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entries tagged with: Delegitimization

 

Federations, JCPA teaming to fight delegitimization of Israel

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are launching a multimillion-dollar joint initiative to combat anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.

The JFNA and the rest of the Jewish federation system have agreed to invest $6 million over the next three years in the new initiative, which is being called the Israel Action Network. The federations will be working in conjunction with JCPA, an umbrella organization bringing together local Jewish community relations councils across North America.

The network is expected to serve as a rapid-response team charged with countering the growing campaign to isolate Israel as a rogue state akin to apartheid-era South Africa — a campaign that the Israeli government and Jewish groups see as an existential threat to the Jewish state. In fighting back against anti-Israel forces, the network will seek to capitalize on the reach of North America’s 157 federations, 125 local Jewish community relations councils, and nearly 400 communities under the federation system.

“There is a very, very high sense of urgency in [fighting] the delegitimizing of the State of Israel,” the JFNA’s president and CEO, Jerry Silverman, told JTA. “There is no question that it is among the most critical challenges facing the state today.”

In fact, Silverman added, Israeli leaders identify this as the second most dangerous threat to Israel, after Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Under a plan approved in late September during a special conference call of the JFNA’s board of trustees, the JCPA’s senior vice president, Martin Raffel, will oversee the new network. He will be working in concert with the head of the JFNA’s Washington office, William Daroff. Over the next several months, Raffel will be putting together his team, including six people in New York, one in Israel, and one in Washington.

The network will monitor the delegitimization movement worldwide and create a strategic plan to counter it wherever it crops up. It will work with local federations and community relations councils to enlist the help of key leaders at churches, labor unions, and cultural institutions to fight anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.

Organizers of the network are looking at the response to an attempted boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival last year as a model for how the system could work.

When the festival organizers decided to focus on filmmakers from Tel Aviv, more than 1,000 prominent actors and filmmakers signed a statement saying that the organizers had become part of Israel’s propaganda machine, and they threatened to boycott the event. In response, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles worked together to come up with a counter-statement supporting the festival. The counter-statement bore the signatures of even more prominent Hollywood figures, including Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Alexander, and Lenny Kravitz.

“The partnership started last year around the Toronto international film festival,” said Ted Sokolsky, president of the Toronto federation. “We jointly produced an ad saying that we don’t need another blacklist.”

Sokolsky went on to say, “I spoke to Jay [Sanderson, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles] and said, ‘Here, there are a lot of prominent Hollywood types on the delegitimization protest. Can you reach out to the Hollywood community and find some pro-Israel leadership?’ He reached out to some key leadership in Hollywood. And it was like waking up a sleeping giant. Then we realized we can’t all fight this alone.”

He added, “It was a great lesson and set a template on how to respond because clearly, the other side is running a linked campaign with international funding and global strategy but local implementation.”

When similar delegitimizing attempts erupt, leaders of the new network plan to respond early, according to Silverman.

“If the community in Chattanooga all of a sudden is faced with [a boycott of] Israeli products in the mall, they should be able to call the [Israel] Action Network and have response and implementation within 12 hours, and not spend time thinking about how to do it,” he said. “We should be able to do that in every community.”

Toronto and Los Angeles are two of the largest federations in the JFNA system, but the smaller federations feel that the network will benefit them as well.

Michael Papo, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, said that Indiana has not yet witnessed a full-fledged anti-Israel boycott campaign.

“But it could happen,” he said. “It could happen quickly. It could happen on our college campuses, and it would be helpful to have that national network to call for help.”

Papo said he sees the network as being able to provide guidance when his federation has to face situations such as the one it faced several years ago, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) pursued a divestment strategy against Israel. At that time, he and his colleagues were able to influence local Presbyterian churches in Indiana to vote against the divestment campaign at their national convention.

“As a Jewish community, we have a huge range of contacts in the general community,” he said. “We are connected politically, culturally, socially, academically, and in the business world — anyplace we work and live, we have connections with neighbors.… If and when we need support, we are quite capable.”

Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said that federations and their local partners are uniquely positioned to take on delegitimization campaigns against Israel.

“A top-down approach cannot fully comprehend or appreciate local nuance, and after each and every incident, when the headlines recede, it is the local community that is in the best position to strengthen the community for the future,” Nasatir said in an e-mailed statement. “Over the past few years, active local federations have countered the boycott of Israeli products by buyout of those same products. They have demanded that university institutions require civility from anti-Israel protestors trying to drown out Israeli speakers. And, through ongoing contact with local elected leaders, they have sensitized public officials and institutions to the need for fairness, civility, and appropriate monitoring of anti-Israel thuggery.”

While other groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Zionist Organization of America, and J Street, focus primarily on influencing the political arena, and others, such as the Israel Project and CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), key in on the media, the new network will aim to influence civic leaders.

The Jewish federations have agreed to give the JFNA $1.6 million to fund the project fully in its first year. In the two subsequent years, the federations will split the cost 50-50 with JFNA.

“Israel’s government has been advocating for this, especially over the past six months or eight months,” Silverman said. “It has been in dialogue within our federation movement for a while, especially following the Toronto incident and the incident in San Francisco with the film festival, and divestment movements in the Protestant and Presbyterian churches. This idea was born out of the large city executives meeting that said, ‘It is time. And time is running out.’ We have to do this quickly and we have to be armed in our community and be offensive, not defensive.”

