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Jewish establishment to go all out against BDS

Two articles by Alex Kane (2nd an UPDATE) is followed by the Ha’aretz interview with Malcolm Hoenlein

Malcolm Hoenlein, vice-chairman Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Leading American Jewish group announces plan to ramp up campaign against BDS movement

By Alex Kane, Mondoweiss
June 26, 2013

A representative of a major Jewish American group told Haaretz last week that the campaign against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is about to ramp up. [see below]

Malcolm Hoenlein, a top official with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told journalist Judy Maltz that his organization plans to launch a counter-attack to BDS on campuses in August. “It will be a major Internet and social media campaign, in which we hope to reach every single college student in America. The goal is to educate in creative ways and win the public back,” Hoenlein said in the interview published earlier this week. Hoenlein was in Israel visiting Jerusalem for Israeli President Shimon Peres’ birthday party and conference.

The comments are the latest sign that the Jewish establishment has thrown its full weight behind combatting BDS.

Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of an organization that serves as a coordinating body for 51 Jewish American groups, also told Haaretz that Jewish communities worldwide have not done enough to combat BDS, and criticized Stephen Hawking’s recent decision to boycott the Israeli conference celebrating Peres.

At the same time he disclosed the new campaign to combat BDS groups, Hoenlein sought to dismiss the movement’s impact. “It is still a very limited group of people. They get resonance and they get publicity because attacking Israel makes news. Supporting Israel does not make news. But the fact is that most campuses have rejected the BDS movement,” he said to Haaretz.

The messages don’t exactly jibe. Why would a major Jewish organization devote resources to an insignificant group? A campaign launched by the premier Jewish American organization in the country will likely draw more attention to the burgeoning BDS movement.

More important than those contradictions, though, is what the new campaign points towards: the movement’s slow but steady impact and the Israel lobby’s growing focus on BDS, particularly on college campuses. The recent wave of student government divestment resolutions on California campuses—three of which were successful–has clearly reached the offices of people like Hoenlein.

It’s true that the BDS movement hasn’t yet made significant headway towards imposing heavy costs on the state for its violations of international law. Still, prominent boycotts of Israel from cultural figures and decisions to divest, like the recent moves by the United Methodists, show that BDS continues to be on the march.

The recent boycott by Hawking that Hoenlein was so exercised about was a warning to Israel, as +972 Magazine’s Noam Sheizaf wrote, that “the occupation has a price.” The Hawking boycott also prompted some soul-searching on the part of Israel’s advocates, who have come around to the idea that the BDS movement is a threat that has to be taken seriously–and now, before it’s too late.

+972’s Larry Derfner recently rounded up what he calls the “consensus wisdom” from opponents of BDS that the movement is working. He points to Thomas Friedman’s admission that the movement is “creating a powerful surge of international opinion, particularly in Europe and on college campuses, that Israel is a pariah state because of its West Bank occupation.” Derfner also points to a recent Haaretz piece reporting on what a group of leading Israeli business people told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “If we don’t make progress toward a two-state solution, there will be negative developments for the Israeli economy,” they told the prime minister. “Foreign investments will not come to such a state. No one will buy goods from such a state.”

The growing worry about BDS among the Israeli and Jewish American establishments has now sparked a reinvigorated push against the movement. The new Conference of Presidents campaign will join the multi-million dollar anti-BDS effort from the Israel Action Network, which is the Jewish establishment’s number one vehicle for battling BDS.

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

Israeli Prime Minister directly involved in efforts against BDS movement

By Alex Kane, Mondoweiss
June 28, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is directly involved in growing efforts to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, according to a report on the website of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli commentator, reported June 25 that Netanyahu met with a small group of unnamed “Jewish millionaires” at the Israeli Presidential Conference last week in Jerusalem. Netanyahu “sought to raise their money and use their connections for the war against the anti-Israel boycott movement”–a movement Barnea says is “arousing great interest in Western countries, leaving its mark on the academic system, on economic decisions made by business and political organizations and on the media.”

The details from Barnea are yet another indication of how seriously the Israeli establishment is taking the BDS movement. Netanyahu’s desire to combat BDS comes about a month after Israeli businessmen warned the prime minister that without progress towards a two-state solution, foreign investments would be withheld and “no one” would “buy goods” from Israel. And in a speech this week, Netanyahu “promised to implement the recommendations of [the Jewish People Policy Institute] with regards to countering international ‘delegitimization’ and boycott initiatives,” as the Electronic Intifada’s Ben White noted.

Barnea’s story was published a day after Haaretz’s Judy Maltz broke the news that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was planning to launch a new campaign targeting BDS on college campuses.

Is there a connection between Hoenlein’s announcement and Netayahu’s meeting with a small group of Jewish millionaires on the BDS movement? The meeting took place at the Israeli Presidential Conference; Hoenlein was there, and it’s where he told Maltz the news of the new anti-BDS campaign. It’s pure speculation at this point. (I’ve put in an e-mail inquiry to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, but they have not responded.)

Hoenlein and Netanyahu are considered to be “very close,” as Haaretz’s Barak Ravid put it in 2011 in a report on Hoenlein’s meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Hoenlein reportedly delivered a message from Netanyahu to Assad, though Hoenlein denied he did so for Netanyahu.

