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April 20, 2016 8

Why I’m Speaking to Students at J Street U

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium on April 17, 2016.

J Street U

This morn­ing, I will speak to stu­dents at the J Street U National Assem­bly, the annual gath­er­ing of more than 200 young lead­ers from across the coun­try who con­verge on Wash­ing­ton D.C. to dis­cuss the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and to exchange views about what they can do on cam­pus to advance a two-state solu­tion. J Street U reached out to me seek­ing to engage with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, eager to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which it has never had.

As I begin to chart the course of my lead­er­ship, I felt it was impor­tant that I accept this invi­ta­tion. I feel this way because of my con­vic­tion that it is vital to engage with all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity, even and espe­cially those with whom we might have disagreements.

We can’t talk only to those who are aligned with us on every point.

In our time of hyper-polarization and the ero­sion of civil dis­course, I believe it’s imper­a­tive that the orga­nized Jew­ish lead­er­ship mod­els the traits that we want to define the broader pol­i­tics in our coun­try. When I started my tenure as CEO, the coun­try was locked in a bit­ter debate over the Iran deal. More than any­thing, the expe­ri­ence showed me that our com­mu­nity suf­fers from an inabil­ity to thought­fully and respect­fully engage across polit­i­cal divides.

I saw it first­hand as Jews who sup­ported the deal as well as those who opposed the deal both were attacked viciously for their views, par­tic­u­larly by fel­low Jews. I was dis­mayed by the self-destructive behav­ior — tak­ing out news­pa­per ads, plas­ter­ing munic­i­pal buses, exco­ri­at­ing oth­ers with ad home­nim attacks — such attacks don’t advance the debate. They dimin­ish all of us.

For a peo­ple who ele­vated the notion of dis­sent as a bedrock prin­ci­ple of our reli­gious prac­tice, the unwill­ing­ness to coun­te­nance oppos­ing views is counter to the best tra­di­tions of our peo­ple. As a leader, I will not engage in these tac­tics. Instead, as the CEO of ADL, I will be an active advo­cate for civil­ity and avoid the pol­i­tics of per­sonal destruction.

Build­ing from this frame, I see my remarks today as a major oppor­tu­nity for ADL to accom­plish two things.

The first is to deliver the mes­sage that, at ADL, we are com­mit­ted to ensur­ing Israel remains a safe and secure, Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic state, as enshrined in its procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence. It was that remark­able Zion­ist vision expressed from the cra­dle of Israel’s birth that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and the world, the notion that Israel would be a coun­try unlike all others:

“…based on free­dom, jus­tice and peace as envis­aged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure com­plete equal­ity of social and polit­i­cal rights to all its inhab­i­tants irre­spec­tive of reli­gion, race or sex; it will guar­an­tee free­dom of reli­gion, con­science, lan­guage, edu­ca­tion and culture…”

Frayed Israel Flag

That is why ADL has had a pol­icy of sup­port for a two-state solu­tion for decades. This means advo­cat­ing for the legit­i­macy and secu­rity of the Jew­ish state even as we sup­port Pales­tin­ian dig­nity and equal­ity of Arab cit­i­zens in Israel. These ideas should not be in con­flict. Rather, they are con­sis­tent with our cen­ten­nial com­mit­ment to civil rights and social justice.

Sec­ondly, I see an oppor­tu­nity to deliver an impor­tant mes­sage to these impas­sioned stu­dents who are gal­va­nized by the imper­a­tive to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At ADL, we equally want to see a res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict. Israel must take real, mean­ing­ful mea­sures to pro­mote an end to the impasse. How­ever, the idea that peace can be brought about only by apply­ing pres­sure to one side of the con­flict — Israel — is a strat­egy bound to backfire.

