Monday, September 6, 2010

Part 3--The BDS Movement at UC Berkeley: How It Failed and Lessons Learned

This is the 3rd and final installment of the report on the political battle launched by the BDS movement at the University of California at Berkeley this past spring, written by Ariel Kaplan, who graduated from Cal this past spring. Part 1 is at and part 2 is at
Ariel can be contacted at

7. Community support and how to find it

Another thing which helped me and my anti-divestment bill allies was community support; we couldn’t have won the divestment bill battle alone. The first point to note here is that, as pro-Israel activists, we naturally were up against an opponent with a high level of community support - after all, we were in Berkeley, a community with far more than its share of extremist politics. The entire San Francisco Bay Area was named by the Reut Institute as one of five “hubs” of delegitimization of Israel in the world today (the others being London, Toronto, Madrid and Brussels). This may not be as much of a problem in other areas, but communities with colleges and universities are generally going to be politically aligned with so-called “peace and justice” movements. As a result of this it can take some effort to network and get strong community representation, but this can be a pivotal factor, and in fact is probably necessary to winning wars against anti-Israel campus groups, at least on campuses in cities which are generally anti-Israel themselves, or which have a strong and outspoken anti-Israel community. But beyond the necessity of getting community support in order not to look more marginal than the anti-Israel forces, Jewish community support can provide invaluable help in speaking out for the Jewish community in America or even just locally; SJP made a point of bringing in numerous area Jews who are anti-Israel, in order to give the Senate the impression that a great number of Jews, generally, are anti-Israel. The best way to counter this tactic is to bring in powerful and prominent Jewish voices to lend support for Israel and against those who wish to destroy the Jewish state.

A great example of the way community support can help win battles against BDS is the example of the local Bay Area Jewish group representatives who showed up to the later divestment bill meetings, stayed all night and openly spoke out on behalf of their organizations against the bill while using downtime during the meetings to help us in Tikvah strategize. SJP, as has been touched upon, brought in dozens – hundreds? – of local community Jews to the divestment bill meetings. These individuals wore, of course, ‘I am a Jew and I support divestment’ stickers on their shirts, and a fair number of them spoke before the Senate about the ‘necessity’ of passing the divestment bill. However, even a hundred local community Jews who happen to be anti-Zionist look trivial and lose their effectiveness as a fifth column claiming to stand for a great number of Bay Area Jews when placed up against representatives of major Bay Area Jewish organizations.

Individuals from groups such as the San Francisco
Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and San Francisco Voice for Israel (the San Francisco chapter of the influential and prominent pro-Israel organization Stand With Us), showed up and spoke eloquently and powerfully on behalf of their organizations against divestment, showing the Senate (and everyone else in the room) that a small number of disgruntled and rabid Jews, mostly from Berkeley, supporting divestment from Israel can’t be taken as representative of Bay Area Jewry.
In addition, Adam Naftalin-Kelman (as I have mentioned), Executive Director of Berkeley Hillel, and even Akiva Tor, Consul General of Israel for the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, spoke out at the meeting against the divestment bill. Numerous Rabbis from the Bay Area spoke as well. In addition, a coalition of local and national groups published a letter in the Daily Californian condemning the divestment bill. This letter was supported not only by the groups that one would expect, such as the ADL, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and StandWithUs, but was also signed by the New Israel Fund and J Street. Those last two groups are known within the pro-Israel community for their often outspoken criticism of Israel. But the divestment movement, with its overt delegitimization of Israel, was something all of these groups could unite against.

All of this sent the message that the 200,000-member Bay Area Jewish community cannot be taken to be represented by several dozen anti-Israel fanatics. Indeed, the presence and support of local leaders in the Bay Area Jewish community was invaluable, I think, to our success in keeping the divestment bill from passing.

It is worth noting that pro-Israel community members living in the city where one’s university is located and in neighboring areas, both those working professionally for Jewish organizations and those with non-Jewish-related jobs, will often be better informed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and better and more experienced public speakers on this issue than college Israel advocates, and this can be a great boon. In many ways, many of the community Jews of the area in which one goes to college can be seen as the ‘big brothers’ of members of groups such as Tikvah. These people have had decades of experience fighting anti-Israel forces, are more well read on the Arab/Israeli conflict and the PR war which is currently raging, and often are former members of campus pro-Israel groups themselves. Moreover, community members sympathetic to one’s cause, especially when the cause is one as bitterly fought as our own cause of Israel advocacy, often will, in my experience, go out of their way to help university students. Finding community Israel advocates and bringing them to speak on campus is a very useful thing to do as a campus Israel advocate.

Which brings me to my next point: How one should, and can, network with local pro-Israel and Jewish groups and individuals.

