When journalist Marcus Dysch reported on an April 2014 gathering at London’s Hilton Metropole hotel, involving the leaders of pro-Israel organizations from 25 different countries, he called it a “secret” conference. Evidently not a very well-kept secret.
Yet given that the “Global Coalition for Israel” (GC4I) initiative began in late 2010 (p.11), little is known about this project – which Dysch described as “part of the Israeli government’s efforts to co-ordinate international responses to delegitimization and boycott campaigns”.
Despite the semi-covert nature of the GC4I project, which is now entering its seventh year, it is possible to piece together an understanding of its structure and aims from scraps of information online.
Via the Internet Archive, a description of the very first meeting in December 2010 can be read. We learn that approximately 115 pro-Israel activists from about 60 different organizations in over different 30 countries attended the event in Jerusalem. The project involves them in direct collaboration with no less than 7 Israeli government ministries.
These appear to include the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to evidence given to a Knesset committee meeting on international hasbara in July 2013.
Speakers at the inaugural 2010 meeting included an array of the most senior figures from both the Israeli government and the pro-Israel establishment, especially in the US, notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the umbrella group the Conference of Presidents.
Maram Stern, Deputy Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, which co-facilitates GC4I with the Israeli government and sponsored that first gathering, described it as “a very big deal”. The aim was to end the perceived lack of co-ordination within the pro-Israel movement, a concern frequently voiced by Israel-advocates.
Yosef “Yossi” Kuperwasser, ex-director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs (MSA) – which leads Israel’s work against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – briefly alluded to the GC4I project in February 2015, describing it as a “loose structure to better synthesize and coordinate our efforts”.
The Israeli government appears to be trying to get pro-Israel groups around the world singing from a similar hymn sheet. GC4I’s PR strategy is reportedly to emphasis “shared values” and is non-coincidentally the same as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office. The belief that it is the most successful messaging approach is “rooted in extensive public opinion research”.
According to one source, GC4I meetings are held annually. Another supposedly “top-secret” closed conference as part of the initiative took place in Jerusalem in February 2016, organized by the MSA and intended to “consolidate and refine the efforts of pro-Israel groups combatting BDS”. There, US Republican pollster Frank Luntz advised pro-Israel leaders to claim that Israel wants dialogue, and argue that BDS advocates are obstructing it.
Minister for Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan – dubbed “Israel’s answer to the BDS movement” – told the leaders of 150 pro-Israel organizations: “In this battle, cooperation between Israel and the pro-Israel community is not just a good idea but a necessity. I can’t do it alone. We are all on the front line together.”
Militaristic analogies like this are well-established among supporters of Israel’s apartheid regime. But the GC4I project also infuses the fight against BDS with the language of neoliberalism.
According to a biography of Dan Diker which appears in a report called BDS Unmasked: Radical Roots, Extremist Ends, GC4I is a “a public-private partnership”. Diker co-founded GC4I when he worked at the World Jewish Congress.
So-called “PPPs” – long-term collaborations between governments and the private sector – exploded with the rise of privatisation, especially since the 1990s. In the case of GC4I, the phrase suggests that the Israeli government sees itself as contracting out its fight against BDS.
We already knew that the MSA’s anti-boycott budget included money “earmarked for Israeli tech companies” to carry out digital surveillance and propaganda work for the government. But GC4I shows that Israel is also seeking to instrumentalise, co-opt and “operate” civil society organizations in the service of state power.
What explains this urge to outsource?
In May 2016, Gilad Erdan declared. “It’s not necessarily good that the government is at the front of this battle…BDS brings in civil society, labor organizations, student organizations, private businesses, so it’s better that the response comes from civil society.”
In other words, direct Israeli government interference in trade unions or on university campuses would not be viewed as legitimate. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), on the other hand, are usually seen as benign civil society actors – and can gain access in areas the state cannot.
The idea that pro-Israel NGOs – rather than the Israeli government itself – should contend with civil society actors seen to be “delegitimizing” Israel, was emphasised in an influential 2010 report by the Reut Institute. Erdan was quoting directly from this report when he told pro-Israel groups “it takes a network to fight a network”.
As well as the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents, a number of other large groups are partnered with the Israeli government through the GC4I project.
Senior figures from the Jewish Agency, B’nai B’rith, American Jewish Committee and Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President were present at the first meeting in 2010.
In February 2013, GC4I and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) co-organised a conference on Israel Education. (Giving evidence to the Knesset a few months later, WZO’s David Breakstone explained that “Zionist education” is an integral part of hasbara and Israel’s battle against “delegitimisation”.)
Meanwhile, the accounts of the UK’s Jewish Leadership Council – an umbrella group akin to the Conference of Presidents – show it contributed over £57,000 ($72,000) towards organising the 2014 London event. This was reportedly the first GC4I meeting held outside Israel. Other UK pro-Israel groups there included BICOM and the Board of Deputies.
Meanwhile, a campus-focused sub-committee within GC4I – one of ten working groups – was chaired by Stephen Kupperberg (now an AIPAC staffer), when he worked as director of the US group Israel on Campus Coalition. William Daroff, Jewish Federations of North America Vice President, co-chaired another GC4I group on social media.
Like the Brand Israel strategy in which the Israeli government treats the public as consumers and attempts to sell Israel like a product, the ‘public-private partnership’ model of GC4I shows how closely Israel and the Zionist movement are aligned with corporate power and economic injustice as well as the racial oppression of Palestinians.
The semi-secret nature of the project is apparently vital to “ensure success” of the MSA’s anti-boycott activities. But covertly countered or not, the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement will keep growing at the grassroots while Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid remains.
Thanks to Ofer Neiman for Hebrew translation during research for this article.