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August 11, 2016 3

Tunisian BDS Conference Raises Questions About Qatari Involvement

On August 4th, the Qatar-based Arab Cen­ter for Research and Pol­icy Stud­ies (ACRPS) launched a three-day aca­d­e­mic con­fer­ence in Tunisia titled “Boy­cott as a Strat­egy to Counter Israel’s Occu­pa­tion and Apartheid: Present-day Real­i­ties and Aspi­ra­tions.” The con­fer­ence served as a reminder of BDS activists’ efforts to expand their agenda and fur­ther their goal of dele­git­imiz­ing the state of Israel, but also illu­mi­nated poten­tial rifts within the movement.

Panelists at the BDS conference in Tunisia

Pan­elists at the BDS con­fer­ence in Tunisia

While ACRPS claims to be an inde­pen­dent research insti­tute, it appears to have strong ties to the Qatari gov­ern­ment. This could sug­gest that indi­vid­u­als closely affil­i­ated to the Qatari gov­ern­ment may be inter­ested in play­ing a big­ger role in advanc­ing the BDS movement.

ACRPS reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments list Sul­tan Ghanim Al Kuwari, a promi­nent Qatari busi­ness­man, as the founder of the Cen­ter. Report­edly, Al Kuwari, who is closely affil­i­ated with Qatar’s royal fam­ily, is also listed as the direc­tor of sev­eral Qatari inter­na­tional media out­lets. He is also described as the per­son in charge of extend­ing the reach of the Qatari soft diplo­matic power under the lead­er­ship of the Emir of Qatar. Fur­ther­more, reports from pre­vi­ous ACRPS events present the Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani as a reg­u­lar guest of honor at many of the group’s events.

The Qatari con­nec­tion could raise the hack­les of BDS activists who are skep­ti­cal of Qatar’s for­eign pol­icy posi­tions, and are con­cerned that the country’s involve­ment would trans­form the grass­roots move­ment into a ‘state brand­ing’ project. On the first day of the con­fer­ence, mem­bers of the Tunisian BDS chap­ter dis­rupted the ses­sion and protested against what they con­sider as the Qatari government’s con­nec­tion. They also protested against the direc­tor of the ACRPS, Azmi Beshara, because he served as a mem­ber of the Israeli Knes­set in the past, which the activists con­sider as an act of trea­son. An ear­lier state­ment on the offi­cial Face­book page of the Tunisian chap­ter of the BDS move­ment called fora boy­cott of the con­fer­ence because the ACRPS and the con­fer­ence itself “are spon­sored by the Qatari gov­ern­ment” which, accord­ing to the Tunisian chap­ter, is “one of the Arab gov­ern­ments most active in nor­mal­iza­tion with Israel.”

This BDS con­fer­ence was built on a series of pre­vi­ous events hosted by the ACRPS and focused on ques­tions about the objec­tives of the BDS move­ment and the role of the Arab states, émi­gré com­mu­ni­ties, and Pales­tini­ans. One speaker, Osama Abu Irshaid, the National Pol­icy Direc­tor of Amer­i­can Mus­lims for Pales­tine, said “it is a must to trans­form the BDS move­ment into a sys­tem and a frame­work that will go beyond only boy­cotting cor­po­ra­tions that sup­port Israel to the de-legitimization of Israel as well.” ACRPS issued a paper sup­port­ing Irshaid’s goals.

Other speak­ers at the con­fer­ence included Max Blu­men­thal, a promi­nent anti-Israel blog­ger, Peter Slezak, the co– founder of the Australian-based Inde­pen­dent Aus­tralian Jew­ish Voices, and Richard Falk, the for­mer United Nations Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on Pales­tin­ian human rights.

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July 28, 2016 5

Rep. Hank Johnson, Your Words Have a History

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

Much has been said and writ­ten about our response at the Anti-Defamation League to the recent com­ments by U.S. Rep. Hank John­son (D-GA) com­par­ing the Israeli set­tle­ment enter­prise to “ter­mites” under­min­ing the two-state solu­tion. (You can watch the offend­ing com­ments here begin­ning at 34:00). Some appre­ci­ated our strong words. Oth­ers anguished over our response on Twit­ter, sug­gest­ing that we did not go far enough in con­demn­ing him.

This was one of those moments when 140 char­ac­ters failed to fully con­vey our feelings.