Meeting and collaborating with community members is actually very easy, daunting though it may seem to a college student (and it certainly felt daunting to me at first). For one thing, major cities and areas in the United States often have branches of pro-Israel organizations, such as AIPAC or Stand With Us; contacting these local branches is an excellent idea, and is very easy and helpful, especially since these professional advocacy groups consider it part of their own agenda to reach out to offer support to college students ‘in the trenches’. Numerous pro-Israel organizations in America as a matter of fact will organize yearly conferences or trips, which can take place either in America or in Israel, designed to educate college Israel advocates on the history of Israel and the Arabs and on advocacy techniques; I probably learned half of what I know about how to do Israel advocacy from attending the yearly Stand With Us Israel advocacy conference in the Fall of 2007. But simply contacting local groups for assistance is very easy; sending an email usually does the trick.

Aside from local pro-Israel groups, which can often offer financial assistance as well as assistance with putting on campus events, another good resource can be local synagogues. For one thing, Jewish professors on one’s university, or those who are even mildly religiously active, will likely go to a synagogue near the campus, so going to synagogues is one way to meet these professors and network with them in an informal environment. However, not all synagogues choose to get involved in such issues, and there are even some synagogues whose communities are far from a pro-Israel alignment. The best way to get access to Israel activists in a synagogue is to contact the office and ask for the name and contact information for their Israel Action Committee chair (note: if they don’t have one, that’s not a good sign!). That individual will not only know others in that congregation who are active on behalf of Israel, but likely in other local synagogues as well, and can also recruit them to help you. Indeed, dozens of our pro-Israel friends and allies, some of them on behalf of local Jewish and pro-Israel groups, from the Bay Area attended the various divestment bill meetings, and many of them spoke very eloquently and convincingly on behalf of our side of the divestment bill debate. Networking, indeed, is essential to success in business, and also in Israel advocacy.

Professors on campus can be extremely helpful allies as well. It’s no secret that academia in our country (and indeed in other countries, notably England) is home to many of the worst anti-Israel personalities in the country: Noam Chomsky is the most famous example, but others abound, such as recently disgraced and fired DePaul professor (and professional Israel hater) Norman Finkelstein. As a result of the fact that anti-Israel groups on campus can and do appeal to professors on ‘their side’ for help, it’s critical that pro-Israel groups and students do the same. And while many pro-Israel professors, in my experience, are somewhat hesitant to get involved in campus student politics and activism, if one looks they can find (usually Jewish) pro-Israel professors who aren’t afraid to speak out. Indeed, when the Chair of the Jewish Studies program at Berkeley, Professor Ronald Hendel, published a letter in the Daily Californian, the campus newspaper, exposing the divestment bill effort as plainly an anti-Israel effort, and not one which had to do with opposing war crimes in the world as the bill’s authors tried to claim, was extremely helpful to Tikvah and to the greater effort to oppose the bill.

8. Networking on campus

There is one last thing I’d like to mention. Much as reaching out to community members and groups sympathetic to the cause of Israel advocacy is important to being successful in keeping anti-Israel bills from getting passed in one’s student government, reaching out to students and student groups on campus for help is very important too.

The most obvious students and student groups to appeal to for help are, of course, the Jewish ones. The fact that the anti-divestment-bill effort on campus saw most of the Jewish groups at Berkeley unite together against the bill was absolutely essential to seeing this bill fail. The clearest display of this fact was when sixteen Jewish groups on campus, most of whom never engage in real Israel advocacy, came together, reportedly under the leadership of Berkeley Hillel, to sign a statement opposing the divestment bill. During the course of the divestment bill fight (not long after the bill was initially vetoed), SJP published a letter in the Daily Californian student campus newspaper titled “We Are Jews and We Support Divestment” which had hundreds of campus and community signers, including some Berkeley graduates and professors. This letter was read by thousands on campus. As I noted earlier, this illustrates the tactic SJP and other anti-Israel groups use, assembling as many anti-Israel Jews as possible and bringing them out in force in an attempt to convince bystanders that American (and local) Jewry is in fact divided heavily when it comes to Israel matters.

