A high official in the Israeli government says that the groups supporting BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, are doing a “great job,” and Israel has to come up with more aggressive ways to counter them. “If you want to promote boycotts against Israel, be my guest, it’s your right. But there will be a price tag,” Ron Brummer said last week.
The new battlefield for BDS is in Europe, where companies are under growing pressure to divest from the West Bank, Brummer said. The best response is to put through anti-BDS legislation in American states (as state legislatures and governors have done in Texas, California, Maryland, New York, and other states), so that if a company boycotts the West Bank, it loses 10’s of millions in U.S. contracts.
Brummer, the executive director for operations of the Israeli Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, said there is no distinction between boycotting West Bank settlement products and boycotting Israel. There is only one economy between the river and the sea. “If you want to divest from the West Bank– Judea and Samaria– you have to divest from Israel, which means you boycott Israel completely,” he said.
Brummer also called on American Jews to give money to Jewish groups in Europe and South American to fight BDS, because throughout history, Jews have always helped each other.
Brummer spoke at the Israeli American Council last Sunday, November 5— an organization funded by Sheldon Adelson– in a panel titled “The Real BDS: Bigotry, Discrimination and Slander.” The room was jammed with about 150 people, many young activists. The panel featured Shilo Adler, a leader from an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Eli.
Let’s go through Brummer’s points and then the points of two other pro-Israel advocates who are fighting BDS.
BDS groups are doing a “great job,” Brummer said:
The BDS organizations or the delegitimization organizations have evolved. They have improved. They are doing a great job on the other side and we have to adapt ourselves.
But BDS is really anti-Semitism:
BDS as we see it is only the symptom, the current face of something much, much, much deeper, much more established, much more ancient, and that is, the delegitimization of Israel as the Jewish state, as the homeland of the Jewish people. During history, many forces have tried to delegitimize us. Maybe through endless wars, terror, guerrilla, unilateral moves in the U.N. and other institutions. And the current face of the delegitimization campaign is the BDS.
If you support BDS, Israel will take you on:
Delegitimization is the problem we deal with, not BDS. BDS is just a symptom…. If you want to promote boycotts against Israel, be my guest, it’s your right. But there will be a price tag.
Brummer said that Israel had traditionally been too reactive. “We have to move from defense to offense.” That means being aggressive.
With BDS promoters… You always have to use the stick and carrot theory. First you hit them with the stick then you hit them with the carrot.
BDS has been contained in the U.S. but the real danger is Europe. BDS 2.0 is in the U.S. campuses and capitals.
BDS 3.0 is happening as we speak, and this is a much more severe danger to Israel…. I’m talking about the economic divestment…. What is happening now in Europe might be ground zero for the next stage of BDS. Promoting divestment from Israel based on the alleged saying that companies who operate in the West Bank, over the Green Line, are violating human rights– this is the narrative that BDS organizations are trying to implement in the U.N., in different institutions, but mainly when they encounter European companies.
Think about the process. I’m CEO of a company. I’m being approached time and time, over and over again by those BDS organizations, who claim that “Because you operate in the West Bank, you are violating human rights.” If I want to react and I want to do something–and all of us don’t want to be considered as violators of human rights– I might just consider stop working in the West Bank.
But Brummer said there is no difference between the West Bank and Israel (and so no point in the Peace Now/Beinart program of boycotting just the settlements).
But you cannot stop working in the West Bank. Israel does not have two different economic ecosystems, like, Israel within the green line and Israel over the green line. If you want to divest from the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, you have to divest from Israel, which means you boycott Israel completely. This is exactly what the BDS delegitimization organizations are trying to do these days.
The European front is the reason pro-Israel groups are pushing legislation in 24 U.S. states to punish those who support BDS. The Israeli government is cheering from the sidelines:
It is extremely, super important to confront this new reality. Because eventually when a CEO of a company let’s say in Denmark, has to decide, Does he listen to any kind of UN institution or any kind of human rights report that is being published, or does he want to lose 10’s of millions of contracts in Texas or in Florida?– most of the CEOs will decide not to lose those 10’s of millions of dollars.
So when we talk about … how do we try to move from defense to offense? The legislation piece, which obviously the Israeli government has nothing to do with but we look at it from the side, and we think this is a very good process.
BDS is on the verge of scoring a big success, he warned, “in the real ground zero of BDS, which is South Africa.” The African National Congress is considering a resolution to lower the country’s level of diplomatic relations with Israel. If that passes, there will no longer be an embassy in tel aviv.
If that will happen, this might be one of the biggest successes of the BDS movement ever.
Jews need to stick together. Brummer called on the wealthy and powerful American Jewish community to help Jewish communities in Europe, South Africa and Latin America to fight BDS.
That takes me to one of my bottom lines… Through history the Jewish people have always assisted and helped the weaker part or, to be more correct, the more needy parts of world Jewry. I think that in the United States, once again, due to the amazing work IAC [Israeli American Council] and other organizations are doing, and the great support of many philanthropists here, there is a good answer to BDS. What is needed now is to shift the efforts to the other side of the ocean.
