(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Strategic Affairs Ministry held a secret, two-day conference of Jewish leaders and Israel advocates from around the world to discuss ways to cooperate in the fight anti-Israel boycotts and delegitimization campaigns.
The conference took place on Sunday and Monday in Jerusalem, with 150 participants from organizations in 20 countries who were told to keep the event secret. Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations President Malcolm Hoenlein and B’nai B’rith World Policy Center director Alan Schneider were among those present, according to a participant.
Another participant said the attendees were a heterogeneous group as far as viewpoints and nationalities were concerned, and while there were some young participants representing campus groups, most of the attendees skewed towards middle aged and older.
In addition, representatives from several ministries took part in the event, which the Strategic Affairs Ministry said is part of its plan to integrate and coordinate all government boycott-battling activities.
The conference included panel discussions of the challenges Israel faces in the legal, economic, academic and cultural spheres and presentations of research and polls about Israel, BDS and delegitimization.
Among the matters discussed were early detection of boycott threats, concrete steps to deal with threats to companies in or working with Israel, increasing pro-Israel activities online around the world, positive branding for Israel and bringing groups of influential people to visit Israel.
The ministry plans to use some of its NIS 100m. budget for this year to hire 10 locals to work at major Israeli embassies and battle delegitimization and boycotts. Their work will focus on early detection of boycott efforts and positive branding for Israel.
At the conference’s close Monday, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan pointed to recent victories in the fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, such as anti-boycott decisions by the UK Cabinet Office and the Paris Municipality, but said there is still much work to be done.
Erdan said: “BDS activists are organized as an international network acting to isolate Israel, and therefore, our goal is to build an opposing network of Israel-supporting NGOs that will constantly act to deal with the lies and libels that BDS activists disseminate.”
A Strategic Affairs source explained that much of its actions to fight boycotts must be kept secret to ensure success, which is why the conference was confidential.
One participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he saw the conference as an improvement over previous discussions of how to fight boycotts.
“What we have lacked until now is a coherent comprehensive strategy and a mechanism for coordinating our efforts on a global level. People are doing important work at the local and national level, but there hasn’t been a sort of overarching strategy, and that has proven to be a hindrance. We are moving towards developing something to enable us to all be on the same page and coordinate our efforts more effectively,” he stated.
The participant said the discussion was very action-oriented and focused on plans to take strategies to a practical level to combat delegitimization and challenges to Israel’s right to exist. He also said the event’s secrecy enabled the participants to speak more freely about their ideas.
An Israel advocacy expert at the conference, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he felt there was an improvement on past discussions.
“I saw a greater understanding of the urgency of the matter and a willingness to move from words to actions,” he said. “People understood there was a need to act. Time will tell if the ideas get implemented.”
Another person at the conference, who has worked with advocacy and Jewish organizations in the past and asked to remain anonymous, called it “same old, same old.”
“I’ve been to tens of these things, and nothing new is said or done. There was no out-of-the-box thinking,” he stated.
According to the attendee, “Diaspora Jews want action. They’re waiting to hear something new, and they’re not. The government doesn’t fully understand the urgency. We’ve heard promises in the past, and we’re still waiting.
“I’m not optimistic. Our track record is weak. The penny still hasn’t quite dropped in Israel,” he added. Israeli news site NRG published parts of a presentation given at the conference, including what words and phrases Israel advocates should use to “defeat BDS.”