Is implementing anti-BDS measures fueling Israel ‘delegitimizers’?

The Jewish Federations president told the ‘Post’ of the great need for Israel and the Diaspora to work on mutual understanding.

Lara Alqasem entered the courtroom for the first hearing in the High Court of Justice on October 17, 2018 (photo credit: EMILY SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN)
Lara Alqasem entered the courtroom for the first hearing in the High Court of Justice on October 17, 2018
Israel is pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Israel activism by dealing inappropriately with those involved in the BDS campaign, Jewish Federations of North America president Jerry Silverman said on Monday.
High Court rules State must release Lara Alqasem from airport for studies, October 21. 2018 (Reuters)
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the JFNA General Assembly in Tel Aviv, Silverman stressed his opposition to the BDS movement – which he said can be a form of antisemitism – but said questioning people like author and columnist Peter Beinart at Ben-Gurion Airport, or refusing Lara Alqasem entry into the country only helps those who try to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Silverman also spoke of the need for Israel to reevaluate the lack of recognition for non-Orthodox Judaism in the Jewish state, but said that increased understanding was required both from Israelis and Diaspora Jews of each others concerns.
In July and August there was a spate of incidents in which left-wing activists and prominent public figures were detained at different Israeli border points and questioned about their political beliefs and activities by border officials, on the instructions of the Shin Bet internal security service.
This month, the decision of the Strategic Affairs Ministry to refuse entry to Israel to Alqasem because of previous BDS activity generated international headlines and a heated debate about freedom of expression and the state’s right to refuse entry to people ideologically opposed to its existence or policies.
“I think those kind of actions add fuel to those who want to delegitimize Israel,” said Silverman.
“When you stop [at the borders] the chairman of the board of Brandeis [Meyer Koplow] for having a pamphlet in his suitcase, or Peter Beinart, who is traveling for a family celebration, or you stop a student who is going to study in Hebrew University, it hits the press and gets out there in a big broad way.
“Israel and the ministry involved in this aren’t trying to create more ammunition for those who want to delegitimize the state, but they need to think through and balance exactly what it is they are trying to achieve.”
Silverman said he understood the reasons why Israel passed a law allowing the state to bar BDS-supporters from entering the country, but said that the way the law is implemented has to be better executed.
“It has to be thought through,” he said. “People have to be trained appropriately. It’s not being handled appropriately right now and it is really adding fuel to the delegitimizers. The growing pains are painful.”
Speaking more broadly, Silverman emphasized the necessity of a dialogue between Israeli and Diaspora Jews in order to strengthen the relationship in the face of several complex challenges that have emerged in recent years.
He acknowledged that along with demands for greater understanding in Israel for the needs and sensitivities of the Diaspora community abroad, Jews outside of Israel must also place themselves in the shoes of Israelis for whom security concerns, having to send their children to the army, and similar issues often take priority.
“This is two way, the Diaspora doesn’t have the absolute clarity. We don’t always understand, and I’m not sure we can understand, the priorities of Israelis as it pertains to their lives,” said Silverman.
He added, however, that it was in “everyone’s best interest” to have a strong Diaspora and that Israelis and Jews abroad “need to stay strong and stay together” and “to think how one plus one equals three.”
Silverman rejected claims from member of the ultra-Orthodox and National-Religious leadership that Israel need not listen to non-Orthodox North American Jews due to the high rates of intermarriage in that community.
He argued that Jewish life in the US and Canada is “robust and rich,” and that participation in summer camps, youth groups and Israel programs reflect that vibrancy.
Silverman said, “85% of US Jews are non-Orthodox, and they aren’t going away. There are so many programs and so much happening that gives me belief that the glass is half full, not half empty,” he said.
“But Israel doesn’t recognize other streams of Judaism, so young people growing up are saying ‘Why doesn’t Israel recognize that there can be other beautiful forms of Judaism?’
“Isn’t it time to re-look at that? Not just from a political standpoint but what the state really stands for.”