Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is Anti-Zionism a form of Anti-Semitism?

The Pope's answer:

and on October 28, 2015, Pope Francis said at a meeting with Jewish leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism.  There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”
And President Obama, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, in the Atlantic
On Israel, Obama endorsed, in moving terms, the underlying rationale for the existence of a Jewish state, making a direct connection between the battle for African American equality and the fight for Jewish national equality. “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

In discussing the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, he was quite clear in his condemnation of what has become a common trope—that anti-Zionism, the belief that the Jews should not have a state of their own in at least part of their ancestral homeland, is unrelated to anti-Jewish hostility. He gave me his own parameters for judging whether a person is simply critical of certain Israeli policies or harboring more prejudicial feelings.

“Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire?” he said, in defining the questions that he believes should be asked. “And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland, you acknowledge the active presence of anti-Semitism—that it’s not just something in the past, but it is current—if you acknowledge that there are people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology. If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

Anti-BDS Letter from Hillary Clinton

A number of news media outlets have already picked up a letter from Hillary Clinton to Haim Saban in which Clinton expresses her "alarm over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement."  Saying "we need to repudiate efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people," Clinton asks Saban for advice on how to work "across party lines" to fight back against BDS.

Read the full letter below or download here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

For the Media

May 11, 2015 - This morning I woke up to find an editorial in the New York Daily News about  the  latest BDS effort at the Park Slope Food Coop.  The editorial is based on a report appearing at the The Indypendent written by a Food Coop member who attended the April General Meeting.  The editorial contains no original first hand reporting.

I love reporters.  I envy your writing abilities.  I had a great time talking to reporters three years ago. But I also have a day job.  This time please send your questions to my email stopbdsparkslope at gmail.com.  We will try to send you answers within 24 hours.  I think this will work better for everyone.

The Food Coop is an extremely successful experiment.  Starting with a few people 40 years ago who decided to collectively buy wholesale, it has grown into a $50 million/year business, employing some 50 people, and providing them with very competitive salaries and attractive benefits.  In addition, members save thousands of dollars a year on their food bill and we support local agriculture.

The Coop's Mission Statement includes:
We are committed to diversity and equality. We oppose discrimination in any form. We strive to make the Coop welcoming and accessible to all and to respect the opinions, needs and concerns of every member. We seek to maximize participation at every level, from policy making to running the store.

We welcome all who respect these values.
Yet, from time to time, for better or worse, because of the nature of Food Coop governance relies on the cooperative spirit and good will of its members, food coops - like colleges - are left vulnerable to exploitation by groups seeking to promote their political causes.  As the the blog Divest This! writes:

One answer has to do with our old friend ruthlessness.  For in a society, such as a college community, that values discourse and assumes people will resolve problems reasonably and amicably, how do you deal with an organization ready to trash the entire enterprise in order to torture and smear their political enemies?
 Please check back here for relevant articles as I post responses to the latest BDS effort.

How To Get Our House in Order
From the Perspective of an Israeli Coop Member

How To Get Our House in Order

The following was submitted by a Coop member who attended the April General Meeting at the Park Slope Food Coop.  She offers some insights into how and why the meeting got out of control, and suggestions for how we can do better:

Fully appreciating that the committees referenced below made good faith efforts to exercise their complex responsibilities, it was nonetheless not surprising that the April GM at one point devolved into a chaotic shouting match. The many reasons follow, with constructive suggestions for assuring order in the future.

THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (AC) made an error of judgment by scheduling a discussion about boycotting SodaStream in the "Occupied Palestinian Territories" (aka "disputed territories"). It was well-known by all relevant parties that the factory in question was closing one week from the meeting, information relayed in writing by SodaStream upon request from Coop management and forwarded to the AC. Therefore the discussion clearly revolved around a moot point and offered little but a third opportunity (2011 discussion, 2012 boycott referendum proposal, soundly defeated) to make the familiar, highly controversial claims repeatedly published (and refuted) for six years in the Gazette.
SUGGESTION: In future the AC might consider the appropriateness and value of a discussion/proposal based on an obsoleted premise, in this instance that there would be a factory to boycott.

THE CHAIR COMMITTEE (CC), with the unenviable task of making split-second parliamentary decisions, unfortunately lost control of some of the proceedings, not their fault alone given that all factions contributed to the ensuing chaos.

During the Open Forum an attempt to query the AC about the legitimacy of the discussion was ruled out of order despite meeting the relevant guideline providing "the opportunity for members to briefly submit general and specific questions regarding the operation of the Coop"1 (which naturally includes the AC). SUGGESTION: Future meetings would benefit from a reading of the brief guideline by the Chair prior to the Open Forum.

A later parliamentary attempt was made to question the validity of the discussion (Objection to Consideration of a Question), similarly rejected by the Chair.
SUGGESTION: In future the Chair might inform members about how to exercise their parliamentary rights2, (among other ways, by making a motion) detailed on easily overlooked handouts, which to facilitate order might be projected above the stage2.

Although the discussion was submitted by only two individuals, the Chair allowed six presenters, providing them a disproportionate time-advantage in the discussion. Irrelevant and out-of-context images of Israeli military were displayed, suggesting, without unambiguously depicting, Israeli abuses. This predictably provoked – unfortunately but understandably – a call to remove the images. To his credit the Chair repeatedly but futilely directed the projectionist to desist, but finally gave up when she refused, resulting in a lengthy shouting match.
SUGGESTION: In future the Chair should suspend the discussion until compliance with an order is achieved or remind members of their right to make a motion and vote on removing the images. (Objections were also made, but ignored, about a presenter provocatively imaging audience reactions from the podium).

