Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Support anti-BDS Effort at Northwestern University

Last month, the Associated Student Government (ASG) Senate at Northwestern University narrowly passed a resolution asking the university to divest from 6 corporations that do business with Israel.  The resolution is in support of the BDS movement.  The resolution is symbolic and the university has not changed its policy on investments.

I don't have a connection to Northwestern University, but a good friend who does has asked me to help circulate a letter expressing displeasure with the action of the ASG.  Please read below.  There is a link where you can add your name to sign the letter.


Dear Fellow Northwestern University Stakeholder,
On February 19th, the Associated Student Government (ASG) of NU undergraduates passed a resolution, 24 to 22, calling on Northwestern University to divest of investment in six corporations. This resolution was proposed by NUDivest at the behest of the Boycott Divest and  Sanction Israel movement (BDS). While the resolution in itself does not reflect official NU policy, it does send an unhealthy and dangerous signal that the NU community supports the larger goals of BDS. Those goals demonize the State of Israel without any context as to the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, do not recognize the many human rights advances implemented by Israel, and overlook the human rights abuses advanced in certain Palestinian communities. BDS is forthright in its attempts to suppress discourse and impose an outcome. BDS seeks to boycott academic exchanges with Israeli universities and all commerce with Israel.  
We are asking only those connected to the Northwestern community to sign on to the letter via this link. The letter for your consideration is below.  You will be asked on the link to indicate your connection to NU either as a current student, alum, faculty member (past or current), parent of a student or alum, staff member, or donor.
We ask with gratitude that you forward this email to as many fellow Northwestern community members as you can.

Scott Shay, WCAS '79, KSM '80
Samantha Stankowicz, WCAS '14
Dear ASG Student Senate Members,
We are heartbroken.
On February 19th, the ASG passed a resolution endorsing a goal of the Boycott Divest and Sanction Israel (BDS) movement.
We encompass and represent the entire spectrum of those with opinions on ways to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. None of us are happy with the status quo. We all want an agreement that allows for all the peoples in the area, whether they identify as Israeli or Arab or Jew or Muslim or Christian or any combination, to have the freedom to live lives of safety and security, peace, prosperity, and political empowerment. However, we are united in knowing that the conflict will never be resolved by the demonization of Israel or by brute sanction of Israel. It will be solved only by the type of discussion and conflict resolution which BDS would extinguish were it successful. NU has a proud tradition of providing a safe space for people of differing views. The implications of the resolution passed by ASG are a sad and tragic departure from that purple tradition which we all cherish.
We, the undersigned members of the NU community of all race, creed, color, religion and gender definition, declare that the resolution that you passed is not in our name.
**By signing this form you consent to being a signatory on this letter and recognize this letter may be disseminated on social media or news publications**

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Sophistry - [sof-uh-stree] n. Reasoning that appears sound but is misleading or fallacious.
Sophistry is a great word.  I want to make this word  popular.

Sophistry possesses the gravitas missing from its famous yourger brother truthiness.  I am particularly enamored of the word sophistry, not only for its meaning, but also because of its assonance with bigotry and dishonesty.  I now have a new and improved BDS slogan - Bigotry, Dishonesty, Sophistry. But it only works if people know the word.

On the other hand, actual sophistry is not very nice at all. It is difficult to identify, making it effective. The arguments presented supporting BDS are filled with sophistry.  The logic is so convoluted it makes my head hurt. The wrong and incomplete information makes my blood boil.  Even though written by people with high academic degrees, it is still sophistry.

Sophistry must be identified to be countered. The essay collection The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel edited by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm exposes the many sophistries currently being promoted in academia against Israel and Zionism.  It is time to delegitimize the delegitimizers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

StandWithUs Discusses the BDS Movement

I will be featured in the 2nd of 3 internet video conversations about BDS.

Standing Up to BDS - a 3-part live, interactive roundtable discussion to analyze the BDS movement and effective responses to its tactics, presented by StandWithUS (SWU).  Viewers will be able to submit questions via live chat room.

  • March 2, 2014          YouTube Video           BDS on the College Campus
  • March 9, 2014          12 noon (EDT)            BDS and Community Business
  • March 16, 2014        12 noon (EDT)            BDS and Academia 
All 3 sessions will be moderated by Dr. Michael Harris, community activist with StandWithUs San Francisco.

