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UCLA Hillel partners with PR firm to fight BDS movement

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A California Hillel chapter has partnered with a D.C.-linked public relations firm to fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, according to leaked emails obtained by Mondoweiss. 

The PR firm 30 Point Strategies has discussed how to combat BDS at the University of California, Los Angeles campus with Hillel staffers there. 30 Point staffers have advised UCLA’s Hillel to stay largely silent in the event of a student government resolution that recommends divestment from Israeli military-linked corporations. 

“You are in excellent hands, and Hillel International and 30 Point will be behind you this semester,” wrote 30 Point staffer Arielle Poleg in a September 23 e-mail to Rabbi Aaron Lerner, UCLA Hillel’s senior Jewish educator.

The text of the e-mails that show UCLA Hillel talking with 30 Point PR firm about how to fight BDS on campus. (Personal information is redacted.)

The text of the e-mails that show UCLA Hillel talking with 30 Point PR firm about how to fight BDS on campus. (Personal information is redacted.)

Reached by phone, Lerner said, “I’m not interested in commenting.”

The revelation that a Hillel chapter has turned to a professional public relations firm shows that UCLA Hillel is stepping up its work to fight BDS on campus. The BDS movement has sparked intense, often vitriolic, debate on campuses around the nation.

30 Point, a public relations firm populated by former journalists, has deep ties to Washington. Before joining the firm, Poleg directed the Israel Action Center at the Jewish Community Relations Council that serves Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Noam Neusner, a principal at the firm, is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Neusner is also frequently identified in the press as a “spokesman” for Hillel International, the umbrella group for Hillel chapters. The exact nature of the relationship between Hillel International, UCLA Hillel and 30 Point is unclear, though. 

“30 Point Strategies does not comment on its client work,” Josh Silberberg, director of media at the firm, told me. 

30 Point is now advising UCLA Hillel on how to respond to a “potential BDS loss on campus.” In an e-mail, Poleg told Lerner that the “best strategy” is to “minimize coverage. We wouldn’t advise putting out any public statements or reaching out to the press.”

Lerner responded by saying that he agreed with that strategy. The Jewish educator added that Hillel would “isolate” Students for Justice in Palestine as “unrepresentative, a groups [sic] of isolated graduate students, part of Nationwide Agenda that has nothing to do with Student Life at UCLA and is an issue which our student government shouldn’t even be considering.” Lerner also suggests “a counter offensive” that would be “launched against Qatar, ISIS and Hamas to focus our concerns on terrorists who seek to kill our People around the world.”

Hillel International, the umbrella group that is the main address for Jewish student life nationwide, is staunchly opposed to BDS. The organization’s guidelines for which speakers chapters can bring to campus and what organizations they can partner with have barred BDS advocates from Hillel spaces. Those guidelines led some young Jews to create the Open Hillel movement, which advocates for the changing of Hillel’s policies on discussing BDS and other issues. 

In a statement on the leaked e-mails, Open Hillel members said that “as an organization dedicated to Jewish campus life, Hillel International should not be imposing its internal ‘red lines’ around issues of divestment and BDS onto the realm of campus politics. Pushing a political agenda in campus politics alienates Jewish (and other) students who do support those tactics, and is outside the scope of Hillel’s role as a home for Jewish life on campus.” 

UCLA’s student government has not passed a resolution recommending that the UC Regents divest from Israeli military-linked U.S. corporations like Caterpillar, which sells bulldozers to the Israeli army. Earlier this year, a divestment resolution failed to pass at the school by a 5-7 vote.

But it is likely that the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the school will push for a divestment resolution again this year. Five student governments have already passed pro-divestment resolutions in California.

UCLA Hillel has given money to student government candidates that pledged to fight divestment resolutions. In July, The Daily Californian broke the story of how Adam Milstein, a right-wing pro-Israel philanthropist, had donated to UCLA Hillel so that his money could go to anti-divestment student government candidates.

Hillel “can see the writing on the wall…They don’t want to have a huge defeat on divestment. They’re thinking about trying to lessen the blow of it,” said Gabriel Levine, the co-founder of UCLA’s Jewish Voice for Peace chapter. JVP’s attempts to become affiliated with UCLA Hillel were denied because of the organization’s activism for Palestinian rights and support for BDS. 

