Tag Archives: BDS

It’s the ‘hasbara,’ stupid: The new Israeli government must prioritize PR

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a
news conference in Jerusalem on July 14, source: Marc Israel Sellem

Published in the August 19, 2021 issue of The Jerusalem Report.

Israel has a national security blind spot. It is called effective public relations or, in Hebrew, hasbara. Israel does it really badly. I say this as an American who listens to other Americans, American politicians and the American media. American politicians who support Israel have confided their utter frustration with the lack of Israel’s public relations savoir-faire. It makes advocating for the US-Israel relationship much harder, especially against a coordinated anti-Israel apparatus that speaks on message and has mastered social media.

Israel’s enemies know that they cannot defeat the Jewish state militarily, so they have turned to influence the public with a straightforward one-sided narrative that plays fast and loose with facts and context. Taking control of the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is happening right now, and Israel’s enemies are winning. A recent poll by the Jewish Electorate Institute revealed that 38% of American Jews under 40 think Israel is an apartheid state, 33% think it is committing genocide against the Palestinian people and 20% think Israel doesn’t have a right to exist!

The first thing Israel needs to do is to acknowledge the problem and admit the image has been handled poorly. Then it needs to raise public relations importance to the level of a national security priority of the first order. Without a coordinated public relations strategy with the financial resources to make a difference, Israel’s ability to educate and influence the American public with its compelling case will continually be undermined. Winning this is essential not only for Israel. America needs a strong Israel as it pivots its efforts to the Far East to confront China.

But just reacting to propaganda attacks, being on the defensive is a guaranteed losing hand for Israeli hasbara. The mantra for Israeli public relations is to go on the offensive continually. Use personal narratives to illustrate Israel’s human tragedies because of Palestinian terrorism, inspired by blatant Jew-hatred thinly veiled behind anti-Zionism. An example of what it means to go on the offensive against the false charge of Israeli apartheid would be to publicize the Palestinian law that forbids selling land to Jews, a much more appropriate analogy to South African apartheid.

As a BESA public paper said, “The systemic failure of Israeli public diplomacy is a longstanding open secret. Because the country’s diplomatic bodies are dispersed among an assortment of ministerial and security frameworks, it is highly unlikely that the system as a whole will ever be strengthened and revitalized… a formula to establish a central and synchronized public diplomacy body has not yet been found. It appears that Israel has still not internalized the full value of either dynamic public diplomacy or sophisticated psychological warfare.”

Things may be changing. Israel’s new government brought not only a new prime minister and foreign minister but ended the 12-year reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, who downgraded the foreign service budget, and
with it, a potent tool to improve its public diplomacy and get it’s narrative a fairer hearing. Bibi thought he did hasbara better than anyone, and perhaps he did. But relying on one person for effective PR, especially one so divisive in America, was a self-inflicted wound, especially with so many English-speaking orators who could have amplified his message. According to Gary Rosenblatt, the former editor and publisher of Jewish Week, Netanyahu was incomprehensibly rude to American Jewish journalists, antagonizing pro-Israel friends and writers. Bennett is fluent in English, the son of American immigrants, so he should not be shy about being out front in the PR wars.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seems to get it, too. In a news conference at the Foreign Ministry on July 25, Lapid lamented that failed Israeli PR is partially to blame for the current peak in antisemitism and Israel-bashing. “The State of Israel is in trouble,” Lapid said, adding that “the time has come to tell Israel’s story differently.”

He said the Strategic Affairs Ministry had been folded into the Foreign Ministry in an effort to concentrate and improve Israel’s PR, and the ministry’s budget was being boosted significantly. “Restoring the status of the Foreign Ministry is a goal that both I and Prime Minister Bennett share.”

In Lapid’s words, “in the past years, Israel has abandoned its foreign service, abandoned the international arena, and then we woke up one morning to find that our international standing has been weakened. The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous. The Republicans are important to us; their friendship is important to us, but not only the friendship of the Republican Party. We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate, and House, and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them.”

This will be an uphill battle with the rise of the anti-Israel progressive wing. Hopefully, Lapid’s perception as a moderate may give the cowered mainstream pro-Israel Democrats like US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer some courage to speak up.

Will this government, like almost all before it, relegate the issue of Israel’s public relations at both times of war and peace to second or third-tier priorities? The damage done by Israel’s mixed messaging during the most recent Gaza war may have created a tipping point against Israel in America and Congress, with the anti-Israel pro-Palestinian voice moving to center stage.

For the first time, too many pro-Israel Democrats remained on the sidelines, not openly defending Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls. They allowed a moral equivalence narrative to take hold, doing a wholly inadequate job of defending Israel from the malicious charge of indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians or explaining the importance Israel plays in advancing American national security interests. Democrats told me that Israel’s PR was abysmal, making them less willing to take the risk of supporting Israel. There was also the legitimate fear from the ascendant anti-Israel members of their party that if they defended Israel, they could endanger their re-election.

