By Jack Saltzberg
Most pro-Israel leaders and organizations view the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as a new war. It’s not. Like the Scud missiles, Qassam rockets, suicide terrorist bombings, Intifadas, tunnels, murders, and kidnappings that have long been a part of the Arab/Muslim war against Israel, BDS is simply one more tool and technique.
The biggest problem is not BDS, rather how the Jewish and pro-Israel community in North America is fighting BDS. We are losing the war more than BDS is winning. Following are 10 reasons why:
Reason #1: Reacting, not attacking
Pro-Israel organizations and funders keep focusing on BDS by generally countering what BDS does, usually through education. When BDS introduces a divestment resolution at a university, union, or church, the Jewish community supplies the students, unions, and churches with information to counter that divestment resolution. When BDS puts up billboards, the community counters with pro-Israel billboards. BDS is leading at every turn and our best efforts and minds have done nothing more than react.
BDS has no time frame. It sees the war over decades, not over one vote. Every time a divestment resolution is introduced, Israel loses. BDS spews unsubstantiated blood libel and propaganda that becomes part of a historical record for public viewing. And, on the rare occasions that a BDS divestment initiative is “defeated,” the Jewish community celebrates as if it’s a victory. It’s not. BDS initiatives that fail often lead to successes because it then gives them more opportunities to spread their lies and reintroduce more BDS initiatives. Look no further than at UCLA.
The State of Israel did not become a country – and has not survived – through defense. A war for survival, which this is, will only be won through a dedicated offensive.
Reason #2: Supporting, not fighting
North American Jewish and pro-Israel organizations were created mostly for one purpose: to support Israel financially, educationally, and politically.
A paradigm was created where the mentality of generations of American Jewish leadership – professional and volunteer – was to support Israel. Even during Israel’s wars – save the few who went to serve in the IDF as I did – the American Jewish community basically supported Israel’s efforts.
Unfortunately, this paradigm never fostered a culture of fighters, or a structure of leadership and organizations prepared or willing to fight a dirty war on American soil. Although many organizations promote themselves as leaders in the fight against BDS, they are not. They may have addressed certain aspects of BDS, but not one single organization in the U.S. was established to seriously fight BDS.
Reason #3: Self-promotion, social media, and smoke and mirrors
American supporters of Israel receive hundreds of emails from organizations highlighting their work with regard to BDS. However, in most cases, it is nothing more than self-promotion. A serious look will reveal little substance and nothing meaningful in fighting BDS’ war against Israel.
The unfortunate reality is that a large segment of Jewish leaders and organizations are more concerned about keeping their organizations in the spotlight, taking credit for success before other Jewish organizations do, and using BDS for fundraising opportunities.
Subtle and overt organizational infighting is not only disruptive to the fight against BDS, but it has set the pro-Israel community back years.
For more than six months almost every pro-Israel advocacy organization knew about the United Auto Workers Local 2865 vote to divest from the University of California system. Nothing was done except to write a joint letter objecting.
Within hours of the vote in favor of divestment from Israel, these same organizations were quick to fill the Internet with their indignation, condemnation, and fundraising letters. Where was the war for six months?
Musician Elvis Costello, a boycotter of Israel, performed in 2014 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. What did the pro-Israel community do? Where were the leaders leading the charge against the LA Phil? Where was the pro-Israel community when Roger Waters—arguably the most outspoken pro-BDS musician—narrated his opera’s U.S. premier, Ça Ira, with the Nashville Symphony just last month? How can it be that in the shadows of Los Angeles, home to one of the largest and most powerful Jewish communities and to some of the “leading anti-BDS organizations,” students at UCLA voted to divest from Israel?
Unfortunately, some of the most respected organizations operating today are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Their operations are built on fundraising and they use social media to exaggerate their effectiveness in combatting BDS. However, once the numbers are accurately dissected, it is easy to understand that their efforts against BDS are virtually meaningless and ineffective, and the public’s ROI for supporting these efforts are not being realized in the war against BDS. At Cal Berkeley, nearly a thousand demonstrators from many anti-Israel organizational chapters can be engaged. On the pro-Israel side, one of the most respected organizations known for having a major presence on college campuses has one representative. One. And this person became a representative following a one weekend seminar.
This continuing situation causes a perception that leadership and these organizations are in control, when, in reality, there is nothing more than a false sense of security while monthly, new BDS initiatives are introduced across North America.
Reason #4: Too many leaders, no grassroots support
Whether on purpose or through atrophy, the general pro-Israel community has been ill informed about BDS by many of the leading organizations. Or, when the community is informed, it is usually in the context of how a particular organization is fighting BDS or as a fundraising opportunity.
