The participants in the anti-BDS conference in Las Vegas this past weekend witnessed a memorable spectacle. Here was Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, a couple ranked among the 20 wealthiest in the world, sitting for two days through 50 presentations of organizations committed to fighting for Israel both on and off campus.
Sitting alongside them and not missing a session were Haim Saban and his wife Cheryl. The sight of some of the world’s most influential Jews totally dedicated to fighting Israel’s enemies was inspiring. The attacks that followed from people like J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami – who attacked me alongside them – were revolting and beneath contempt. But we have come to expect such hatred from J Street toward Israel’s defenders rather than its enemies.
In my presentation at the conference I noted the old joke about the professor who was asked what was worse, ignorance or apathy. To which he replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The Vegas conference took a giant step toward ending both the ignorance and apathy that has allowed BDS (the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement) to grow.
When I took to the stage Friday morning, I began by telling the crowd that there was a blessing in BDS. For the first time, I argued, a challenge has come forth to bring American Jewish youth into the ring, and demand they stand as Maccabees in Israel’s defense. It’s no longer just Israelis age 18-21 who have to battle for Israel’s survival.
American Jewish youth have joined the fight.
Hillel’s excellent past president Richard Joel famously coined the Hillel phrase “Do Jewish.” But in the age of BDS, every Jewish student has now been forced to “Choose Jewish.” The BDS assault to destroy Israel and make it a pariah state has raised the stakes and drawn the battle lines more clearly than ever before. Sitting on the fence is, today, no longer an option.
I further offered the definition of a Maccabee: a Maccabee is an individual who will fight against all odds in the firm belief that he can change the course of history. The Maccabee trusts in the sacred words of the great Martin Luther King, who famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Maccabee is unfazed by a superior enemy, and unintimidated by a protracted, uphill struggle. He knows that it is not numbers but courage that counts. After all, he knows with certainty that, in the end, history will submit to the justice of his cause.
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A few years back, I heard legendary Apple Macintosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki say that, at its inception, Apple employed counterintuitive marketing: from the outset they sought to polarize and bifurcate their audience. In essence, they were unafraid of factionalizing the public into those who would love them and those who would not.
It’s a lesson that some of the big Jewish student groups who are reluctant to stand up for Israel on campus have to learn. Don’t be afraid of being controversial. Drop the argument that if you stand up for Israel you’ll alienate left-leaning Jewish students who might not stop by for chicken soup on a Friday night. To the contrary. Courage is courageous. They will be inspired by your example and will follow your lead.
I often hear myself described as “controversial.” No doubt I am a rabbi who is both loved and hated. A preparedness to be unpopular is what I have learned from Judaism, not to mention the world’s most influential figures. No one experiences greater rejection by the Israelites than Moses, the great prophet who redeemed them from slavery and gave them the Law. Mordechai spares the Jews a holocaust but is described as being admired only by “most of his brethren.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe saved the Jewish people from spiritual extinction yet even today his legacy remains “controversial.” No American was more hated in his lifetime than Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, and Winston Churchill was fired by the British right after defeating Hitler. But each of these men saved their nations from extinction. And Jews today must fight to save Israel from destruction, even if it makes them controversial.
And make no mistake – BDS seeks nothing other than economic annihilation of Israel. As I’ve said many times, BDS is not about opposing occupation. If it were then none of its proponents would ever use an iPhone since China has been occupying Tibet since 1951, and they would never have a Turkish coffee since Turkey has been occupying Cyprus since 1974. Nor would they drink Stolichnaya since it’s made in Russia, which is occupying Crimea.
Less so is BDS about Palestinian rights. If it were, it would be boycotting Egyptian cotton over the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes on the Gaza border last October to stop Hamas from smuggling weapons.
BDS has no interest in protecting Arab life. If it did it would be boycotting the Assad regime for murdering 200,000 Arabs.
The truth is, it’s about none of those things, and holds no values except anti-Semitism and no goals except Israel’s economic strangulation. As such, it cannot be fought through passive means.
Many well-meaning pro-Israel activists believe we can fight BDS by pointing to Israel’s nice and cuddly side.
They show the world statistics proving how much Israel recycles and show photographs of Israel’s friendly restaurant scene. Unfortunately, it won’t work. South Africa also tried to show off a nice side, including the world’s first heart-transplant. But nobody cared. All anyone did care about was that South Africa was a racist, apartheid regime.
Israel-haters like Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS, want to falsely compare democratic and just Israel to apartheid South Africa; a vile, fraudulent comparison of a racist regime to the Middle East’s only democracy and the only place in the region where Arabs enjoy full human rights. The only way to fight Barghouti and those like him is to attack their credibility and point out their rancid lies.
Barghouti, for example, is both a hypocrite and a fraud.
Even as he calls for an academic boycott of Israel, Barghouti earned a masters degree from Tel Aviv University, and is currently a doctoral student at the same institution.
In effect, he is boycotting his professors, his peers and even himself.
Though 184,000 people signed a petition calling on the school to expel him, Tel Aviv University has refused to eject a student on political grounds. That speaks volumes about Israeli justice and righteousness. Yet Omar Barghouti wants every Israeli academic to be ejected from the academic world due his despicable hatred of Israel.
Barghouti was low enough to say that Israeli security checkpoints, designed to prevent Jews from being blown to smithereens by Islamic terrorists, are “reminiscent of common Nazi practices against the Jews.” To Barghouti’s nauseating morality, opening the trunk of a car is similar to forcing a child into a gas chamber.
Leaving no stone unturned, Barghouti compares Israeli policy to South African apartheid, even as he receives treatment equal to that of any Israeli citizen, including subsidized higher education and the unrestrained right of freedom of speech.
It is time to take Israel out of the defendants’ dock. It’s time for the Jewish community to embrace its own BDS, being Bold, Decisive and Strong in the defense of the Jewish state.
Sure, some will accuse us of playing rough. Some will always favor a softer, more agreeable stance.
But to them, we must respond: if controversy is an inevitable outcome of an effective campaign to defend the Jewish state, then it is one we must embrace.The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including the forthcoming Israel Warrior’s Handbook. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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