Session speakers:
BDS on the College Campus:
    • Brett Cohen, SWU National Campus Program Director
    • Hen Mazzig, Campus Coordinator SWU Northwest
    • Max Samarov, SWU research assistant.
BDS and Community Business:
    • Rob Jacobs, director of StandWithUs Northwest
    • Barbara Mazor, one of the leaders of the successful effort to defeat the BDS movement at the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn.
    • Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs founder
BDS and Academia
    • Roberta Seid, director of research for StandWithUs
    • Peggy Shapiro, Chicago community coordinator for StandWithUs
The real agenda of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is the elimination of the state of Israel. Learn how you can eliminate BDS, instead. 

The conferences will be conducted on the Vonvo platform.  It provides for video and audio feeds for up to 4 participants.  Viewers can watch the conference at the Vonvo website.  If you log in at Vonvo with a Facebook login, then you can also type in questions and comments in the live chat room during the conference.  Afterwards, the video will be available on YouTube; the channel in vonvodotcom.

Vonvo is best if using Chrome or Firefox as your browser.

Here is the link for the event at Facebook
Here is the Vonvo page at Facebook.

I hope you will be watching.

How to watch the event:
1. Make sure you are using the browser Google Chrome or Firefox (preferably chrome)
2. Good internet connection on your COMPUTER (mobile doesn't work)
3. Login in with your Facebook account to actively participate (not required)


1. Go to www.vonvo.com using Google Chrome
2. click the "log in with facebook" button and sign in
3. scroll down to the "StandWithUs" channel
4. click the "Join Live Vonvo" button (dropdown will appear)
5. click the "View Live Vonvo" button
6. enjoy the discussion!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stigmatizing anti-Semitic Language

This post is updated on Aug. 3, 2013.

Last week I posted here in its entirety the essay Why Good Societies Stigmatize Anti-Semitic Language by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry from a site called The American Scene.  At the time, The American Scene was down.  Now that the site is back up, and it is bad etiquette to reprint entire content from another site, I have edited the post to only have excerpts from the essay.  You should read the whole thing because it is that good.  I have added some of my own commentary and there is an interesting discussion in the comments section.  All boldface is my own.

Mr. Gobry begins:
Andrew Sullivan has noticed that some kinds of language that are sometimes used to criticize a lobby like the NRA are not considered acceptable to use to criticize Israel or “The Israel Lobby.”
Here is an example Andrew Sullivan uses: Why is it ok to say "Washington lawmakers’ obeisance to the gun lobby," but substituting "Israel" for "gun,"  is not ok?  Mr. Gobry answers the reasons are obvious:
The first obvious reason is that gun owners are not an ethnic group. In post-Enlightenment society, we recognize that people who are members of a group by choice are more open to criticism for being part of that group than people who are a member of that group by birth. I’m sure Andrew is well aware of how the emergence of a consensus of homosexuality as innate, and not chosen, has affected conversation about the gay community. We would cringe if President Obama (or a white Democratic politician, for that matter) was described as, say, “pandering to the Black Lobby” for addressing the NAACP.

The second obvious reason is that there is no record in history of a totalitarian regime embarking on a plan to exterminate all gun owners as a group and nearly succeeding, or of a major figure of a currently existing thuggish regime calling for the extermination of gun owners, or of a disturbing number of clerics of a major world religion calling for holy war on gun owners, nor is there a constant drumbeat of examples of gun owners, all over the world and for all of recorded history, being victimized in various ways for being gun owners.

The third obvious reason is that the language and ideology of gun owners’ alleged behind-the-scenes political influence, itself standing for a belief in their intrinsic malevolence and treacherousness, does not have a centuries-long history of being used as a spur for discrimination, mob violence, and massacres against gun owners.

Our society, quite reasonably in my view, has developed a taboo against the use of words associated with group hatred, as a way to stigmatize said hatred. White people can’t use the n word in contemporary polite American society because that word is associated with the memory of white people who used that word and bought and sold black people as chattel. The fact that it’s possible in theory to be a Non-Racist White Person and still utter the n word is irrelevant—and quite rightly so! And the taboo is all the stronger because there still are white racists around who use the n word and want to hurt black people. And we think it’s wrong. So we stigmatize it.

By the same token, and for obvious reasons, it would not be received in the same way if I wrote “Andrew Sullivan is gay” and if I wrote “Andrew Sullivan is a fag.” If I wrote the latter and defended myself by saying that I was only stating a fact, I would be ridiculed, for obvious and good reason. The word “fag” is not considered noxious because it refers to a gay person or because of the sound the syllable makes, the word “fag” is considered noxious because it is a symbol and instrument of group hatred.