In the e-mails to UCLA Hillel obtained by Mondoweiss, 30 Point’s Poleg wrote that “Noam”–probably a reference to Noam Neusner– “has also been in touch with the graduate students you introduced us to. He is also helping with some of their materials as well as trying to arrange for media and communications training.” That e-mail is likely referring to some graduate students’ efforts to stop a UC-wide student union, United Auto Workers 2865, from passing a divestment resolution this year. Anti-divestment graduate students have created a website dedicated to stopping the BDS effort at the union.

Over the summer, as the war in Gaza raged, the union’s leadership laid out their intention to support the BDS movement. Now, they’re moving ahead by asking their members to vote on joining boycott efforts in December. The measure calls for the UC regents and the United Auto Workers International to divest from Israeli occupation-linked corporations and for local student union members to commit to “refusing to take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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34 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    October 27, 2014, 10:50 am

    What a great campus for an Open Hillel movement. Let students ask for a debate at the Hillel auditorium, a debate on BDS and the place of Hillel and of Jewish students generally on the BDS question. What will happen? either the debate will be scheduled or the permit denied. Either can be reported. If the debate permit be denied, the debate can be held elsewhere with support (or sponsorship) from Open Hillel.

    • Moral Jews
      Moral Jews
      August 25, 2016, 12:15 am

      We Moral Jews, who fought the Nazi Occupiers in the Netherlands, will fight the ZioNazi Occupiers in Palestine.
      Zionism is NOT Judaism.
      Judaism is a religon.
      Zionism is a genocidal, Political Movement of terrorism, racism, greed and deception.
      We Moral Jews will NOT pay for the treachery and evils of Zionism.
      We will defeat Zionism, just as we defeated the Nazis.
      Both are The Dark Side.

  2. Mooser
    October 27, 2014, 11:01 am

    Well, I just hope “PR firm 30 Point Strategies” is well, well, a…. it’s just that at a crucial time like this should we be running to strangers for advice?

    • Horizontal
      October 27, 2014, 12:59 pm


      C’mon, Moose, these guys wrote speeches for George W. Bush, a president revered to this day for his articulation, candor & honesty.

      What could go wrong?

      • Mooser
        October 27, 2014, 2:42 pm

        “What could go wrong?”

        You are right. I didn’t read closely enough. These are lantsman.

  3. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    October 27, 2014, 11:45 am

    I wish I had a nickel for every time the Israelis, and the US supporters, started a PR offensive. They have brought over PR executives, “branding” experts, hasbara spokespeople, and propagandists by the planeload.

    Nothing works.

    Israel’s reputation continues to sink.

    The piles of Palestinian bodies, and the devastation of Gaza by the IDF, simply overpowered the Israeli propaganda effort.

    • seafoid
      October 27, 2014, 1:23 pm

      The emperor’s new hasbara clothes.
      Dead right, Ned. If PR made a difference it would have worked in august. It didn’t.

      • Horizontal
        October 27, 2014, 3:53 pm

        The Zionists can read the polls as well as we can, and know that this fight will be won or lost with the younger generation. They’re trying what’s always worked for them in the past — trying to control the message, present things related as occurring in isolation, conflating all opposition as supporters of terrorism, and above all, squelching any bad press.

        As transparent as all this is, I doubt they have a plan B.

        They remind me of McCain’s 2008 campaign, where pushing the same buttons no longer got the same results.

      • seafoid
        October 27, 2014, 5:53 pm

        They can’t control the message with social media bypassing august bot friendly institutions like the NYT where half of the staff have a kid in the Golani brigade.

        Before the net all info went via say 10 gatekeepers. Now there are millions of them and the bots can’t cover them at all.

        Gaza is equal to Israel on social media.
        Wallahi. Ma Sha Allah.

  4. seafoid
    October 27, 2014, 12:13 pm

    “The PR firm 30 Point Strategies has discussed how to combat BDS at the University of California, Los Angeles campus with Hillel staffers there ”

    It’s not that the bots don’t have enough money. I’m sure they had McKinsey or whatever the PR equivalent is at the time of the assault on Gaza over the summer to work out how to win on social media but it tanked.

    It’s not about nuance. Israel has lost hearts and minds. “Telegenic dead”, remember.