Israel’s governing coalition of just 61 MKs hangs by a thread and has so much on its plate. It is tasked with advancing the nation’s interests at home and abroad while not losing even a single vote of a member along the way. Their first priority is to pass a two-year budget so the nation can finally plan for the future and create some stability. Making the case to prioritize PR will be a hard sell.

The Palestinians and their supporters speak with one message of victim and victimizer, occupier and occupied, that resonates in an American nation that is increasingly ignorant of the history of the Middle East. Out of context heart-wrenching narratives followed by charges of apartheid and war crimes are given unrefuted coverage. Especially when they come from progressive Jewish organizations like J Street that seem more pro-Palestinian than their self-designation as pro-Israel, pro-peace. Photos of children killed in war are reflexively blamed on Israel, even when it’s from a misfired Hamas rocket shot from a Palestinian civilian area. Israeli spokespeople have done a poor job publicizing the cynical use of Arab children as human shields.

Israel’s best English-language spokesperson, Netanyahu, was too involved in managing the war and chose not to deputize articulate English-speakers to go on the air and write columns throughout the US. The playing field was left almost entirely in the court of the anti-Zionists. Yes, it is an uphill fight, but its management has been a failure for decades. The inability to get all branches of government on the same message is not just poor public relations but a national security nightmare that is ignored at the nation’s peril. America needs Israel to do a better job, as it is in its interest for Israel to be strong and not become a pariah in the US.

An indication of the dysfunctional Israeli PR was the recent closure of its Strategic Affairs Ministry, transferring its mission to the underfunded Foreign Ministry. Outgoing director-general Tzahi Gavriel’s job was to brand Israel positively and fight the growing BDS movement. He told Lahav Harkov of The Jerusalem Post, “If we go back to a situation where this important issue is scattered between different ministries, we’ll deteriorate. This is about Israel as a brand. PR and hasbara were not enough anymore. We needed technology, data, a civil society engine, and digital assets. We needed infrastructure and a coordinated plan.”

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, American supporters of Israel have been banging their heads against the walls of the Knesset and Prime Minister’s Office, trying to alert the Israeli government that it is losing the battle for the court of public opinion. The victim/victimizer approach advanced by mainstream media sympathetic to the underdog Palestinian cause could have been better managed. But getting the Israeli government to realize this as a national security priority fell on deaf ears repeatedly.

Often I heard from Israeli officials that they know what they were doing. Other times I heard that it doesn’t make a difference, and we have given up trying to convince an international community or mainstream media of Israel’s case. Arrogance and surrender is not a strategy. Especially for a country forging new relations from the Far East, the Asian subcontinent, and the Arab world. Not adequately prioritizing its public relations with its most important friend, ally, and benefactor, the United States, is just a self-inflicted wound. Israel is losing the American public.

Israel’s ability to prosecute the inevitable next war in the north or south may be limited by poor public relations. Suppose the American public is not convinced of Israel’s case during a war. In that case, the president and Congress will be less willing to give Israel leeway to continue fighting, forcing a premature ceasefire before Israel accomplishes its military goals. That alone could bring the following war sooner rather than later.

Going forward, what should the new government do regarding public diplomacy? Let’s start with a well-funded initiative to prioritize public relations in the English-speaking world. Here is a perfect example. Instead of marching out an older male Israeli spokesman speaking English in harsh accented Hebrew, Israel puts its best foot forward with a young female person of color with perfect English. The pro-Palestinian world has been using young relatable English speakers for years. You would never know that these Palestinian apologists represent a misogynistic, homophobic, authoritarian regime that wants to end Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation. Their weapons are the words of the intersectional Left of America, using their own set of facts and narratives to elicit an emotional response. That is the winning hand in this PR war.

What is needed is an entirely new and well-financed Israeli-based English training media center. Its goal would be to train Israel’s diplomats, politicians, ministers, spokespeople of government ministries, military, police force, civil society leaders and key Israeli influencers in practical communication skills to boost Israel’s image. If created in partnership between government and private donors, like Birthright, it could forge a path toward public relations effectiveness.

The media center would include practical training for TV, print, radio and social media. This would cover everything from learning how to develop talking points, writing op-eds and learning how to avoid getting trapped by questions of an interviewer hostile to Israel. Learning to be effective in social media platforms used in English is an absolute must. A real media studio with a mock TV and radio studio would allow those trained to feel comfortable in front of the camera. And yes, every politician, diplomat and person qualified for the English-speaking world would need to consider him or herself a student, requiring humility to improve.

Sorry professors, but BDS and double standards for Israel are anti-Semitism

Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism?