Fur­ther iso­lat­ing Israel at a time of great local tumult and regional volatil­ity will only rein­force the polit­i­cal psy­chol­ogy of Israelis who eye con­ces­sions made in the con­text of nego­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans as inevitably endan­ger­ing them. And this fear is real. It is sub­stan­ti­ated in the unrav­el­ing of the mod­ern Mid­dle East, the rise of vio­lent non-state actors com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of Israel, ter­ror­ist groups like Hezbol­lahISIS and Hamas, and the regional power of Iran whose rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­ogy remains firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. As Israelis look around they see regional chaos engulf­ing their neigh­bor­hood: whole­sale slaugh­ter in Syria, chaos in Sinai, chal­lenges to the sta­bil­ity of their friends in Jor­dan. Any rea­son­able approach to solv­ing the con­flict in order to be cred­i­ble in the eyes of Israel must bear in mind this new reality.

Given these facts, it is only the con­stancy of Amer­i­can guar­an­tees of moral and phys­i­cal sup­port that will under­gird an even­tual agree­ment. And under­min­ing that sup­port endan­gers the prospects of peace. While a respon­si­ble approach should rec­og­nize that there are steps that Israel must take to ensure the via­bil­ity of a two-state solu­tion, a rea­son­able approach must have expec­ta­tions of the Pales­tini­ans as well.

Ignor­ing the steps they also must take, com­pro­mises they too must make to achieve peace, does a deep dis­ser­vice toward that goal.

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The fact is that the Pales­tini­ans, under the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas, twice rejected seri­ous Israeli peace offers, once in 2008 dur­ing direct talks between Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, and again under the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion — an admin­is­tra­tion which I was a part of. When Pres­i­dent Obama offered Pres­i­dent Abbas an Amer­i­can frame­work doc­u­ment for the res­o­lu­tion of the final sta­tus of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, Abbas decided to ignore it entirely. That is an incon­ve­nient fact for some who wish to por­tray the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict as a sim­plis­tic story of Israel’s unwill­ing­ness to make peace. But it is a fact that can­not be ignored.

The cham­pi­ons of Pales­tin­ian self-determination must hold the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship to task for its fail­ures as well.

But even as I will make these points, I want to stress that despite this, we must find the areas where we can be partners.

It is vital to be in con­ver­sa­tion with these stu­dents and the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers because it they who can cred­i­bly bro­ker crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions on cam­puses rooted in a com­mit­ment to peace, while unmask­ing the dam­ag­ing effects of BDS and anti-normalization.

The imper­a­tives for social jus­tice today do not lie in the Israeli-Palestinian nego­ti­a­tions alone. We can­not let our dif­fer­ences over how to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace keep us from work­ing together to address so many other chal­lenges fac­ing our nation. There are vital issues of struc­tural racism that we must address now, mat­ters of press­ing racial injus­tice that wrack our own soci­ety. There are dem­a­gogues ris­ing to power in Europe and the intro­duc­tion of a ter­ri­ble new type of polit­i­cal dis­course that threat­ens our fun­da­men­tal values.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with an endur­ing mis­sion that still rings true today: to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. For more than 100 years, we have worked to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of big­otry even as we equally have fought for civil rights and social jus­tice for Jews and other mar­gin­al­ized people.

But it always has been a shared strug­gle, one that we have not waged our­selves but that has been a prod­uct of alliances, coali­tions and part­ner­ships. And the work is not yet com­plete. There is still much to do be done. Hope­fully we can do it, together.

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March 8, 2016 7

Think Twice Before Jumping on the BDS Bandwagon

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Israeli_Apartheid_Week-Northwestern University

Polit­i­cal move­ments often depend on spo­ken or unspo­ken hatreds to per­pet­u­ate themselves.

Often, how­ever, they can use ambi­gu­ity to mask these motives and appeal to a broader audience.

How­ever, some­times, when haters show their true col­ors, onlook­ers and fel­low trav­el­ers can see through ambi­gu­i­ties to the unsa­vory aims of the causes which they’ve lent their support.