    The FT on what do when faced with a PR clusterfuck

    “It is not complicated. Any half-competent flak knows the drill. Own the bad news. Make sure colleagues and partners are prepared; go public quickly, clearly, and completely; be accountable; be available. Candour is a sign of respect.”

    Zionism can’t do any of that so it has to depend on PR supoerheroes. #ziofail

    • adele
      October 27, 2014, 8:03 pm

      not sure if you saw this with regard to McKinsey…it’s from Max Blumenthal’s article: International Community Promises to Rebuild Gaza … with Sweat Shops to Exploit Palestinian Workers

      Last year, a Palestinian businessman furnished me with a 14-page paper produced on behalf of the Quartet by McKinsey and Company which outlined the goals of the Initiative for the Palestinian Economy. It was a bizarre document that analyzed Gaza and the West Bank as though they were normal developing nations whose economic performance could be optimized with just a little technical know-how and a few innovative marketing strategies. Not once was Israel’s occupation of Palestine mentioned in the paper.

      McKinsey’s consultants found that the walled-in Gaza ghetto “underperforms on key tourism metrics,” but the brainy analysts couldn’t seem to say why, alluding only to “regional instability” and “low awareness of existing tourism destination sites.” Ignoring the Israeli siege, the factor that made literally everything McKinsey proposed a total fantasy, the firm proposed “a range of new hotel offerings…underpinned by aggressive marketing.” If only Gaza could find a winning brand, McKinsey suggested, boutique spas would suddenly blossom along its coastline, providing stunning vistas of Israel’s naval blockade.

      To bring Gaza’s beleaguered economy back to life, McKinsey called for the proliferation of sweatshops that would churn out zippers and buttons for “high-end designers in Israeli clothing markets requiring relatively small, customized orders not handled well by bulk-order manufacturers.” So much for Singapore on the Mediterranean. Under international guidance, Gaza would become an occupied Bangladesh, producing accoutrements for trendy Tel Aviv fashionistas. And perhaps Gaza’s sweatshop workers might even fabricate some zippers for a custom order of Israeli army uniforms when the hipsters of Tel Aviv are called up for the next ground invasion.

      Nearly every construction and agricultural project envisioned by McKinsey has been nullified by Israel’s siege and its accompanying military assaults. Not a single dollar has been pledged to the Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Project, which was highlighted in the McKinsey document as one of the Quartet’s major achievements. And not one of the affordable housing units McKinsey proposed has been built. Instead, Israel damaged or destroyed at least 18,000 homes in Gaza this summer and obliterated 128 businesses while bombing the strip’s already overtaxed sanitation, electricity and water supply facilities to smithereens. So much for “transformative change” and “greater life-changing opportunities on the ground.”

      • just
        October 28, 2014, 12:56 am

        What monsters.


      • American
        October 28, 2014, 10:27 am

        ” To bring Gaza’s beleaguered economy back to life, McKinsey called for the proliferation of sweatshops that would churn out zippers and buttons for “high-end designers in Israeli clothing markets requiring relatively small, customized orders not handled well by bulk-order manufacturer – ”

        Such f’ing crap.
        Israel only has the buttons and bows and zippers bizness because the US strong armed Egypt into giving it to them.

        It went like this—for Egypt to keep its Qualifying Industrial Zone—iow–free trade zones for cotton imports to the US Egypt had to give Israel a share of their clothing industry production…specifically the ‘accessories’ in Egypt’s cotton clothing industry. ..button and bows and zippers.
        The US also forced Jordon to do the same for their QIZs.


        Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ)

        In 1996, the U.S. Congress established the Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) initiative to support the peace process in the Middle East.

        The QIZ initiative allows Egypt and Jordan to export products to the United States duty-free, as long as these products contain inputs from Israel.

        The QIZ legislation authorizes the President to proclaim elimination of duties on articles produced in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and qualifying industrial zones in Jordan and Egypt. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with other U.S. Government agencies, designates QIZs

        I am sure the Israeli button and bows biz men would like to have even cheaper Palestine labor.

        This is but one example of the strong arming the Us has done for the Israeli Parasites–helping the Z mafia ‘dip their beaks’ into other ME countries industries and economies.
        When this happened Egyptian workers rioted over the lose of jobs this caused them–reported as such by all overseas newspapers.
        But in the US Tom ‘my head is flat’ Friedman of the NYT wrote it up as a ‘celebration’ of Isr and Egypt cooperation…not the gun to the head of Egypt’s cotton exports –which is their largest export industry—that it was.

