AJC campaign urges 50 US governors to reject BDS

Pro-Israel campus projects gear up for new academic year in North America.

August 28, 2016 00:40
Anti-Israel BDS

Anti-Israel demonstrators march behind a banner of the BDS organization in Marseille, June 13.. (photo credit: GEORGES ROBERT / AFP)

The American Jewish Committee has launched a program to obtain the signatures of all 50 state governors on a declaration rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and criticizing its goal of isolation instead of engaging with Israel.

The “Governors United Against BDS” petition already has the signatures of 16 governors and officials at AJC have said that they have “every confidence” that the overwhelming majority of governors will sign on.

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“We, the undersigned governors, reject efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel – America’s democratic ally in the Middle East – through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement,” reads the declaration.

The statement says that “the goals of the BDS movement are antithetical to our values and the values of our respective states” and that the movement “seek[s] to isolate Israel – a pluralistic nation with deep cultural, familial, security, educational, scientific and commercial bonds with our state and with the United States as a whole – rather than recognize the profound mutual benefits of our engagement with it.”

Dan Elbaum, AJC’s assistant executive director, said that the “governors united” petition was designed to reflect a nation-wide stance against the notion of isolating Israel as well as constituting part of the effort to combat anti-Israel activity on campus.

He said that there are many state universities where concerted BDS campaigns are being conducted and that a declaration by the state governor against this effort would send a powerful message against this tactic.

The campaign is being co-chaired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov.

Greg Abbott of Texas, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut.

“I believe that there is strong bipartisan support against BDS, and recognition that it is pernicious, negative, and isn’t what it purports to be,” said Elbaum.

And with the academic year set to begin again in the coming days and weeks, AJC is continuing its Project Interchange program which takes predominantly non-Jewish students and university administrators on a trip to Israel to learn about the country as well as to meet with Palestinian leaders to hear thoughts across the spectrum of political views.

A recent Project Interchange trip in June brought a delegation of presidents and chancellors from top US universities and colleges to Israel for a seminar. The institutions involved included George Washington University, Oberlin College and Syracuse University, and the seminar was chaired by University of California president Janet Napolitano.

The AJC is also pushing ahead with its Leaders for Tomorrow program, which works with high-school students who are poised to go to college, and is designed to empower them on campus and help them engage in dialogue on anti-Semitism and Israel, while developing advocacy and leadership skills.

Elbaum said that the atmosphere regarding Israel differs from campus to campus, but warned against alarmism and claims that Jewish life in college is deteriorating because of sentiment toward Israel.

He added, however, that campaigns such as BDS were nevertheless a significant threat, along with a common perception that being supportive of Israel is not a progressive stance.

Elbaum said that anti-Israel campus activism was becoming politically aligned with progressives who have also advocated against police brutality and for Black Lives Matter, gay rights and action against rape.

At the same time, activism for Israel is often seen as a conservative cause, making it therefore harder for the many Jewish students with a liberal outlook to advocate for the Jewish state.

“We hear this attitude from more and more students and it’s troubling that young people might feel a need to leave pro-Israel sentiment behind in order to be progressive,” said Elbaum.

Matt Berger, senior adviser for strategic communications at Hillel International, said that there had been a rise in anti-Israel sentiment on campuses in recent years, but also expressed confidence in university administrations to deal with more egregious incidents.

He said that one of Hillel’s goals, which has joint campus programs with AJC, was to engage all Jewish students, especially those less affiliated with a Jewish community and those from mixed marriages.

“We want as many Jews as possible to understand Israel, and to support Israel when it needs support, and so we are reaching out to people who were not traditionally defined as part of the Jewish community,” said Berger.

Hillel’s Israel Fellows Program, a joint initiative with the Jewish Agency, has placed 75 Israel fellows on US college campuses around the country where they conduct programs aimed at giving both Jewish and non-Jewish students a greater understanding of Israel through all aspects of the country and not only through the prism of politics and conflict.

And a separate Campus Fellowship program through the AJC is designed to help Jewish students build bridges and form coalitions with other minority groups on campus.

Elbaum noted that a significant proportion of anti-Israel activity at US colleges comes from minority groups. Such activity is the result of the conservative/ progressive divide and can also be attributed to the concept of “intersectionality,” which tries to combine disparate civil and human rights issues into one narrative of persecution.

This phenomenon was evident earlier this month when the Black Lives Matter movement adopted a platform accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians.

StandWithUs, another group dedicated to educating about Israel on campus and in communities, said that it was currently working on a new online platform to empower students on campuses, while also continuing its campus programs and speaker tours to reclaim the narrative surrounding the Jewish state.

“While we will continue to face anti-Israel extremism, our community also has a great opportunity to be proactive and reclaim Israel’s story on campuses,” said Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs for the organization.

“We are excited to work with our partner organizations this year to empower students, overcome our shared challenges, and inspire the support Israelis deserve.”

Max Samarov, Stand- WithUs director of research and campus strategy, said that there had been a decrease in anti-Israel divestment campaigns last year compared to the year before, but said that the organization “will do everything we can to empower students to overcome hate and stand up for justice on their campuses.”

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