What kept the SJP letter from being a runaway success for the anti-Israel movement on campus was that shortly after its publication, another letter would be published in the Daily Californian, a letter urging that the Berkeley student Senate uphold President Smelko’s veto of the divestment bill. This letter was signed by the aforementioned sixteen Jewish groups I mentioned, from the Jewish Business Association to the Berkeley Bayit Jewish cooperative student house to, of course, Tikvah: Students for Israel. (It is perhaps not surprising that Kesher Enoshi refused to sign this letter.) The truth is, the voices of a dozen campus anti-Israel Jews and a couple hundred like-minded community Jews pale next to the voice of the entire organized Jewish community on campus, and any pretense SJP’s letter had to representing a considerable proportion of Jews on campus was immediately killed upon the publication of the campus Jewish community’s letter which came shortly after, as well as the previously noted letter signed by a wide range of American Jewish organizations

Bringing the Jewish community together on campus against divestment was essential to killing the divestment bill. However, one area which Tikvah, in my estimation, needs to improve at in order to continue gaining strength on campus (and therefore, in order to ensure that no future divestment bills or bills of that nature pass at Berkeley) is in befriending non-Jews and non-Jewish student groups. SJP and similar groups often are very successful in recruiting non-Arabs and individuals who do not have any immediately apparent reason to be invested in the Israeli/Palestinian issue, to their cause as advocates of their side and outspoken activists; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for pro-Israel groups, which, both on campus and more nationally from what I can tell, are nearly exclusively made up of Jews (a pleasing exception is the 200,000-member American organization Christians United for Israel - This is a major problem because when it comes to the PR battle on campus, bystanders will immediately associate greater credence with the anti-Israel side of the debate if it has more diversity in its ranks – both because this makes the group look pluralistic and inclusive and non-racist (values college students hold very dear), and because it leads bystanders to think “If that group has so many different kinds of folks in it, they must have something convincing and ‘right’ to say…maybe being pro-Israel is just a Jewish thing, maybe Jews are religiously compelled to defend and support the state of Israel.” (That Jews who support Israel generally do so due to theological beliefs is a lie often spread by groups such as SJP.) As one might imagine, this image is extremely damaging, especially since groups like SJP already take the time to spread the notion that pro-Israel students on campus are only pro-Israel because they’re Jewish (including the implication that Jews are somehow racist for supporting Israel, the Jewish, ‘white’ state). Pro-Israel groups need to reach out to non-Jews as much or more than to Jews; for while one can count on getting some Jewish members (Jews are more likely to be informed on the Middle East, and therefore are more likely to know that the pro-Israel side of the debate is right) to join pro-Israel groups, it takes more effort to reach out to non-Jewish students, who likely are intimidated by the Middle East debate to begin with. Recruitment efforts by university and college pro-Israel groups therefore should not be based around giving arguments Jews care about but others wouldn’t care so much about, and pro-Israel groups should be careful to make their arguments for their side of the Middle East debate arguments which ordinary Americans could relate to and which deal with issues non-Jewish Americans care about (“Israel’s enemies are obsessive, racist, hate Jews and are linked heavily with terror”, not “Israel is home to more Holocaust survivors than any other state”).

It is also extremely important to network with and form allegiances with non-Jewish campus student organizations. There are several very clear advantages this brings. For one, it is a given, I take it, that on any major college campus, SJP or whomever happens to be the resident anti-Israel group on campus is well situated in campus politics and has many allies and allied groups. Touching on the point I just made above, this means that SJP or whomever is more likely to be seen by bystanders as credible than a lone, largely Jewish pro-Israel group would be. Even a pro-Israel group which is allied with many Jewish groups will not look as credible as an anti-Israel group which is allied with many student groups which deal with issues unrelated to the Middle East.

Another reason it is very important to network and make allies with other student communities and student groups is that it gives a political advantage: On Berkeley, SJP had a plethora of allied groups and communities which could be counted on to vote for SJP members running for Senate (and who could be counted on to support the divestment bill). At Berkeley SJP became very powerful by making many allies in other student communities – the African Americans, the Hispanics, the gay rights and women’s rights groups and environmentalist groups. Were it not for the fact that one of the two major political parties at Berkeley has many Jews, and by extension a good amount of pro-Israel sentiment within its ranks, Tikvah would not have had an easy time, in my estimation, convincing too many others (read: non-Jews) to oppose the divestment bill At campuses where student government is organized based on political parties as at UC Berkeley, making alliances can be important in just getting people elected who won’t allow the student government to be hijacked by the BDS movement.

Strength is in numbers, and, at colleges, in diversity within one’s ranks.

Incidentally, networking and making allies with other student communities is much easier than one might suspect. Many student groups want to reach out and learn about other student groups, and so scheduling a mixer between one’s own pro-Israel group and, say, a Christian group or an Indian group isn’t hard and can be very rewarding. It’s especially easy if members of one’s own group are good friends with members of another group. Frankly, mixers are especially good to do because they lead to friendships being made, and one student community will be willing to go to bat for another when they have good friends in the other community. There is no substitute for personal connections. And of course, all of this advice concerning networking with non-Jewish student groups and communities can be applied more generally, seeing as networking and making friends with non-Jewish off-campus groups obviously can help immensely too.