      • ritzl
        October 28, 2014, 7:17 pm

        Just when I thought I had heard it all…so many times over. Presto! A new low of lows.

        Who paid McKinsey for this trash?

        Thanks adele.

  5. Xpat
    October 27, 2014, 12:31 pm

    The Zionist establishment understands that they cannot win the debate with SJP. They are fighting a rearguard action. In desperation, they turn to “the 80%” ignorant young Jews. They hope to open their innocent minds just enough to indoctrinate them. They cross their fingers that these students don’t get curious and seek out further education outside Hillel.
    Good luck with that.

    Israel is central to the vision of Jewish communal leadership. This strategy equals a retreat from history. The great project of modernizing Judaism of the past two centuries is now headed straight back to the ghetto. Israel is already there. Now American Jews are following suit.

    This is bad for the Palestinians. It’s bad for the Jews too.

    • seafoid
      October 27, 2014, 1:20 pm

      Hillel fighting justice for Palestinians and standing up for torture would be equivalent to what?

      Tupperware parties come out in support of public executions?
      Rotary Club endorse female genital mutilation?
      Professional Golfers Assoc backs ISIS ?

      • Mooser
        October 27, 2014, 8:15 pm

        One does wonder what the bill for this PR work will be, or is it a case of gratis?

      • Horizontal
        October 27, 2014, 10:46 pm

        One does wonder what the bill for this PR work will be, or is it a case of gratis?

        More like Pro Boner.

      • annie
        October 27, 2014, 10:53 pm

        money is likely not an issue. there’s an endless supply. if no one else, i’m sure aldelson would cover it. or some other billionaire. alex did an earlier report on that one bruins funder who picked up the tab for their student senate elections via hillel. endless funds or quid pro quo i am sure.

    • German Lefty
      German Lefty
      October 30, 2014, 8:25 am

      Elliot: “The Zionist establishment understands that they cannot win the debate with SJP. They are fighting a rearguard action. In desperation, they turn to the 80% ignorant young Jews.”

      Right! These e-mails are VERY telling. Zionists rely on ignorance, anti-Zionists rely on education. Zionists use PR, anti-Zionists use the truth.

  6. Horizontal
    October 27, 2014, 12:52 pm

    This is a hot story.

    God forbid we have an honest debate on anything Israel in this country; any time, any place.

    No, it always has to be fought in the shadowy trenches of PR and donors and information manipulation. It’s almost like Israel’s supporters know deep down that their product can no longer be marketed on its merits.

    Not all ideas are good ideas. What’s the big deal in admitting that Herzl got it wrong?

  7. annie
    October 27, 2014, 1:28 pm

    so hillel plans to launch an offensive against qatar, isis and hamas!


    great reporting alex

  8. Shmuel
    October 27, 2014, 2:10 pm

    Nationwide Agenda … Student Life

    Whose idea was it to hit ’em with Spooky Capital Letters? Is that the secret part of Poleg’s message, Blacked Out, or did Lerner come up with that All By Himself?

  9. gracie fr
    gracie fr
    October 27, 2014, 2:43 pm

    The ADL joins the fray:

    Student groups seeking to isolate and delegitimize Israel, to stifle dialogue and control the message about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have organized activities on college and university campuses for several years.

    These efforts polarize campuses, inflame existing tensions and intimidate students. In light of the previous academic year’s significant anti-Israel activity and the organized anti-Israel reactions to this summer’s conflict between Hamas and Israel, the 2014-15 school year will likely be marked by another escalation in anti-Israel actions and events.

    So far in this academic year, there have been 75 anti-Israel events scheduled to take place on U.S. campuses. During the same time period last year, there were only 35 of those events scheduled, marking a 114% increase in the number of those events scheduled to take place this year.

    Student groups that constitute today’s anti-Israel movement hurl a multitude of hateful accusations against Israel, falsely claiming that Israel is guilty of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and a number of other war crimes in an effort to demonize Israel by portraying it as the embodiment of the world’s true evils

    This summer was preceded by an especially tense period on college campuses during the 2013-14 academic year, when student groups hosted at least 374 anti-Israel events, about 40% of which focused on how to effectively initiate Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns on campus. Additionally, there were at least 57 events sponsored by university academic departments over the past two academic years that presented an extremely one-sided view of the conflict. This represented an increase from years past. Additionally, at 15 colleges, student groups submitted divestment resolutions to their student governments. While most of these resolutions were unsuccessful, they contributed to an antagonistic environment for some on campus.