And expressions like “Jewish lobby”, which carries the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are a shadowy clique that secretely controls the government have been—for centuries, around the world, to this very day in some places—used as spurs to mass violence.

Now, does this mean that it’s “impossible” to criticize the State of Israel, or America’s Middle Eastern policy, or AIPAC? Does it mean that Chuck Hagel is a dhimmi or an anti-Semite? Of course not. Does it mean that there are certain phrases that you may not use to be considered civilized? Does it mean you shouldn’t write just quite the same way about AIPAC—or the NAACP—as the NRA? Yes. Is this just? Absolutely.


And I could just leave it at that, but I’ll press on, because it is (very) important and I haven’t seen formally spelled out the argument for the pressing duty of combating anti-Semitism in all its forms, including rhetorical, including accidental. In contemporary society, when someone earnestly screws up about race, the opportunity to assert moral superiority is so strong that the opportunity to explain is almost never taken.

Taboos against using certain language against certain groups is always tied to the violence that has been exercised against these groups, because the language is seen, quite reasonably, as both symbolizing and facilitating that violence.

And so, just like it would be impossible to understand the contemporary American taboo against the n word without understanding slavery and Jim Crow, if we want to understand why we have taboos against language that is redolent of anti-Semitism we need to talk about the Holocaust.
Here there are several paragraphs about the horrific nature of the Shoah.  Mr. Gobry asks "how is the Holocaust relevant today"
There are several reasons why. The first and most obvious one is that anti-Semitism is alive and well today, and eliminationist anti-Semitism to boot.

The second one, and also an aspect of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, is that it was perpetrated by a society that could reasonably be called the most advanced of its time.... [and Mr. Gobry elaborates.]

The other reason why the Holocaust is very relevant today is that for all the evil genius of Hitler and his acolytes, it was enabled precisely because of the pre-existence of anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic tropes that the Nazis believed, used and reinforced have a very long history—one that continues up to this day. In some corners of the world, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are still brisk sellers. Not in America, of course—no, we’re above that.

These anti-Semitic tropes—the idea of the plotting, scheming Jew, of a Jewish Lobby which controls the government behind the scenes, of the traitorous Jew who serves Zion and not his homeland—they were the fertile terrain from which genocide could spring. And it is an ever-fertile terrain: while the Holocaust obviously stands unique, Jews have been the victims of anti-Semitic violence in every era, in every country, down to this day. And anti-Semitic tropes are the enabler and the spur.
Indeed, there is a connection between language to attitudes to actions. I agree with Mr. Gobry we should eschew the use anti-Semitic tropes. I fear we are being conditioned to see harm to Israel or even Jews as not all that tragic, as "didn't they deserve it anyway for being so evil?"

I would also add one point when responding to Andrew Sullivan's initial inquiry.   Sullivan is writing about comments on the gun lobby following the failure of the Senate to pass legislation that would expand background checks on gun purchasers.  The legislation had the support of nearly 2/3 of the American public.  Gun violence is definitely harmful to Americans.  As the Senators voted against the wishes of their constituents, we can talk about "obeisance."

However, the sympathies of nearly 2/3 of Americans are with Israel.  The benefits of the US-Israel relationship are well documented.  Congressional support for Israel is consonant with the wishes of the American people.  Using the word "obeisance" would be a mischaracterization, to say the least.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Opposing Normalization Means Opposing Peace

Ever since the vote on the BDS referendum was defeated in March 2012, one pro-BDS Coop member has faithfully submitted a letter to every issue of the Linewaiters' Gazette, the bi-weekly newspaper of the Park Slope Food Coop.  She usually collects material from Electronic Intifada.  This past issue was no exception.   She drew her material from Asa Winstanley's report on the Fourth National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Conference held last month at Bethlehem University.  (No, I am not going to link to it.)

I am indebted to her for undisputedly making clear to us that the BDS Movement is an opponent of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Genuine peace makers demonstrate the commitment to peace and justice by working to "normalize" the relationships between people previously in conflict.  They work to establish sustainable peace by addressing root causes of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political and economic transformation. Peace builders will find ways to increase cooperative contacts between opponents, open channels of communication, get people involved in joint projects, break down stereotypes, and reduce prejudice and discrimination.  The goal of all of these efforts is reconciliation – getting the people to accept each other as part of their own group or be reconciled to mutual co-existence and tolerance.