So I wanted to take the oppor­tu­nity now to put this issue into full con­text, to explain why the remarks were so offen­sive both to Israelis and Jews across the polit­i­cal spec­trum and to elu­ci­date what elected offi­cials must do in such instances to assure the pub­lic that they do not sup­port the kind of anti-Semitic notions the remark sug­gested for so many.

First, to the remarks them­selves: As I myself tweeted, there’s absolutely no doubt that Rep. Johnson’s com­ments were both irre­spon­si­ble and rep­re­hen­si­ble, par­tic­u­larly because they played into tra­di­tional anti-Semitic canards. The image of “ter­mites” being used to describe Jews has sor­did con­no­ta­tions. In the annals of anti-Semitism, from the medieval period to Czarist Rus­sia, and most pro­nouncedly in Nazi Ger­many, there is a com­mon leit­mo­tif of Jews being por­trayed as sub­hu­man – rats, cock­roaches and other unde­sir­able crea­tures. Even today, depic­tions of Jews in anti-Semitic car­toons that per­vade the Arab press often con­form to this legacy.

Surely Rep. John­son can under­stand a people’s legit­i­mate sen­si­tiv­i­ties that emerge from a long his­tory of oppres­sion. And surely there is room for legit­i­mate and bal­anced crit­i­cisms of pol­icy which do not resort to these prej­u­diced tropes.

In light of the fact that the com­ment – inad­ver­tently or not – evoked clas­sic anti-Semitic stereo­types, our ini­tial tweet on the remarks call­ing it an “offen­sive and unhelp­ful char­ac­ter­i­za­tion” did not go far enough in spelling out pre­cisely why it was so objec­tion­able. Indeed, that impelled my sub­se­quent tweet that “yes, there was apol­ogy, but no ‘point’ jus­ti­fies refer­ring to human beings in such an abhor­rent, inap­pro­pri­ate manner.”

Our con­cern about Rep. Johnson’s remarks and those of oth­ers whom we have taken umbrage with dur­ing the cam­paign is not about politics—it’s about an expec­ta­tion of civil­ity in our pol­i­tics. ADL con­sis­tently has spo­ken out about inap­pro­pri­ate and offen­sive lan­guage made by can­di­dates and sup­port­ers of both polit­i­cal par­ties. This is not new and will never change.

Because this is an elec­tion year, peo­ple tend to read more deeply into our crit­i­cism of can­di­dates and other polit­i­cal pun­dits, sug­gest­ing our state­ments reflect a “hid­den” agenda or try­ing to pigeon­hole us as “left” or “right.”  Let me be crys­tal clear on this point. For us, it does not mat­ter whether it is a Demo­c­rat or a Repub­li­can or an Inde­pen­dent. It is the com­ment itself that jus­ti­fies our response. This is not about can­di­dates or par­ties – it is about ideas.

We will call out ideas that run counter to the val­ues we believe in so deeply – civil­ity, plu­ral­ism and tol­er­ance – even as we con­tinue to abide strictly by our sta­tus as a 501c3 non­profit which appro­pri­ately requires us not to oppose or sup­port can­di­dates for office.

All should under­stand that Rep. John­son quickly apol­o­gized and sub­se­quently restated his apol­ogy to me and to Rabbi David Wolpe. This was mean­ing­ful because we have seen oth­ers who refuse to demon­strate any pub­lic con­tri­tion after anal­o­gous lapses. But he and oth­ers need to know that it is unac­cept­able to den­i­grate any group of human beings regard­less of one’s views on the Israeli Pales­tin­ian conflict.

Con­sid­er­ing the where Rep. John­son was speak­ing adds addi­tional con­text to the sit­u­a­tion. His remarks were deliv­ered at an event spon­sored by the U.S. Cam­paign to End the Israeli Occu­pa­tion, a group with a one-sided view of this long-standing and deeply com­plex con­flict, who advo­cate for boy­cotting Israel and who pro­vide a plat­form for the most out­ra­geous charges against Israel. Rep. John­son was play­ing to a crowd—a crowd that eagerly applauded his remarks.

If we hope in any way to advance the cause of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, we need to resist demo­niza­tion of the other side, to desist from incite­ment and refuse to slide into slander.

The Israeli-Palestinian con­flict is an endur­ing one and its his­tory is com­plex. It has so far frus­trated the attempts of our country’s most able nego­tia­tors. Achiev­ing its res­o­lu­tion will not be easy and may not hap­pen soon. But one thing is for sure: assign­ing blame only to one side fails to move us any closer to that destination.