Whatever the case, the reportedly direct involvement of Netanyahu in anti-BDS efforts represents the latest effort by the Israeli government to enlist Jews outside the government to take on the movement. In 2010, the anti-BDS Israel Action Network was formed by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs at the urging of the Israeli government, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Jacob Berkman.

Hoenlein to Haaretz: World Jewry must say ‘enough’ to delegitimization of Israel

One of the most influential and hawkish figures in the U.S.-Jewish organizational world, Malcolm Hoenlein talks about an upcoming campaign against BDS, his take on Women of the Wall, and why he supports a two-state solution.

By Judy Maltz, Ha’aretz
June 24, 2013

In the business of presenting American Jewry as a united front to the world, Malcolm Hoenlein does not make a habit of publicizing his own personal views – particularly on contentious matters.

But during a recent interview, the longstanding executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations let on where he stands – or rather, does not stand – on one of the most divisive issues to test Israeli-Diaspora relations of late: the right of women to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall.

Asked to respond to highly-publicized remarks made last week in Jerusalem by Barbra Streisand in support of Women of the Wall – the group of activists leading the fight for equal prayer rights — Hoenlein said: “I think it is certainly legitimate to discuss concerns and issues, but I think this is something that gets exploited, and I would have hoped she would have also talked about the rights of women in neighboring countries, about women who have emerged here in powerful positions, and about the increasing number of women in the Knesset and in high tech.”

Hoenlein, an observant Jew who sports a black kippah, added that the issue of women’s prayer at the wall was “far more complex than what Streisand’s comments made of it.”

Although he refused to respond to the question of whether he personally supports Women of the Wall, Hoenlein said: “I’m not saying that people should compromise on their principles – if people have principles, they should advocate for them, but you can do it in a different atmosphere, one of respect.”

Among the most influential figures in the Jewish-American organizational world, Hoenlein, like Streisand, was in Jerusalem last week to participate in the 90th birthday celebrations for President Shimon Peres during the annual Israeli Presidential Conference. He made far less effort to measure his words when asked to comment on the absence of another big-name invitee who pulled out at the last minute in response to pressure from Palestinian colleagues.

“I think everyone understands there’s no left, right or center when it comes to this issue,” said Hoenlein, referring to Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the conference. “This is an effort to delegitimize and destroy the Jewish state. It’s not about policy, it’s not about settlements, it’s not about ’67 — it’s about ’47, and it’s about Israel’s right to exist.”

To his mind at least, world Jewry had grown far too nonchalant about efforts to delegitimize Israel. “It’s we who raise the barriers about what we can tolerate, and that’s got to stop. The Jewish community has got to say ‘Enough. We’re not gonna tolerate it.’”

The Presidents’ Conference, comprising more than 50 national organizations in the United States, plans to launch a huge campaign this August to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, Hoenlein disclosed. “It will be a major Internet and social media campaign, in which we hope to reach every single college student in America. The goal is to educate in creative ways and win the public back.” Leading this effort on a pro-bono basis, he said, will be Jerry Ostrov, a former top executive at Johnson & Johnson and at Bausch & Lomb.

At the same time, Hoenlein cautioned against overstating the impact of the boycott movement. “It is still a very limited group of people. They get resonance and they get publicity because attacking Israel makes news. Supporting Israel does not make news. But the fact is that most campuses have rejected the BDS movement.”

Hoenlein, known as a hardliner on Iran, has long argued that its nuclear ambitions pose no less of a threat to the United States than they do to Israel. Asked whether he felt encouraged by the election of the more moderate candidate, Hasan Rowhani, in the recent presidential race, he said: “We shouldn’t be deluded by the outcome. First of all, the power still rests with Khamenei, and second of all, this guy is not a moderate. I mean he may be relative to others, but he has talked about the destruction of Israel and has attacked Zionism and the Jewish state. All they really want is to buy time.”

In dealing with Iran, Hoenlein said he still believed that “the price of inaction will be far greater than the price of action.”

Widely thought to embrace right-wing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish-American leader said he did, in fact, support a two-state solution. “I don’t know any alternative to it right now, but I don’t see it when you don’t have a partner.” Asked if he supported continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, he said: “My personal views are not relevant. I believe that we have a right to Israel, but we also have a right to say that in the interest of peace we will make concessions.”

Hoenlein, who travels widely in the Middle East, was somewhat more upbeat on the prospect of peace with the rest of the Arab world. “I believe the changes in the region are producing some opportunities, and we’ll have to see how it develops. But there is definitely a reorientation in the Middle East, and many countries that were hostile – I’m not saying they’re flipping around and becoming Zionists – but I see different attitudes and possibilities opening up.”

Two months before the uprising in Syria erupted, Hoenlein met with President Bashar Assad, who told him then that if what happened Egypt happened in his own country, he would refuse to step down. “There is no winning side in this situation either for Israel or the United States right now,” said Hoenlein. “Syria is very complex, and I think people who press for simplistic solutions are missing the point.”

Asked to share his thoughts about all the money spent on the big Peres birthday bash, Hoelein said that from his own selfish perspective at least, it was worthwhile. “Just look at all the interchanges in the hallways. I do a month’s work frankly in two days here because I see all the people I need to see here in a few minutes Whether you need all the extravaganza and stuff, that’s another question.”

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