The Jewish communities and the pro Israel communities in Europe, in South Africa, a little bit in Latin America as well– they need the help now. They don’t have the tools, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the resources. They don’t have the political support that you have here, and you take it maybe, sometimes you take it for granted.
This is the time to shift the efforts from what’s going on here which is well treated– it cannot be treated better than it is today, I think, and to shift the efforts to where it is really needed and that is in Europe and South Africa and other places of the world.
Brummer stressed the idea of Jewish cohesion. BDS is failing around the world, he asserted. But its aim was “to drive a wedge between the state of Israel and the Jewish diaspora. I think this will fail because Israel is the glue that keeps us together. In LA or Beersheva. The amazing work that you are doing, and others, will be the glue that keeps us together.”
Now let’s move on to Dillon Hosier. Hosier is a lobbyist with the Israeli American Coalition for Action, which is a partner group of IAC. He works in state capitals on anti-BDS legislation.
Hosier pointed to the pro-BDS group, Jewish Voice for Peace, and said it was “playing the game the right way” in state capitals, from Sacramento to Boston to Olympia to Austin.
Over the past few years I’ve seen something very interesting. There is one particular group– how many people have heard of Jewish Voice for Peace? [30 hands go up; about a fourth of the room] Jewish Voice for Peace, in my mind they’re smart, they’re strategic, they’re connected, and they are playing the game the right way.
I’ll tell you, I was in Carson City, the capital of Nevada. And the Jewish Voice for Peace activist was following every single step of the process of passing an anti-BDS piece of legislation. At every point in the legislative process they would object and try to rally against… In Sacramento, there was a guy who lived there, retired of course, spent every single day of the session in the capital, going from office to office to office, trying to pull votes off the legislation. He would do his best to rally forces against support of the bill.
Hosier saw the same in Boston, where JVP brought out 100 people to a committee meeting to testify against the bill. While in Nevada, JVP did FOIA requests to see “any communication I had with relevant government officials in the state.” Hosier conducted himself in the most ethical manner, because if he didn’t cross every t and dot ever i, “I’ve got JVP there and ready to jump.”
Hosier said that JVP was redefining the playing field for the battle over BDS by “imbedding themselves” in local Democratic political organizations.
I was on the floor of the California Democratic Party convention earlier this year, as a delegate, and one of the most anti Israel resolutions passed at that convention. It was not because of the California Democratic Party. This resolution was not in my view representative of the California Democratic Party.
But guess what, Jewish Voice for Peace, in fact that same guy who hangs out at the capital, all day– he managed to get 300 people, primarily through CAIR and other types of organizations, got 300 people to sign on to this legislation, to insure that it passed the floor immediately…
Meanwhile, our side, we were completely flatfooted, we didn’t have any organization there.
So JVP had held the party “hostage.”
This is not a college campus. We’re talking about the California Democratic Party they’re imbedded in and that they are passing this resolution. So now it looks like BDS has legitimacy from one of the biggest Democratic parties in the country. They’re basically in my view holding it hostage.
The problem is that the pro-BDS forces are in the trenches and the pro-Israel forces rely on big donors.
When it comes to political action, I see all too often– we find a member of congress, we donate the maximum amount and that’s it. We write a check and then we walk away. We expect them to vote our way. Sometimes they don’t. We can’t do that anymore.
Those who are passionately opposed to Israel, are getting elected.
From the lowest level delegate seats to school boards, those opposed to Israel are getting elected. For a while a lieutenant governor candidate in Illinois was pro-BDS (till he got kicked off the ticket, that is!).
These people are actually getting involved. Writing a check is no longer sufficient. We have to actually get involved. Strategically involved.
If we don’t, Hosier said, “we’ll be completely overwhelmed.” CAIR has a political action committee, and they’re engaged at the grass-roots level. Israel supporters have to get involved at that level. “Writing a check is not enough.” Because no amount of money will dissuade the opponents of Israel to change their line. Pro-Israel forces have to go grass roots.
It’s a scary thing but we have to get involved at that level.
Finally, some quotes from Michelle Rojas-Tal, who works at Hillel International and the Jewish Agency. Rojas-Tal said that the battle on college campuses is to stop BDS as an illegitimate form of bigotry.
“It’s an issue of hate and prejudice,” she said. “If and when BDS decides to rear its ugly face on a college campus, BDS needs to be stopped.”
Israel advocates can stop it because BDS has “absolutely no place on a college campus because it goes against the values that American academic institutions stand for. That’s the language we need to start speaking.”
She urged the activists in the room to use Israel the country as a model to show young Americans that Israel “is a value in their lives.”
We have an opportunity. We’re living in a generation and a period of renaissance where we have Israel and we cannot take it for granted. Because we have Israel, we can use it as a classroom.
Nonetheless, Rojas-Tal lamented that BDS was drawing energy away from more positive engagement with Israel, to taking on the BDS narrative of Palestinian human rights.
BDS is taking up so much of our oxygen and our energy that I don’t want to lose the opportunity of creating the everlasting bond between the Jewish people and Israel.
BDS has taken up so much of our attention, she said, that pro-Israel Jews are not “able to tell the story, of what Zionism means.” (I actually think the Palestinian solidarity community would love to have that discussion.)