The growing acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by scores of nations, including the European Union, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and our own country, have made critics of Israel apoplectic. This is because the IHRA asserts that many forms of anti-Zionism rise to the threshold of anti-Semitism. This has driven both anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel to find ways to undermine the legitimacy of IHRA. The most recent attempt is to create new definitions of anti-Semitism that minimize or eliminate any association between anti-Semitism and delegitimizing Israel’s existence.

Recently, a group of 200 university professors has taken up the mantle against the IHRA with their Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism (JDA). It states that opposing Zionism or Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state doesn’t necessarily constitute anti-Semitism. It defines anti-Semitism as discrimination, prejudice or violence against individual Jews or Jewish institutions, but eliminates any association between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
It is as if they are living in a time warp, damning old-time anti-Semitism while ignoring the most recent and virulent strain of anti-Semitism emanating mainly from the hard left. That virus has mutated from the politically incorrect prejudice against the Jewish religion into the new anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jewish nation. As one of the signatories said, “The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.”

Photo credit: Stand with US

According to the JDA definition of anti-Semitism, “hatred of Israel” is not anti-Semitism. Boycotting, demonizing and sanctioning Israel is not anti-Semitism. Mind you, this is not just BDS of products from the West Bank, but boycotting all of Israel because it does not have a right to exist, as their Palestinian supporters allege. Sorry professors, this is anti-Semitism in its most blatant form. One doesn’t even need the IHRA definition to know it.

Harsh critics of Israel are alarmed that the IHRA definition is gaining more legitimacy, adding more national governments, colleges, organizations, and local and state governments to the list of supporters. And they worry for a good reason. IHRA explicitly targets all forms of anti-Semitism—from old-time right-wing hatred of Jews to today’s progressive anti-Semitism. Right-wing anti-Semitism gets all the notoriety because it is often manifested as local violence against Jewish people or their property. Left-wing anti-Semitism is ubiquitous on college campuses among academics and pro-Palestinian students, and of more significant consequence, advocating policies that threaten an entire country’s safety. And being Jewish does not mean that someone who supports reprehensible anti-Jewish policies gets a pass.

Signers of the JDA twist themselves in knots claiming that anti-Israel actions don’t have much to do with anti-Semitism. Yet many of them are invested in Palestinian “rights” and disregard Palestinian society’s pervasive advocacy of hatred and violence, from their mosques to media to schools and government, which is blatantly anti-Semitic. When these professors next go to Ramallah, they should notice that the word “Jew” and “Israeli” are interchangeable. Palestinian calls for two states—one binational and the other Arab—are just fine with them, knowing that this would mean Israel’s demographic destruction.

Many of these professors who rightly claim love for the freedom of speech are mute about today’s campus environment, where pro-Israel students are demonized, intimidated and restrained from their First Amendment rights by Palestinian supporters. Protecting students who disagree with your perspective used to be a pillar of academic freedom, but too many professors are activists first, not academics. Silence makes one complicit in stigmatizing Zionist students and pro-Israel professors. This is the very definition of illiberalism. Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism? Is that not anti-Semitism?

One signer of the JDA claimed the IHRA had reached a “point where Palestinian students feel threatened on campus.” This is Orwellian. A primary reason for the need for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was the threats and intimidation to Jewish students on campus by Palestinians and their supporters. A 2015 Brandeis University poll of North American colleges’ Jewish students found “nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported having been exposed … during the past year to a least one anti-Semitic statement.” There is little evidence of any concerted intimidation against Palestinian students. Still, they and their progressive supporters are often the perpetrators of anti-Semitism against Jewish students who are pro-Israel.

True academic integrity should demand that many of these professors define themselves as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist and not hide behind the pro-peace, pro-Israel moniker. Who are some of the signatories? City University of New York professor and New York Times writer Peter Beinart wrote an article in July 2020 titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” In response, the ADL’s deputy director said “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic, or at the very least, as in the case of Mr. Beinart, play into the hands of the anti-Semites.”

Another endorser of the JDA definition is the anti-Zionist Richard Falk. Former President Barack Obama’s representative to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahoe, called his comments on Israel “deeply offensive,” condemning them in the “strongest terms.” She charged that Falk had a “one-sided and politicized view of Israel’s situation and the Palestinian Territories.” No wonder he signed a definition of anti-Semitism that minimized equating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred.

So kudos to those professors who fight against right-wing anti-Semitism; we should all join them. But shame on them for claiming that it’s not anti-Semitism to back the BDS movement, to deny the Jewish people a right to self-determination, to allow Israel to be judged by a double standard and to intimidate Jewish students on campus because they are pro-Israel.


{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Natalie Portman made a poor choice, and she must come to terms with the consequences of that choice, which supported BDS despite her protestations.

Now that some time has passed since Natalie Portman announced her refusal to come to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize, it is appropriate to analyze a more important issue it brought to light: how actions perceived as a boycott against Israel will be addressed in the future by the greater pro-Israel community.