Politically, there are certain groups that are worth approaching as allies: LGBT groups, environmental groups, Indian students and Armenian students. The first two are relatively obvious, though LGBT groups have far too often allied themselves with anti-Israel groups that support extremely homophobic and hateful entities such as Hamas. India and Israel have strong ties and both see themselves as targets of radical Islamic terror groups (in India’s case, from Pakistan); in fact several prominent representatives of the Indian-American student community on campus spoke out against the divestment bill and helped the Jewish community and Tikvah in its struggle against that bill. Armenian students, in the current political climate of Turkish anti-Israel activism, may also be receptive, though wary because of Israel’s previous close ties with Turkey; Armenian students also, in my experience, can relate to Jewish students, as they see the Armenian genocide of the 1910s as akin to the Nazi Holocaust, and therefore see themselves as brethren to the Jewish people.

This goes along with a more general point, that it’s important to be politically involved and to take the time to get to know the ‘power players’ on one’s campus. Getting a person from one’s own student group elected to student government is the most prized possession, and leads to a number of positive things – visibility for one’s student group, an ability to help shape campus rules and discourse, one guaranteed ‘no’ vote on anti-Israel bills in the student Senate – with the relatively minor downside that with a student government official in office from one’s group, it’s very important for the student group itself to act maturely on campus and to comport itself well (lest the group have a harder time electing another member in the future). But even just networking with student government officials is a good idea, since many of them, in my experience, genuinely care to hear what their constituents (read: students at their university) think, and are willing to hear out one’s opinions on matters on campus (for instance, things like anti-Israel bills). It’s best to do this networking before things like anti-Israel bills come up; at that point, Senators are likely to be paying attention to their personal friends, as well as their party leaders and colleagues. It is worth noting, on a side note, that anti-Israel groups, at least at California universities, are, more and more, planning to take over university student governments more generally these days, for the purpose of having the power to pass whatever bills they so desire.

In sum, we in Tikvah: Students for Israel and in the organized Jewish community at UC Berkeley defeated the effort to pass an Israel divestment bill on campus through a number of strategies and with the benefit of knowing the character and tactics of the anti-Israel community on campus. We worked, with our allies in the Student Action political party on campus, to portray the often radical CalSERVE party which supported the bill as more concerned with grandstanding on international issues than with passing bills concerned with the campus and student life on campus. We helped undermine the anti-Israel effort by portraying its main pushers in Students for Justice in Palestine as fanatics obsessed with damaging Israel (even if we should have done more of this). We knew how the anti-Israel cabal on campus operates, and made use of that knowledge to tactically fight it in the ‘courtroom’ which was the Senate meeting room. We contacted and secured the help of Bay Area Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, and came together as a unified Jewish community on campus as well. There are many things we should have done better, and in my opinion our battle would have gone more smoothly if we’d spent more time revealing the backers of the divestment bill as the villains they are, as well as networking more with non-Jewish student communities on campus. But we ultimately – with more than a little help from ASUC President Will Smelko, the pivotal player in the divestment bill fight – succeeded in keeping the bill from passing, and came out with our heads and shoulders raised high, in a position of strength after the divestment bill war. I hope that the lessons and tactics suggested in this article will be inspiring to readers from other colleges, for I am certain that they are the right ones.

Ariel Kaplan

B.A., Philosophy, 2010

UC Berkeley

Part 2--The BDS Movement at UC Berkeley: How It Failed and Lessons Learned

(This is the second installment of the report on the political battle launched by the BDS movement at the University of California at Berkeley this past spring, written by Ariel Kaplan, who graduated from Cal this past spring. Part 1 is at The third and final part will be posted tomorrow.)

