memorializing the Munich 11 enough:
A rally against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations last September, as credited to Iraq180:
And a rally against the status of “non-member observer state” for Palestine at the United Nations:
At every event, JCRC Vice President and CEO Michael Miller is present; Congressman Jerry Nadler is never far behind; and mayoral candidates (and Nadler signatories) Quinn, Liu, de Blasio, and Thompson are almost always there, along with an assortment of city, state, and congressional officials.
Was the JCRC involved with the Nadler letter?
Was the JCRC involved in organizing opposition by elected officials against the Brooklyn College BDS event?
Last week, after the Brooklyn College BDS event, Alex Kane posed the question of JCRC involvement to Councilmember Brad Lander and Congressman Jerry Nadler. Lander responded on behalf of Nadler and himself, saying that the two of them, on their own initiative, drafted the letter and solicited signatures themselves. In preparing the letter, Lander said they consulted with many people “across the political spectrum,” including the JCRC. Lander acknowledged that the JCRC was prominent in the campaign against the Coop boycott proposal, but he said that the JCRC had no direct involvement in the letter to Brooklyn College.
Hoping to pose the same questions to the JCRC, I contacted three people:
- Michael Miller, vice president and CEO of the JCRC-NY;
- Noam Gilboord, former JCRC Program Coordinator for Israel & International Affairs, creator of the Voices Against BDS website, co-author of the IAN Facts Coop boycott report, and current director of community strategy at the Israel Action Network;
- and Hindy Poupko, JCRC Director of Israel & International Affairs and co-author of the IAN Facts Coop boycott report.
Of the three, only Poupko responded. She told me by email:
We [the JCRC] were not involved in the drafting of the letter nor did we make any suggestions about its content or framing. We knew about the second Nadler/Lander letter about 30 minutes before it was made public.
She also said that the JCRC did not solicit signatures for the letter, nor was it involved with the Fidler letter. When asked if the JCRC helped draft the Brooklyn College Hillel statement on the BDS event, she answered yes.
JCRC Congressional Breakfast
Last Sunday, three days after the Brooklyn College BDS event that was decried as “one-sided” and an inappropriate use of taxpayer money, the JCRC held its annual Congressional Breakfast in Manhattan. In attendance were at least twelve of the Nadler/Fidler signatories: de Blasio, Brewer, Clarke, Greenfield, Jeffries, Liu, Nadler, Quinn, Squadron, Thompson, Velazquez, and Mark Weprin—and likely others.
There, elected officials got to mingle with representatives from AIPAC, address an unequivocally Israelist audience, and discuss how much Israel meant to them. Many of these officials gave speeches, including self-styled “progressive” Congressman Jerry Nadler, who reportedly told the audience that the issue of “850,000” Jewish refugees from Arab countries would need to be addressed in the Middle East peace process.
As with their Israel junkets and their JCRC rallies, they would have been deprived of dissenting viewpoints. Instead, they would have been thanked for their “principled stand” against BDS. And when Michael Miller needs some public officials to promote his next campaign, he’ll know who to call.
The attendees, who were for a brief moment so concerned about “balance” and so concerned about the best use of taxpayer resources, were once again back in the arms of their political benefactors—not that they ever left.