Leading American Jewish group announces plan to ramp up campaign against BDS movement

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Malcolm Hoenlein, a top official with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, announced a new anti-BDS campaign last week. (Photo via Sderot.org)

A representative of a major Jewish American group told Haaretz last week that the campaign against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is about to ramp up.

Malcolm Hoenlein, a top official with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told journalist Judy Maltz that his organization plans to launch a counter-attack to BDS on campuses in August. “It will be a major Internet and social media campaign, in which we hope to reach every single college student in America. The goal is to educate in creative ways and win the public back,” Hoenlein said in the interview published earlier this week. Hoenlein was in Israel visiting Jerusalem for Israeli President Shimon Peres’ birthday party and conference.

The comments are the latest sign that the Jewish establishment has thrown its full weight behind combatting BDS.

Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of an organization that serves as a coordinating body for 51 Jewish American groups, also told Haaretz that Jewish communities worldwide have not done enough to combat BDS, and criticized Stephen Hawking’s recent decision to boycott the Israeli conference celebrating Peres.

At the same time he disclosed the new campaign to combat BDS groups, Hoenlein sought to dismiss the movement’s impact. “It is still a very limited group of people. They get resonance and they get publicity because attacking Israel makes news. Supporting Israel does not make news. But the fact is that most campuses have rejected the BDS movement,” he said to Haaretz.

The messages don’t exactly jibe. Why would a major Jewish organization devote resources to an insignificant group? A campaign launched by the premier Jewish American organization in the country will likely draw more attention to the burgeoning BDS movement.

More important than those contradictions, though, is what the new campaign points towards: the movement’s slow but steady impact and the Israel lobby’s growing focus on BDS, particularly on college campuses. The recent wave of student government divestment resolutions on California campuses—three of which were successful–has clearly reached the offices of people like Hoenlein.

It’s true that the BDS movement hasn’t yet made significant headway towards imposing heavy costs on the state for its violations of international law. Still, prominent boycotts of Israel from cultural figures and decisions to divest, like the recent moves by the United Methodists, show that BDS continues to be on the march.

The recent boycott by Hawking that Hoenlein was so exercised about was a warning to Israel, as +972 Magazine’s Noam Sheizaf wrote, that “the occupation has a price.” The Hawking boycott also prompted some soul-searching on the part of Israel’s advocates, who have come around to the idea that the BDS movement is a threat that has to be taken seriously–and now, before it’s too late.

+972’s Larry Derfner recently rounded up what he calls the “consensus wisdom” from opponents of BDS that the movement is working. He points to Thomas Friedman’s admission that the movement is “creating a powerful surge of international opinion, particularly in Europe and on college campuses, that Israel is a pariah state because of its West Bank occupation.” Derfner also points to a recent Haaretz piece reporting on what a group of leading Israeli business people told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “If we don’t make progress toward a two-state solution, there will be negative developments for the Israeli economy,” they told the prime minister. “Foreign investments will not come to such a state. No one will buy goods from such a state.”

The growing worry about BDS among the Israeli and Jewish American establishments has now sparked a reinvigorated push against the movement. The new Conference of Presidents campaign will join the multi-million dollar anti-BDS effort from the Israel Action Network, which is the Jewish establishment’s number one vehicle for battling BDS.

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