3. How SJP recruits Jewish students

Students for Justice in Palestine has managed to make itself look Jew-friendly, like a home for Jews, in part by actively and aggressively recruiting and employing Jews and, notably, Israelis. SJP at Berkeley boasts many prominent Jewish and Israeli members, and flaunts this fact, often having these members represent the public face of the group: writing op-eds on behalf of SJP in the campus newspaper, speaking to the campus media on behalf of SJP regularly, etc. In having Jewish and Israeli members often represent the face of the group, SJP has managed to look credible as a commentator on Israeli-Palestinian issues and also ‘diverse’, inclusive and friendly to Jews and Judaism. It is worth noting, of course, that Berkeley’s SJP is hardly alone in aggressively recruiting and employing Jews and Israelis; in my experience, this is a tactic of anti-Israel groups in America more generally. In order to fully illustrate the depth of the problem of Jewish and Israeli membership in SJP at Berkeley, it’s worth noting that SJP has more, and more dedicated, Israelis within its ranks than the pro-Israel contingent on campus does.
It must, however, be noted that the overwhelming majority of Israelis, whether living in Israel or abroad, are Zionist--they support the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in their historic homeland. T
he shocking number of virulent anti-Zionist Israelis in Berkeley’s SJP, and in the anti-Israel movement worldwide, should not be taken to suggest that Israelis are generally anti-Zionist or that Israeli youth is anti-Zionist today. Indeed, the anti-Zionist Israelis who can be found in SJP and similar groups are an aberration—they comprise an extreme minority in Israeli society, just as those who call for an overthrow of the American government are an extremist fringe group in this country.
Nonetheless, the anti-Zionist Jews and Israelis in Berkeley’s SJP and in similar groups make it their mission to attack Israel as savagely as possible: “I lived in Israel for ten years, everything SJP says about the country is true” is a powerful statement when its hearers don’t know much about Israel to begin with. It would not be rash to say that SJP and groups like it each have a small army of Jews, many of whom are Israeli, ready to leap forward and attack Israel whenever called on; and this ‘army’ is large enough and speaks passionately enough that it often succeeds at making non-Jewish bystanders (such as the aforementioned ASUC Senator) think that Jews must be more generally divided on questions like Israel’s right to exist, than would otherwise be assumed. A cautionary word: the great majority of Jews and Israelis at Berkeley, and, I take it, on similar campuses are pro-Israel but are not politically engaged on campus, or engaged in campus politics or in student activism. This, of course, works in SJP’s favor: if there are relatively few politically engaged openly Jewish Jews on campus, and many of the most passionate of these are anti-Israel, this makes it look to bystanders as though a sizable percentage of Jewry is anti-Israel today.

The second thing to note concerning SJP’s fight to look Jewish and gain acceptance in its ‘Jewishness’ or status as an almost ‘Jewish’ student group, is that SJP at Berkeley – and, from what I hear, this is something groups like SJP are starting to try to do at colleges nationwide, more generally – has managed to successfully infiltrate Berkeley Hillel, the “center for Jewish life on campus”. This is how it manages to spread its venom from the inside of the organized student Jewish community and is part of the reason it manages to gain Jewish and Israeli recruits. The way SJP has managed to do this is quite simple: an ‘Israeli’ student group, Kesher Enoshi, was founded several years ago at Berkeley, according to its (Israeli) founders with the intent to raise discussion on campus and among Jews concerning social problems within Israel that need to be fixed. This is certainly a noble goal, if perhaps one with possible negative consequences (SJP and its allies love to blur the distinction between Israelis and Jews constructively critical of some of Israel’s actions, and Israel-haters like themselves). Whatever the initial plan or philosophy of Kesher Enoshi was, it quickly devolved into an Israeli and Jewish anti-Israel group, a group which claims not to take a stand on issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict, or even to be ‘Pro-Israel’, but which helps SJP organize anti-Israel events, interfaces with SJP generally, is very close with the SJP leadership and membership, and is essentially at this point ‘the gateway drug to SJP’ for Jews [1]. One of Kesher Enoshi’s founders is now running an anti-Israel blog/website called Borderline Crimes with two of SJP’s biggest leaders, one past, one present; another Kesher Enoshi founder is now working, after college, for Breaking The Silence, a nonprofit which is devoted to spreading awareness of Israeli ‘war crimes’. Both of these individuals are Israeli Jews. Disturbingly, to all appearances many or most young Jews who join Kesher Enoshi seem to end up SJP members or at least anti-Israel fanatics quickly, and the divestment bill meetings were full of Kesher Enoshi members parroting the same anti-Israel tropes as were being put forth by their friends in SJP. It is incumbent to note here that the reason so many Israelis and Jews begin to adopt anti-Israel beliefs and attitudes after joining Kesher Enoshi is not because Kesher Enoshi’s claims or arguments are correct (they aren’t), but because that group uses effective and extreme rhetoric and an anti-Israel narrative of the history of Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, much as SJP does, and relies on the fact that most Jews and even Israelis who are coming to Berkeley are relatively ignorant of the pro-Israel point of view, and thus are easily suckered into believing anti-Israel propaganda, without knowing anything of what the other side of the Israel debate has to say. (Most politically active Israeli undergraduates I’ve met at Berkeley moved to America at a young age, typically in their preteen years.)

I will not make any pronouncements on whether or not ‘Kesher Enoshi’ was always a plan designed to infiltrate the Jewish community. But the fact remains that the Jewish establishment on campus – certainly at Hillel - is reticent to ‘exclude’ any Jews, for fear of making some Jews on campus feel uncomfortable or unwelcome as Jews in the Jewish community on campus. Hillel sees their mission as being that of bringing in all Jews, of all opinions and stripes, in a glorious and harmonious ‘big tent’ (that this is impossible seems to me to be obvious). This sees them, perhaps with some discomfort, allow Kesher Enoshi not only to make their presence known in Hillel but even to do recruiting and put on events in the Hillel building itself, which are often attended by SJP members among others. The anti-Israel forces have therefore found an ‘in’ into advertising directly to Jews, from within the Jewish community. Thankfully, I have heard things recently which suggest that Hillel International may be changing their policy somewhat in order to ensure that anti-Israel groups are kept outside of Hillels on college campuses; I hope this is true.