Silverman said that he expects the Israel Action Network to be fully staffed and up and running by Jan. 1.

JTA

 
 

High school students explore how to answer Israel’s critics on campus

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From left at Sunday’s proram are Rabbi Ely Allen, Adam Nudelman, Melanie Rice, and Hannah Marcus. Miriam Allenson

As teens get set to head to college, where they’re likely to discover that Israel issues push hot buttons and controversy rages around them, community leaders and teachers have been trying to prepare them for what they will see and hear. During a Sunday bagel brunch at Ma’ayanot, 100 high school juniors and seniors were led through exercises designed to teach them to respond effectively to Israel’s critics and provided with folders packed with information. Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, called the meeting “just the first step in a program that we hope will prepare students” when they are confronted by “anti-Israel protestors on campuses around the country.”

Etzion Neuer, director of the New Jersey region of the Anti-Defamation League, told the gathering of recent anti-Israel activities on college campuses. He said he’s aware that most students don’t focus on those things because they are too busy, but, he added, they should be prepared to hear versions of history about Israel that is different from the narrative they were taught, and they will need to respond properly. “You are going to have to know your history and learn how to get your message across,” he said. He also suggested that students speak about all the positive things that Israel offers the world, so as to stop framing Israel in terms of conflict.

The facilitators were Bess Adler, principal of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies; Avi Posnick, regional coordinator of Stand With Us, New York; Rabbis David Scher, who teaches at The Frisch School in Paramus, and Ely Allen, director of Hillel of Northern New Jersey; Sara Lewis, teen director at the JCC on the Palisades; and Yoel Kaplan, vice principal of BCHSJS. Each student was given a worksheet covering five scenarios — which turned out to be true — and assigned to a group. Each facilitator addressed each group speed dating style — after a 15-minute session, each group moved to another facilitator and situation.

Students in the “yellow” group followed by the Standard were from Fair Lawn, Paramus, Old Tappan, and Ridgewood. They were headed to SUNY Binghamton, Northeastern, Rutgers, Syracuse, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. The group also included a parent, Marci Spiro of Woodcliff Lake, whose children attend Frisch. She came to learn facts to teach her children, who would soon be off to college.

Allen’s session focused on a student rally against Israel with a small group of Jewish counter-protestors in Albuquerque, N.M. A Jewish student who felt the protests were relatively tame was interviewed by a reporter. When the story broke, more than 50 percent of the story was sympathetic to the anti-Israel protestors, not a single Israel supporter’s quote was used, and the Jewish students were portrayed as aggressive and intimidating. The interviewed student thought that was unfair and wanted to respond.

Allen asked the students what they would have said to the reporter and whether it was appropriate for student groups to sponsor such rallies. Students were also asked what they would have done if they had heard about the rally while it was in the planning stages, whether they would attend, even if it offended them, and why or why not. What would they tell the student who wanted to respond to the article?

Students were advised to learn Jewish history, to seek support from Jewish groups in the community, like the ADL and UJA, and respond to the newspaper reporter by writing letters to the editor and blog posts, as well as using other ways to send the message. Students were also advised to make short, to-the-point sound bites and to educate themselves about Israel.

One session dealt with the heckling of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine and another on what to do when you know a campus organization is sponsoring a guest speaker who preaches hatred. Scher asked students how they would respond if they blogged a pro-Israel message and received 30 comments loaded with threats like “We know where you live — you’d better watch your back.” Most said they would ignore the trolls. They were advised to file a report with the police and campus security.

A session led by Posnik of Stand With Us concerned a professor of “Politics in the Middle East” who sent an e-mail to all his students showing Jews lined up for the gas chambers one side of the screen and Arabs waiting at a checkpoint in Gaza on the other. Only one person in class was willing to openly disagree with him, but his term paper, worth 30 percent of his class grade, was due the following week and he worried about expressing his true opinion because he believed his professor would lower his grade.

The yellow group students suggested forwarding the professor’s e-mail to everyone until it went viral. Others said they wouldn’t do anything because they feared for their grades. Another suggested approaching the academic review committee if the student’s grade was lowered. The story was a true one, and the student did indeed forward the e-mail until it went viral. Two other students had dropped out of the class in protest, and the incident, which took place at UC Santa Barbara, is under investigation.

As each session ended, students were advised to make contact with local Jewish community groups when they were confronted by anti-Israel action and to join with other Jewish students and student groups.

When the workshops were over, Alyssa Walker of Pompton Lakes High School told The Jewish Standard, “It’s a new thing for me to have to deal with anti-Semitism that’s so extreme. It’s hard to know how to prepare for something so intense. But I need to know how to respond properly, because I believe in standing up for what I believe in. I can’t be an idle bystander, and this afternoon helped me start dealing with it.”

In addition to the JCRC, the New Jersey ADL, BCHSJS, Hillel, and Ma’ayanot, sponsors were the Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism, Bergen County YJCC, Center for Israel Engagement of UJA-NNJ, Frisch, Jewish Educational Services of UJA-NNJ, Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, North Jersey Board of Rabbis, and Torah Academy of Bergen County.

 
 
 
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