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July 1, 2016 6

Free Speech and Fair Treatment for All

Jonathan Green­blatt, CEO and National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League, has joined the Aspen Ideas Fes­ti­val to dis­cuss the debate on col­lege cam­puses and beyond about the mean­ing of free speech and lan­guage that crosses a line and actu­ally dimin­ishes, rather than fos­ters, open discourse.

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

The tug of war betwJG @ Aspeneen ideas is not new on col­lege cam­puses. The very nature of the uni­ver­sity is to gain knowl­edge and to “unlearn [the] habits” of con­ven­tion in the words of Leon Wieseltier. And yet, many argue that free speech is under siege. In recent years, these issues have flared up across the coun­try, grab­bing head­lines as inci­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri, Yale Uni­ver­sity, and Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity have sparked a national con­ver­sa­tion about the exchange of ideas and the foot­print of history.

As Yale Col­lege Dean Jonathan Hol­loway shared at the Aspen Ideas Fes­ti­val yes­ter­day, these were highly charged debates punc­tu­ated by intensely per­sonal moments. Through­out our dis­cus­sion, it became clear that a sim­ple assess­ment of right ver­sus wrong often doesn’t work. The clash of the­ory and prac­tice con­founds admin­is­tra­tors and trustees who strug­gle with the com­plex real­i­ties of how to ensure the uni­ver­sity is an inclu­sive envi­ron­ment and yet one that cul­ti­vates debate and dissent.

But some­times, it’s actu­ally very simple.

For exam­ple, the issue of Israel has been a flash­point on many cam­puses for some time. While there is noth­ing wrong with debat­ing its poli­cies as a mat­ter of prac­tice, there is some­thing pro­foundly wrong when some with strong views exploit aca­d­e­mic free­dom to shut down the free exchange of ideas and mar­gin­al­ize a seg­ment of cam­pus, in this case Jew­ish stu­dents. Yet this often hap­pens when Israel is the topic. We have seen anti-Israel agi­ta­tors intim­i­date Jew­ish stu­dents, shout down Israeli speak­ers and attempt to pre­vent Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions from even dis­cussing issues of social jus­tice.

Sadly, such inci­dents are not sur­pris­ing. These are the tac­tics of the anti-normalization strat­egy tak­ing hold in some cir­cles, the idea that even talk­ing to stu­dents who are Jew­ish con­sti­tutes an offense because of their poten­tial views on Israel. Such dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices clearly fall far out­side all soci­etal norms but their influ­ence can be felt in broader circles.

Anti-Israel Protest - U-Michigan

An anti-Israel protest by Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan students

Indeed, in the halls of some of our most elite uni­ver­si­ties, stu­dent lead­ers are traf­fick­ing in vicious anti-Semitic stereo­types. Oth­ers bizarrely con­flate Zion­ism with all the per­ceived ills at their insti­tu­tions. We have seen attempts to exclude Jew­ish stu­dents from tak­ing part fully in stu­dent life or sug­ges­tions that they only can do so if they would sub­mit to oaths not required of their peers.

Such big­otry is not the norm across the span of higher edu­ca­tion. Yet these inci­dents should serve as reminders that anti-intellectualism and intol­er­ance on cam­pus can con­geal into hos­tile envi­ron­ments that intim­i­date and mar­gin­al­ize peo­ple based on faith or nationality.

Uni­ver­sity admin­is­tra­tors can take con­crete mea­sures to pre­vent such occur­rences. First, they can cre­ate appro­pri­ate time, place, and man­ner poli­cies that allow those who want to protest a par­tic­u­lar speaker to do so — but in a man­ner that does not infringe on the free­dom of speech that should be accorded to the speaker and to the audi­ence who wants to hear their views.

Univ-California Irvine - Anti-Israel

Sec­ond, the admin­is­tra­tion can use its own voice to respond to hate­ful speech. Finally, the admin­is­tra­tion can take swift puni­tive action when stu­dents phys­i­cally threaten their peers, demon­strat­ing that there is a price to pay when you phys­i­cally intim­i­date others.

Cam­puses should be a place for debate not silenc­ing. Hos­tile envi­ron­ments that impair the free exchange of ideas injure us all. When the topic is Israel, let’s do more to ensure that all stu­dents can take part and that prej­u­dice is left out of the debate.

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