4. How to counter SJP?

We now reach the pivotal question: In light of all of SJP’s successes, how did we at Berkeley blunt their advance and keep the divestment bill from passing? (The bill didn’t fail only on account of the student government President’s veto of it; had more Senators been for the bill, the veto would have been overriden.) Also: How can students at other universities and colleges successfully fight bills of this nature in their own student governments?

I have written at great length concerning SJP’s strengths; the key to defeating them and BDS efforts within student governments is, in my opinion, to openly highlight the ‘dark side’ of groups like SJP: their sinister agendas, their propensity to hate speech, their carefully hidden anti-Semitism. Students who are unbiased concerning the Middle East, students who are not anti-Israel to begin with, will not want to support any group with as many skeletons in its closet, as many ill motives, as SJP.

It’s no secret that many members and supporters of anti-Israel groups, including college anti-Israel groups like SJP, are fanatics who hide their extremist goals and support of terrorism in the rhetoric of terms such as “peace and justice”. Many assume – and this is the intuitive, natural response to attacks on Israel, I think – that the best way to do Israel advocacy and to fight BDS efforts is to ‘defend Israel’, that is, to refute claims made about it and to try to portray it in a positive light so as to counteract the image of it painted by its detractors. I think that this ‘defend Israel’ approach, while well-intended, is not the most effective approach to Israel advocacy, not least because it’s typically not even done well; a friend of mine coined the term ‘Cellphone Zionism’ to describe that school of thought in Israel advocacy which is very prominent, which holds that the natural and correct response to demonization, delegitimization and double standards when it comes to Israel (Natan Sharansky’s “Three D’s” which identify when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism) is to respond by asserting Israel’s accomplishments or strengths: “But Israel invented cell phones!” I think it’s evident that responses such as this, or similar responses like “Israel is the most environmentally conscious country in the world” and “Israel has great minority/LGBT rights” do not even challenge the central claim made by BDS and anti-Zionist advocates: that Israel is, in addition to being illegitimate in its very existence (the “Occupation started in 1948” claim that SJP and others openly espouse), so morally odious as a state that supporting it makes one a supporter of apartheid and genocide. When the bad guys bring out the big guns, when they paint Israel as a country so evil that immediate boycott, divestment and sanctions are morally necessary, when they attack Israel’s very right to exist, we must bring out our own howitzers, too. For to a bystander, even a state which treats its own minorities (LGBT and black and Arab, for instance), far better than its Arab neighboring states do, and which does great things like design innovative and useful technology and advance the cause of environmentalism, cannot be supported if it oppresses indigenous peoples and commits genocide.

Now what are the aforementioned ‘big guns’ our side, the side of Israel advocacy, can use in the BDS debate? Well, one need look no further than the apparent and odious nature of our opposition. The truth is, the anti-Israel movement is so thoroughly saturated with hate, with anti-Semitism, with terror apologetics, that it is exceedingly easy to point this out to an impartial audience – the ‘jury’ which is the student senate, if you will – and thereby rightfully discredit and disgrace the anti-Israel crowd. Debates about history (“Did Israel really expel Arabs en masse in 1948?”) are too technical and dry to work very well as a stand-alone technique for fighting anti-Israel rhetoric and claims, and the aforementioned ‘defending Israel’ school is also not a good standalone technique either, since attack trumps defense: if two men are arguing and one is accusing the other of myriad terrible actions, with a vigor and conviction and passion, and the other is responding, panicked, “none of this is true, I swear!”, who are bystanders more likely to believe? (Hint: the bystander’s response could be “Well, at least some of the claims made about this man must be true.”) But the fact is that it is both intellectually honest and extremely easy to point out the anti-Israel crowd for what it is: a group of radicals, many of whom support -- at least implicitly - things no one likes such as terrorism; many of whom have beliefs (“the American government committed the 9/11 attacks”, for instance) which would be shocking and odious to most Americans (and make no mistake, many or most college students, including those in student government, count under ‘most Americans’ here), and all of whom have an obsession with Israel, and only Israel, which suggests something both powerful and true: that they are, far from being charitable advocates for world ‘peace and justice’, part of the worldwide movement which has been in place for decades to see Israel destroyed.