Historically, U.S. Jewish leaders and organizations have led with a great distance between leadership and the general Jewish public. In many respects, Jewish Americans have been statistics; their ideology and responses to studies and surveys have helped determine policy. Volunteer leadership has mostly been relegated to the wealthiest contributors.
Social media and the Internet drastically changed the landscape with no greater example than the grassroots efforts that catapulted Barack Obama from obscurity to the presidency. Another such cultural example has been how the BDS movement has successfully turned the perception of Israel, from a David, and a beacon of light, into a Goliath and a pariah nation.
BDS’ grasp of grassroots volunteerism, participation, and activism is what turned the tide in the war against Israel. And how has the Jewish community responded? As it has throughout history: assuming, expecting, and wanting leadership to solve the “crisis.”
Unfortunately, the pro-Israel side has too leaders and not enough volunteers and fighters in the most important war today for Israel’s survival.
In 2009, the Jewish Federations of North America adopted a resolution against BDS that, in essence, was to become a blueprint for other pro-Israel organizations to follow. Among the Federation’s Action Recommendations were:
- Declare that the BDS movement be regarded with the utmost urgency;
- Lead an effective response…which would include:
- Educated Federation and JCRC Professional and Lay Leaders
- Train local leadership on how to counter BDS
- Mobilize the Federation to be on alert.
Notice how the Federation directs almost everything toward leadership (both professional and volunteer). More importantly, where is the Federation in the fight against BDS? That report is from 2009!
In 2014, over a couple of weekends, a few respected organizational leaders and funders got together to talk about BDS. The goal was to create solutions and come out with strategies to defeat BDS. This, in a nutshell, is the continuing paradigm where a few believe that they are smarter than the collective community of all pro-Israel supporters in North America.
Most of the pro-Israel population is expected to do nothing except passively support and fund leadership and the organizations that are purportedly “fighting” BDS. On the other side, hundreds of BDS chapters and thousands of BDS supporters postings anti-Israel material are an example of grassroots activism.
Reason #5: Wrong missions
Most prominent Jewish/Israeli-based organizations were created out of necessity, to support Israel. Their missions are clear.
However, these same organizations are too often expanding into a war against BDS that is well beyond their missions, their understanding, and their abilities. The fact that they state that they are “countering BDS” is in itself evidence that they don’t understand BDS.
They are not necessarily using BDS as a fundraising opportunity; however, in several instances it is questionable.
Reason #6: Fragmented
Israel’s enemies are on the same page from the same playbook: erode world support for Israel through demonization and repetitive propaganda at every level.
Israel’s supporters are on different pages from different play books because – as has always been the case – our community is deeply fragmented. Reform vs. Conservative vs. Orthodox Jews; Persians here… Israelis there… Russians here. Democrats vs. Republicans; Liberals vs. Conservatives; Evangelicals vs. Catholics, Christians vs. Mormons. Unless the pro-Israel community unifies, there is a great chance of losing the battles and the war against BDS.
Reason #7: Confidential
Reason #8: Can’t operate on ourselves
What’s remarkable is that today’s leaders and organizations are the same leaders and organizations that did little or nothing while Israel’s enemies attacked and allowed BDS to grow into what it is today. These organizations are responsible for letting the public think that, at first, there was nothing to fear, and now, they are in control of the situation.
The same organizations that kept the public uninformed while conducting closed-door policies led to our current situation. These same leaders who were awarded honors and idolized have done nothing in the fight against BDS, and yet they have prospered building their organizations financially. It is these same leaders and organizations that now want the pro-Israel community to trust them…to lead us in this war.
Following a year of BDS’ enormous growth, we cannot allow this to continue. We don’t allow this in business. We don’t allow this in politics. And we can’t afford to allow this here, not in the fight for Israel’s very existence.
Reason #9: Too much education
Educating people about the virtues of Israel is important. But there are hundreds of organizations, thousands of books, millions of articles, and tens of millions of Internet posts that can do this. Education is NOT going to turn the tide against the people behind BDS who have one goal: the annihilation of Israel.
Reason #10: Lack of directed funding
Internationally, Israel’s enemies spend millions to destroy Israel through BDS.
The pro-Israel community spends realistically several million to fight BDS. Unfortunately, as previously highlighted, the funding has been through organizations that are not successfully fighting BDS, or funding is going to non-productive and overlapping initiatives.
Israel cannot afford to lose the BDS war because of a lack of or improperly directed funding.
Jack Saltzberg is the founder and executive director of The Israel Group