Following management's reading of the letter about the imminent closing of the relevant SodaStream factory, some in the audience continued to disrupt, with unfortunately no effective restraint by the Chair. SUGGESTIONS: The Chair should offer disrupters a choice to desist or leave, and, if necessary, either escort them out or, again, suspend the proceedings until compliance is secured. In future, discussions about this incendiary, divisive topic (best avoided altogether), might benefit (sadly) from security presence as at the 2012 meeting.

Following the six-person presentation, the Chair directed alternating one minute pro and con responses, thus providing no reasonable opportunity for serious debate of the highly contentious material presented. SUGGESTION: For debates on such complex and controversial topics, a more equitable alternate format should be developed, allowing an equivalent counter-presentation by informed opposition representatives prior to the alternating, inadequate one-minute, pro and con responses.

Unfortunately, it can be claimed that the proceedings exemplified the very tactics encouraged and used globally by BDS advocates, who routinely disrupt Israeli events and speakers (this naturally doesn't excuse comparable -- understandable but unacceptable -- disruption from the opposing faction). In a sense, the presenters experienced what it feels like to be on the receiving end of their movement's own tactics. SUGGESTION: But now, we collectively – members, management, committees, and the Board of Directors – all need to reconsider allowing enduring divisiveness so far outside the boundaries of inclusiveness, courtesy, sensitivity and respect for the dignitary rights of all groups within our community, assuring harmony and cohesion above disruptive partisan politics only tangentially relevant to the Coop.

From the Perspective of an Israeli Coop Member

The following was written by Coop Member Yoav Gal following the April General Meeting of the Park Slope Food Coop.

I would like to apologize for the rowdy behavior exhibited during last week’s General Meeting. My expectation at the GM was to hear updates about the Coop and discuss on-going issues, not to be subjected to a political propaganda pageant. I ask the members to understand the reaction in this context. There may have been better ways to object to the BDS presentation, but there is just no possibility of just staying quietly in my seat in the face of baseless and pointless demonization of my people.

Hate speech cannot be allowed. We will not accept presentations alleging the evil or inferiority of Muslims, women, blacks, gays, Mexicans, or any other group of people, even though plenty of ‘evidence’ and audio-visual material can always be found to ‘support’ any kind of such ‘claims’. Similarly, I cannot accept the demeaning caricature of my people - the vibrant and pluralistic liberal democracy of Israel - as a “colonial, apartheid power oppressing the indigenous people.”

How can we tell that the BDS presentation was an Israel-hate rally? Let’s examine:

Can the proposed boycott of Sodastream help anyone? No. The ‘success’ of this campaign will cause 500 Palestinian workers to lose well-paid jobs with benefits and promotion opportunities.

Do the Palestinians support this effort? No. The workers of Sodastream expressed themselves against this campaign and even Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is against BDS.

Did the presenting group make and effort to present a thoughtful and balanced approach to their issue? No. They recited ready-made propaganda material, cherry-picked information, out context facts and outright lies.

Does the boycotting Israeli products in general has any other merit in the cause of justice? No.

Israel isn’t a colonial power, it does not practice apartheid, nor does it oppress any indigenous people. Zionism is a national liberation movement, whose greatest ‘fault’ is in creating a vibrant democracy in the Middle East.

Still, can we help the Palestinians? Of course, we can and should, though positive actions such as the proposed purchasing of Palestinian olive oil, among other initiatives.

Lastly, we need to be clear about the harm done by BDS. Demonizing lectures about my people makes the coop a non-welcoming place to me as an Israeli Jew. I will not continue my membership in an organization, which is unjustly antagonistic towards my fellow Israelis. A bigger problem still, is the potential of demonization to lead to violence. The threat of terrorism against Jews and Israelis in particular is real. Armed guards are already the norm in synagogues, schools and camps. In Europe, where the lines between political opposition and Anti-Semitism have been largely erased, the situation is such that Jews are simply packing up and leaving. We do not wish to see a similar situation in Brooklyn.

I ask that the coop leadership find the organizational means to put a stop to the continued community-divisive tactics of BDS at the coop.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

Last night BDS Round 2 began in earnest at the Park Slope Food Coop.  In the fall, BDS team submitted this item for discussion at a General Meeting:
We propose that the Coop boycott SodaStream products, which are manufactured on an illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Never mind that the plant at Mishor Adumim will stop production next week, and the discussion is meaningless, the group went on with its presentation of its item for discussion only, no vote. (See here for an explanation of PSFC democracy.)

The presentation was the usual parade of unsubstantiated BDS lies that are easily refuted.  The presentation also included slides of Israeli soldiers arresting people.  Slides presented without context and not related to SodaStream.

I am not proud of what happened next. I have a lot of criticisms to go around. But my harshest condemnations are for the people on my side.

Spontaneous audible protests from the audience began. The boos turned into chants of "Take Down the Pictures."

The Chair's call to order were ignored. People started getting out of their seats, and trying to block the screen and the projector. Shouting grew louder. Eventually, the Board of Directors came to the front of the room, and tried to call order.  Finally, the General Manager spoke, and order was somewhat restored.

The BDS group was allowed to continue the presentation.  There was continued heckling from the audience. The disruption lasted at lest a half hour.  There was a short comment period because time had run out for the meeting.  

This disruption was done by people I have known for years. People who were sitting near me. People who ignored me when I told them it was enough, it was time to stop.

There are no excuses for this behavior. The people who did this, the people who wouldn't stop the shouting and the heckling, they need to apologize. Publicly. It was wrong. I apologize for any contribution I had towards this.

There is a lot more to say about all of this, but that is for another time.

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.