5. Exposing the links between SJP and radical Islamists

The strongest point of attack, then, against anti-Israel advocates is to expose these people and their ideology for what they are. It doesn’t take much digging up to find out that, for instance, the Muslim Student Association (MSA), whose
Berkeley chapter works hand-in-hand with SJP in putting on anti-Israel programming on campus, was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the same group Hamas was born out of, and an organization whose founder, Hassan al-Banna, was a devout admirer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime; nor is it difficult to point out the disturbing nature of the Hitleresque speeches made by anti-Israel advocates. I found, without looking too hard, that Emiliano Huet-Vaughn is a prominent member of the terror-linked International Solidarity Movement, a ‘pro-Palestinian’ group which brings American college students to the Territories in order to attend anti-Israel conferences and take part in actions such as disrupting Israeli military counterterrorism efforts [2]. The ISM itself has links to terrorist groups and activities in the Middle East, as the Anti-Defamation League has noted; Huwaida Arraf, one of the ISM’s co-founders, has admitted that the ISM cooperates with Hamas, among other groups.
ISM conferences in the Middle East also are home to terrorists in the West Bank who, as part of the program, socialize with conference attendees [3]. The whole anti-Israel movement is rife with extremely dangerous, hateful people, people who not only turn a blind eye to terror acts committed intentionally against Israeli civilians, but, in many cases, personally know terrorists and engage and socialize with them.

Americans are by and large not fond of radical Islamic terror; given how easy it is to point out the links between college groups like SJP, their members, and terror, I see no good reason why this strategy is not taken more often.

Another note on this topic: Portraying, correctly, the Jewish people as one historically hunted and discriminated against, and now, in their own land, still being hunted, is to portray a moving and accurate story. The anti-Israel forces have liked to portray the Palestinians as the hunted underdog, but the Jews, as historical perspective shows, have been history’s hated underdog, and remain the underdog in the Middle East today—far outnumbered by nations who desire to see them violently removed from the region, constantly facing terrorism on a level no other country in the world has to deal with, at the mercy of a world addicted to oil and which is in the pockets of powerful dictatorial Middle Eastern regimes who, behind the scenes, funnel much oil money into terrorism and the spread of anti-Israel propaganda. One cannot fail to move a crowd of impartial Americans by correctly pointing out what’s going on – the same Jews who’ve always been, consistently, the world’s scapegoat and undesired minority are now, upon finally living in their own land, away from the European anti-Semitism which plagued them for millennia, finding themselves attacked again, by a worldwide propaganda and terror movement which has an obsession with seeing their state fall. The campaign of anti-Israel propaganda which has taken hold on so many American college campuses is, of course, merely the newest tactic of a relentless, bloodthirsty Arab enemy, after conventional wars have failed to see Israel eradicated [4]. Our enemies are hateful, obsessive, and committed to our state’s destruction at any cost, a goal they and their forbears have pursued since the very creation of Israel. We in Israel advocacy need to spread a pro-Israel narrative that appeals to the same language used by the Left: we, the Jews, are more the indigenous peoples of Israel than are the Arabs, who arrived from Arabia less than 1500 years ago, and we’re being targeted by a PR war, as well as literal terrorism, financed by extremely wealthy, corrupt capitalists who have essentially bought the world’s allegiance through selling oil, who have bought allegiance against the hunted victim in the Middle East: Israel.

SJP and similar groups are trying to force student governments, like at Berkeley, to convict an entire nation (the state of Israel) of numerous and varied felonies in the absence of evidence; instead, SJP relies on what essentially amounts to hearsay evidence: “Human Rights Watch says it’s true, so it must be true!” And what’s more, the ‘witnesses’ SJP brings to the stand (SJP members and others who spout out anti-Israel rhetoric at senate meetings discussing BDS bills) can be found, with only a little bit of digging, to be part of an organized, worldwide cabal devoted specifically to seeing this nation convicted. Americans, with their sense of justice, will not stand for this once the BDS debate is rightly framed this way. For wouldn’t a series of witnesses in a court, shown to all have an intense hatred of the criminal suspect (Israel) and a desire to see him or her fall, and shown to have links with individuals and groups designed to bring down this suspect at all costs regardless of the truth (groups like the ISM, for instance), be excused, removed from court, with their ‘testimony’ stricken from the record? Those who speak out against Israel at divestment bill meetings are universally individuals with a deep-seated, personal hatred of the state; they are not impartial commentators, nor trustworthy ones worthy of serious consideration. Moreover, these ‘witnesses’ never actually bring up solid evidence of any kind. A law professor sympathetic to Tikvah’s side of the divestment bill debate spoke at one of the divestment bill meetings: Is it not inherently unjust to convict a suspect in the absence of real evidence that he or she has committed the crimes he or she is accused of, in a very quick ‘trial’, on an issue that world organizations and governments find complex and worthy of serious study and longterm discussion before pronouncing an opinion?