    • Xpat
      October 27, 2014, 4:54 pm

      I got a laugh out of the ADL’s accusation that the Palestinian solidarity movement
      “stifles dialog”. Of course, their report provided no evidence for this. The pot can’t help itself pointing at the kettle.

      On the positive side, the ADL acknowledges JVP’s work on campuses.
      Go JVP!

      • seafoid
        October 27, 2014, 5:50 pm

        Stifling dialog. Poor dialog was in chains under the table being kicked by her bot handler.

  10. In2u
    October 27, 2014, 4:40 pm

    Few years back a British PR firm failed miserably,now A USA firm to salvage what’s left?

    Can you fix something that’s beyond repair?

  11. Horizontal
    October 27, 2014, 5:19 pm

    It’s just occurred to me that they wouldn’t go to all this trouble if BDS truly was a flop.

  12. seafoid
    October 27, 2014, 6:03 pm

    What was Hillel before the right wing takeover a la the NRA?

    • Mooser
      October 27, 2014, 8:13 pm

      “What was Hillel before the right wing takeover a la the NRA? “

      Seafoid, I thought that was an interesting question, so I tried Googling several combinations of search terms (‘right-wing takeover Hillel’ etc.) but didn’t come up with much.

      • seafoid
        October 28, 2014, 3:06 am

        It must have had something to do with the values of Mr Hillel originally. Based on what I have read he couldn’t have been a Likudnik. He must have had thinking parents.

      • Mooser
        October 28, 2014, 11:05 am

        Well, my ‘search’ skills are not that good. But I’m sure there are people who know about it, if it indeed was a ‘take-over’ and not a gradual process, a rightward shift which was both cost-free (or even profitable) and not clearly delineated until Protective Edge made clarification imperative for many.

  13. Ellen
    October 28, 2014, 2:32 pm

    Lerner also suggests “a counter offensive” that would be “launched against Qatar, ISIS and Hamas to focus our concerns on terrorists who seek to kill our People around the world.”

    Not only is that the classic diversion strategy, but it is so completely unhinged on so many levels.

    The Lerner’s of the world are very sick. But then again, the Israeli President just stated the same thing about much of Israeli society.

    Lerners are going to get nowhere with their paranoid — those who seek to kill our people around the world hysterics. The US has a huge high-tech air base in Qatar (built by the Qatari Government.) Qatar is buying as many weapons as possible to the tune of billions from the US arms industry. Meanwhile, Israel just closed a 525 million missile deal with India. And has increasing ties with China to feed it’s militarization. Perhaps the US and Israeli relationship is a mutual nuisance.

    But when Israel is no longer a guaranteed customer to the US arms industry, and instead a competitor and increasingly strong supporter of India and China; and when the money stops flowing between D.C. and Tel Aviv, not even members of Congress will continue to fetch and lie down for Israel.

    Rotten as their Government may be, (but that never stopped anyone in the US Congress/Senate) the action will be in Iran for the next decades. And this is what freaks Israel out. This will be Obama’s legacy. And huge opportunities for much of US industry, not only arms.

    And meanwhile PR firms and Hillel s will spend their time whipping up fears about bogey men who want to “kill their people around the world.” Crawl out of self imposed bunker and smell the coffee.

    The world is moving on, they should focus on how they can be part of it.

    Sorry about going off on a tangent!

  14. Rusty Pipes
    Rusty Pipes
    October 28, 2014, 9:40 pm

    Even if the director of Hillel was not an enthusiastic opponent of BDS, he would have been contacted by Hillel International and its affiliated PR firm about strategy for this year. Blocking BDS at the University of California has become a high priority for the Israel Lobby and the Israel on Campus Coalition. With student governments at five of the UC campuses already having voted for BDS, it is not surprising that Hillels at other UCs are experiencing pressure/support for combatting BDS at their campuses.

    It looks as though Lerner is fully on board with the ICC agenda. Looks like his preferred strategy is Islamophobic diversion (look over there! Hamas! ISIS! Qatar!). Clearly, maintaining good interfaith relations are not high on the agenda this year.

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