In no uncertain terms, she makes clear that BDS opposes the processes that lead to reconciliation and end of conflict. She describes a session on strategies to combat normalization. BDS rejects all cultural, academic, economic, environmental and social cooperation with Israel.  Peace building initiatives such as dialogue with Israelis, travel to Israel, and scholarships to Israeli universities were denounced.   By opposing normalization, BDS works to undermine support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reach a political agreement with Israel. Indeed, BDS even opposes the PA’s security coordination with Israel. In other words, BDS does not want the PA to engage in the prevention of terrorist attacks against Israel.

BDSers claim normalization is offered as a substitute for a political settlement, and therefore they oppose it.  They ignore the fact that creating personal relationships is a necessary condition for finding solutions based on mutual respect and recognition that can lead to successful and lasting ends of conflict.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Celebrate Israel Parade - 2013

Today I attended the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City.  It was wonderful and uplifting.  I spend far too much time reading all the horrible things the Israel-haters and the Jew-haters say.  Today was a day for sharing with the tens of thousands who support Israel.  You could feel the love.  Here are a few pictures I took.  I tried to get the unusual or the interesting.

I love seeing the flags waving as the marchers carry them up Fifth Avenue.  The United States flag together with Israel's flag.

So, I tweeted:

In addition to the synagogues, federations and Jewish schools, I saw this group "Christians and Churches of NYC"

These dancers are part of a Cyrus-Israel friendship group:

Hey, look at that camel on Fifth Avenue!

In your face, QAIA. LGBT Jews and Allies Celebrate Israel.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

10 Features of Left Anti-Semitism

If you do any kind of Israel advocacy reading on the internet, you will eventually stumble upon the remarkable efforts of Adam Levick and others at CiF Watch.  CiF refers to "Comment is Free," the website of the British leftist newspaper The Guardian. If you think the things that were written in the Park Slope Food Coop were bad, they are nothing compared to what is regularly said in the United Kingdoms.

One of the most frustrating things about opposing BDS is that the people who support it see themselves as progressives.  If you point out that their position is inherently anti-Semitic, they deny anti-Semitism saying "criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic" and accuse you of trying to stifle debate.  They truly don't see themselves as anti-Semitic and actually get quite irritated when you suggest anti-Semitism.

Even though the U.S. State Department has a definition of anti-Semitism, the editors of the Linewaiters' Gazette - the biweekly newspaper of the Park Slope Food Coop - seem to be unable to make the distinction, and recognize when their own editorial guidelines have been crossed. But it is hard to fault them.  It is a volunteer job and they shouldn't be expected to be experts on the Middle East.

Fortunately, for the sake of anyone who doesn't want to be anti-Semitic, Adam Levick has created this handy guide of 10 common pseudo-progressive, hypocritical tropes that come from the left when discussing Israel.  Here is his list, and I can illustrate an instance of every single one of these from either letters in the Linewaiters Gazette, statements on the PSFC-BDS website or things said in the Coop.  Maybe I will even have the time to do it one day.
  1. You claim the mantle of human rights yet find yourself running interference for anti-Semitic world leaders and helping to spread the propaganda of Islamist extremists -  and even terrorist leaders who openly call for the murder of Jews.

  2. You claim to condemn racism at every opportunity yet are strangely silent or seriously downplay even the most egregious examples of antisemitic violence.

  3. You claim to be a champion of progressive politics yet often use terms and advance tropes indistinguishable from classic right wing Judeophobia - such as the argument that Jews are too powerful, use their money to control politics, and are not loyal citizens.

  4. You support nationalism, and don’t have a problem with the existence of more than 50 Muslim states, yet you oppose the existence of the only Jewish state in the world.

  5. Even when putatively condemning antisemitism you can’t help but blame the Jews for causing antisemitism.

  6. You condemn the Holocaust yet also obsessively condemn living Jews for their alleged ‘inhumanity’ and even argue that Jews haven’t learned the proper lessons from the attempt to annihilate their co-religionists from the planet.

  7. You not only support Palestinian rights, but support their “right” to launch deadly terrorist attacks on Israeli Jews, under the mantle of anti-imperialist ”resistance”.

  8. You characterize extremist reactionary Islamist movements as “progressive“.

  9. You accuse Jews of cynically misusing the charge of antisemitism to “ stifledebate about the Jewish state.

  10. You champion diversity and multiculturalism of all kinds, yet suggest that Jewish particularism represents an inherently tribal, ethnocentric and racist  identity.

You should read the original article and comments  at the CiF Watch blog.