The Boy­cott, Divest­ment, Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment against the State of Israel is undoubt­edly spread­ing on U.S. cam­puses, in main­stream Protes­tant cir­cles and in uni­ver­si­ties and unions in Europe. One ele­ment explain­ing the growth of BDS is frus­tra­tion with the stale­mate that has taken hold between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is under­stand­able that in the face of diplo­matic dead­lock, move­ments that promise easy solu­tions and sim­plis­tic nar­ra­tives gain steam. Indeed, the belief that Israel, as the occu­pier and stronger party, needs to act, com­bined with the appeal of an osten­si­bly non-violent move­ment like BDS – one that worked so well to bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa – makes for a com­pelling case for action.

Yet, any seri­ous observer would admit that the apartheid anal­ogy is flawed to its core.  The con­flict between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans is not an issue purely demar­cated along racial lines.  It is a national con­flict between two peo­ples, a con­flict for which each side bears responsibilities.

The real­ity is com­pli­cated by the fact that Israel has on sev­eral occa­sions pre­sented the Pales­tini­ans oppor­tu­ni­ties to end the occu­pa­tion and build an inde­pen­dent Pales­tin­ian state. One can argue with the terms pro­posed by both sides, but the stark truth of sev­eral rounds of failed nego­ti­a­tions reveals mutual cul­pa­bil­ity in the cur­rent sta­tus quo.  And the ongo­ing incite­ment of the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship con­tributes as much if not more to the dimin­ish­ing pub­lic will and widen­ing diplo­matic impasse as the actions of the Israeli government.

So, the keys to the two-state solu­tion are kept by both Israel and the Palestinians.

But many who are swept up in its cur­rents do not look closely at the desired end-state of the BDS move­ment. Many envi­sion a sce­nario in which Israel, com­pelled by pres­sure, would be more forth­com­ing to the Pales­tini­ans and ide­ally a two-state solu­tion could result. One might not agree with this logic, but we should note that, at least among many young Jews, it is ani­mated by a desire for jus­tice. I believe it has impelled groups such as J Street and a num­ber of other emerg­ing grass­roots ini­tia­tives in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity. Even if we dis­agree, even we should acknowl­edge the earnest­ness of their motives.

uc davis protesters

Indeed, the BDS move­ment has been able to cap­i­tal­ize on attract­ing to its ranks many who legit­i­mately seek a last­ing peace between the Israel and the Pales­tini­ans. But it’s cru­cial to note – this end state is not what BDS seeks.

Noth­ing illus­trates this bet­ter than the stance of the orig­i­na­tor and main intel­lec­tual dri­ver of the BDS move­ment, Omar Bargh­outi, and his reac­tion to the views expressed by two pro­fes­sors in sup­port of boycott.

These pro­fes­sors, Steven Lev­it­sky and Glen Weyl pub­lished an arti­cle in the Wash­ing­ton Post endors­ing boy­cott as a way to pres­sure Israel in its poli­cies toward the Pales­tini­ans. Self-described “life-long Zion­ists” seek­ing a two-state out­come, their endorse­ment of the boy­cott rep­re­sents well a vari­a­tion of the “pres­sure school” which seeks through pres­sure to change Israel’s behav­ior and approach to negotiations.

Regard­less of the valid­ity of their ideas—and I have deep doubts over the abil­ity to achieve their desired out­come through one-sided penal­ties against Israel—what is telling is Barghouti’s response.

In his arti­cle, “You can’t save Israel from itself by appro­pri­at­ing BDS,” Bargh­outi slams the pro­fes­sors. He calls out this “Zion­ist” endorse­ment of BDS an appro­pri­a­tion, since it is cal­cu­lated, in the final analy­sis, at achiev­ing a res­o­lu­tion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yet, BDS ortho­doxy, Bargh­outi openly acknowl­edges, does not seek this goal. Bargh­outi argues that it is not the occu­pa­tion that is the chal­lenge but Israel’s very exis­tence as a Jew­ish State.