So I feel that the best way to counter BDS offensives is to launch a counteroffensive and expose the BDS effort and its perpetrators for what they are. And there was some of this – but not as much as there should have been - going on in the midst of the BDS debate on campus. I would like now to draw attention to several other things which can help fight BDS on campuses.

6. Making the student government responsible to the student body

One thing that the anti-divestment bill side of the debate on campus used to great effect was making the point that ‘our side’ promoted the philosophy that the student government on campus should be used to pass bills and pronouncements relating to campus matters rather than those abroad, and that the pro-divestment CalSERVE party cared more for passing this divestment bill and tying up the senate in that debate than for dealing with pressing on-campus matters which directly affect students. Moreover, we noted that the CalSERVErs, as it were, had no problem making a mere plurality of 20 senators, voted on only by a low proportion of Berkeley students, the spokespeople for the university’s 35,000-member student body at large by promoting BDS in the name of the entire student body. We also noted that none of the serving senators had campaigned on a platform of divesting from Israel, or of opposing Israel at all; rather they, as elected representatives, were weighing in on an issue far from the minds of many student voters, an issue they could not reasonably and honestly say they represented campus opinion on. It is inherently undemocratic to feed a small governing representative body of a larger body of individuals (the Berkeley student body, in this case) propaganda intended to get them to vote a certain desired way on an issue which a great many of the voters who appointed the representatives care and know little about, and to then declare that the vote represents the opinion of that student body. We also noted that to support divestment would be to support a bill that would inevitably alienate, at the very least, the great majority of the thousands of Jewish students on campus, and make our campus a hostile atmosphere for these students and their like-minded friends– an action directly counter to the ethos of campus inclusiveness that Berkeley students, and especially CalSERVE officials and senators claim to support and deeply value. In fact, Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Executive Director of Berkeley Hillel, suggested to the ASUC in a speech that were this bill passed over the ASUC President’s veto, it is likely Jewish enrollment at Berkeley would decrease in future years – a result counter to the progressive notion of campus inclusiveness. By noting that our political opposition felt an apparent need to bring in extremely charged political issues to the table of campus student politics, whatever the cost, we successfully and honestly portrayed our enemies as fanatics who put the desire to weigh in on complex international affairs ahead of the need to pass campus reforms which would directly impact all students for the better.

The tactical decision to brand our enemies in SJP, and in the CalSERVE party more generally, as being content to ruin the Cal experience for thousands of Jewish students by making controversial pronouncements on murky issues totally unrelated to the campus and the campus experience, was an extremely important decision –it was why we secured many students’ support for our stance on the divestment bill. The enemies of Israel see every issue in daily life as somehow related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and react violently and virulently whenever this topic comes up. Given this, it’s all too easy – so easy that not to do this would be criminal, I think – to take advantage of this fact and use it in the PR war which debates like the divestment bill debate ultimately boil down to. Our enemies – the anti-Israel fanatics – are rabid in their demand that those who support Israel be seen as utterly inhumane; not to respond to this charge would be political suicide, and the easiest response is to throw their rhetoric right back at them: “Our enemies are fanatics, obsessed with this particular world conflict, narcissists who care not for anyone else’s feelings or the fallout of their drafted resolutions on campus or elsewhere and who demand that their whims to make grandstanding pronouncements on complicated, arcane conflicts thousands of miles away take precedence over the university issues the school Senate was designed to reckon with.” It is worth noting that the majority of anti-divestment bill students were probably less concerned with stopping divestment from Israel than with stopping CalSERVE and its efforts to turn the ASUC into a forum for discussion and grandstanding on international politics and conflicts; relatively few Berkeley students want their student government to be devoted to pronouncing on issues which do not affect the campus but which instead only satisfy the egos and hysteria of political radicals more concerned with promoting their own hateful, twisted views on campus than with the welfare of Berkeley students. Jon Haber at Divest This! has noted that it is standard for anti-Israel BDS activists to try to turn forums for discussion unrelated to the Middle East into Israel bashing centers, and that it is also standard for the great majority of individuals associated with these forums (in this case, Berkeley students) to be opposed to this subversion of their organization.

[1] As a colleague of mine in Tikvah: Students for Israel memorably put it.

[2] Pictures of Huet-Vaughn at an ISM conference can be found in Lee Kaplan’s great article “The ISM-Terror Connection”, which recounts in depth the proceedings of an ISM conference in 2006 in East Jerusalem (and recounts, as part of that, Huet-Vaughn’s involvement).

[3]Kaplan’s aforementioned article, largely a recounting of an ISM infiltrator’s experiences at the 2006 conference, points this out (with the aid of pictures, no less).

[4] I am not suggesting that Arabs are inherently or generally anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, by the way.