Monday, September 6, 2010

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 http://www.bluetruth.net/2010/09/bds-movement-at-uc-berkeley-how-it.html. 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.



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