Bargh­outi is trans­par­ent in his views and in his aims, and this should be instruc­tive to any poten­tial sup­porter of BDS. He speaks of Israel as “crim­i­nally built.” He refers to Israel itself – not the ter­ri­to­ries occu­pied in 1967 after the Six Day War – as an “apartheid” and “colonial-settler” regime.

And he spells out in no uncer­tain terms that his ide­ol­ogy – the ide­ol­ogy of BDS – is opposed to the for­mula achieved at Oslo and long since adopted by the inter­na­tional community—the res­o­lu­tion of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict by the cre­ation of a Pales­tin­ian state to live side-by-side with Israel. Bargh­outi, tellingly, writes:

“End­ing the 1967 occu­pa­tion, even if it included East Jerusalem, at best addresses most of the rights of only 38% of the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple – those liv­ing in the OPT (occu­pied Pales­tin­ian Ter­ri­tory).  What of the UN-stipulated rights of the remain­ing 62% of the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple (12% are cit­i­zens of cur­rent Israel and 50% are in exile who are enti­tled to their right of return) and what of the right of return of more than 40% of the Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank and Gaza who were eth­ni­cally cleansed dur­ing the Nakba and denied their right to go home?”

It is fair to expect Israel to live up to a pol­icy that can accom­mo­date the even­tual emer­gence of a Pales­tin­ian state—and to expect equally that the Pales­tini­ans will act in accor­dance with a two-state vision.

But Bargh­outi spells out here that what he imag­ines as ‘jus­tice’ is not merely the achieve­ment of self-determination for the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple through the cre­ation of an inde­pen­dent state. No, he longs for the right of any Pales­tin­ian liv­ing under the Pales­tin­ian Author­ity to “return” to areas that now com­prise Israel.

In other words, BDS seeks to erad­i­cate the Jew­ish state by bring­ing about an end to the self-determination for the Jew­ish peo­ple through the return of all five mil­lion Pales­tin­ian refugees.

University_of_Michigan-BDS Protest

Of course, the refugee issue has since their incep­tion been a core com­po­nent of bilat­eral nego­ti­a­tions between Israelis and Pales­tini­ans. And, any con­ceiv­able agree­ment between the par­ties requires that the plight of Pales­tini­ans refugees and their descen­dants must be addressed. Numer­ous inter­na­tional efforts have acknowl­edged that their needs will be pre­dom­i­nantly accom­mo­dated within a future state of Palestine.

Among those who sup­port BDS, there are undoubt­edly some who seek Israel’s demise. But for the mul­ti­tude of those who jump on the BDS band­wagon because they see it as a non-violent way to fast-track an end to the occu­pa­tion, they need to know they are being taken for a very dan­ger­ous ride. They sup­port the pol­i­tics of Israel’s destruc­tion, a move­ment of anti-normalization which Israel which is anath­ema to nego­ti­a­tion, com­pro­mise, and con­flict resolution.

That’s some­thing that the vast major­ity of BDS sup­port­ers would reject if only they clearly under­stood it.

So, even as we rec­og­nize the mis­guided aims of BDS and step up our efforts to defeat its ide­ol­ogy, it is a deeper under­stand­ing – not sim­plis­tic slo­gans – that are needed to nav­i­gate the aspects of this com­plex challenge.

That is why ADL has joined with the Reut Insti­tute in a new effort aimed at exam­in­ing the entire array of fac­tors dri­ving the growth of BDS cam­paigns, an ini­tia­tive that will help parse those who are gen­uinely com­mit­ted to peace – even if their views are dif­fer­ent from our own as to how to get there – from those who mean to inflict grave harm.

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January 28, 2016 0

Crossing the Line: When Criticism of Israel Becomes Anti-Semitic

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Task Force Protestors

Pro­test­ers at Task Force Con­fer­ence in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of a protest against a recep­tion fea­tur­ing an Israeli com­mu­nity group at a recent LGBTQ con­fer­ence, there has been wide­spread con­tro­versy. We have read blog posts and arti­cles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was per­haps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and orga­niz­ers.  They are some of our nation’s lead­ing advo­cates, work­ing to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for jus­tice and equality.

Unfor­tu­nately, though, this fis­sure is not a new expe­ri­ence.  Since start­ing as the CEO of ADL last sum­mer, I per­son­ally have heard from many col­lege stu­dents that their Jew­ish faith ren­ders them pari­ahs on their cam­puses – unless and until they affir­ma­tively denounce Israel.

Cam­pus Hil­lels and other Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions that have long worked with LGBTQ cam­pus groups, stu­dent of color orga­ni­za­tions, and other pro­gres­sive clubs on cam­pus to host film fes­ti­vals, pan­els, and other events increas­ingly are being shut out, rejected from par­tic­i­pat­ing, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other stu­dents are not being sub­jected to a lit­mus test on their views on Israel, Jew­ish stu­dents have been sin­gled out and ques­tioned about their objec­tiv­ity and posi­tion on the issue.

As racial ten­sions flared across the coun­try the past few years, we heard anec­dotes from Jew­ish racial jus­tice advo­cates that they were called “kikes” or tar­geted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epi­thets, they were told they need to under­stand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No gov­ern­ment is immune from crit­i­cism. Surely nei­ther the U.S. gov­ern­ment nor the gov­ern­ment of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have crit­i­cized poli­cies and prac­tices of Israeli lead­er­ship when we felt appro­pri­ate to do so.

We rec­og­nize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will con­demn Israel. That is a real­ity. That is their right. We dis­agree — vig­or­ously — with their accu­sa­tions of pinkwash­ing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demo­nize Israel.  And we will speak out, chal­lenge their mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, and dis­man­tle their indict­ments with facts and truths, as is our right.

But when that crit­i­cism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will con­demn it. It is unac­cept­able and can­not be tol­er­ated any­where, espe­cially not in social jus­tice circles.

To be spe­cific, when a per­son con­flates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli gov­ern­ment, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held respon­si­ble for the actions of the Israeli gov­ern­ment, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peo­ples, it is anti-Semitic.

And when pro­test­ers chant “Pales­tine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appro­pri­ately inter­preted by most peo­ple as a call for the era­sure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giv­ing pro­tes­tors the ben­e­fit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their mes­sage to be anti-Semitic. How­ever, regard­less of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when stu­dents, indi­vid­u­als, or orga­ni­za­tions raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, dis­re­garded, or writ­ten off. Israel’s crit­ics lit­er­ally have writ­ten best-selling books decry­ing their so-called inabil­ity to crit­i­cize Israel.

But Pres­i­dent Obama him­self noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he elo­quently reminded, “When any Jews any­where is tar­geted just for being Jew­ish, we all have to respond.. ‘We are all Jews.’ ”

Indeed, we know that women are best posi­tioned to define sex­ism, peo­ple of color to define racism, and LGBTQ peo­ple to define homo­pho­bia, trans­pho­bia, and het­ero­sex­ism. But, does this mean that all women must reach con­sen­sus on what offends them? All peo­ple of color? Every­one in LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties? Hardly.

So too, we Jews are best sit­u­ated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach con­sen­sus on the def­i­n­i­tion. Our mil­len­nial expe­ri­ence with intol­er­ance demands the same acknowl­edge­ment as other forms of big­otry. Indeed, it is the col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­ity of activists and orga­niz­ers across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum to stop and lis­ten when some­one says,  “You’ve crossed the line.”

Stand­ing up for rights of dis­em­pow­ered peo­ple is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But mar­gin­al­iz­ing and wound­ing oth­ers in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our abil­ity to find com­mon ground in places where our col­lec­tive strength could do so much good.

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