Many major Jewish organizations choose to ignore the problem, hoping this is an isolated incident, not wanting to offend a public figure who has been supportive of her Israeli identity. StandWithUs, however, pointed out that Ms. Portman did accept a prize from the Chinese government, which is a gross human rights violator.

Yousef Munayyer, a leading advocate of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel (BDS), wrote an op-ed in The Forward titled, “Actually, Natalie Portman, You ARE Practicing BDS.” BDS advocates like Mr. Munayyer believe, “What you’ve done is… found your own way to participate [in boycotting Israel].”

Progressive critics like Hen Mazzig, writing in The Jerusalem Post, contrasted Ms. Portman’s behavior with the ideas of progressive Israeli writer David Grossman, a harsh critic of Israel’s current government.

Despite being the political polar opposite from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Grossman showed up to accept his Israel Prize, knowing both the prime minister and Education Minister Naftali Bennett would be in attendance.

Let’s be clear, Ms. Portman is too well informed not to know that her refusal to go to Israel and accept her Genesis Prize would be hailed as a victory for BDS.

But what is much more disturbing and dangerous is that Ms. Portman’s actions will be used as a precedent to blur the lines between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and the real goal of boycotters – the destruction of Israel. This is part of a trend to legitimize boycotts against Israel, making it easier for far-left organizations to convince Israeli critics who up until now have been against the use of boycotts, to move over to the dark side. The double standard not addressed is that for Israel alone, it is considered reasonable to delegitimize the whole state if you do not like the current elected government’s policies.

SO WHAT is legitimate criticism that doesn’t cross a line?

1. Expressing concern about the ultra-Orthodox monopoly that undermines the rights of America’s more liberal religious movements in Israel.

2. Weighing in about the corrosive effects vs. the legitimate security needs of Israel in regard to its prolonged occupation of the disputed territories.

3. Complaining about the Israeli government reneging on a pluralistic space for liberal prayer at Robinson’s arch.

However, any support, direct or indirect for the BDS movement is not legitimate, even if you refer to yourself as pro-Israel.

One must question the pro-Israel credentials of organizations whose advocacy is primarily for Palestinian rights first, but never seem to make it a priority to denounce the UN’s despicable treatment of the Jewish state, or to condemn the antisemitic incitement that permeate the Palestinian Authority, or express outrage against Hamas’s use of human shields, which contravenes international law.

Everyone has a right to criticize Israel and even support boycotts in America, as long as you don’t commercially transgress the growing body of American municipal, state and federal laws against collaborating with companies that accede to international boycotts of Israel.

So if your actions are perceived to support a boycott of Israel, but you claim that you are not part of the BDS movement, is that credible? When J Street or its campus affiliates claim they are not part of the BDS movement, but give a platform to pro-BDS speakers, in effect legitimizing them, is that not being part of the BDS movement? The boycotters of Israel never call for boycotts against Russia and Iran for their support of Syrian genocide; or call for a boycott of Turkey for jailing more journalists than any other nation in the world; or show interest in boycotting Russia for its occupation of Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia.

Natalie Portman made a poor choice, and she must come to terms with the consequences of that choice, which supported BDS despite her protestations.

She should know that the goal of BDS is not about 1967 and the West Bank, it is the antithesis of two states for two peoples, in other words, the destruction of Israel. When she accepted the Genesis Prize she clearly knew Netanyahu would be there, and canceling one month later was interpreted as being someone who chose Hollywood politics over her professed love for her country of birth.

So here is your binary choice.

Legitimate criticism of Israel crosses a line when it supports boycotting Israel in any way, shape or form, because this is not about improving Israel’s Jewish democracy, it is about destroying it.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East and is a contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ ‘The Hill’ and ‘The Forward.’


To Combat BDS, You Need to Understand Intersectionality

(Previously published in Forward)

Over the last few years I have been asked countless times to explain why supporters of women’s and gay rights ally with an intolerant Palestinian Arab society in which misogyny and honor killings are commonplace. A place where homosexuality is still illegal, LGBT individuals are routinely abused, and hundreds of Palestinian Arabs risk their lives in order to flee to the relative sanctuary of Tel Aviv.

The answer is intersectionality, an ideology at the core of the BDS movement to destroy the Jewish State. To fight the anti-Semitic BDS movement, you must understand what it is.

Far left progressive and BDS groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) march to the drumbeat of intersectionality— a unity of all victimized and oppressed peoples. In this revolutionary worldview, Palestinians have become the most victimized and oppressed people on earth.

According to intersectionality, every victim in the world must ally with the Palestinians, no matter what the Palestinians and Israel’s other neighbors themselves do, no matter how their regimes treat women, gays, and sects not in power, because they are fellow victims. To somehow square this circle, they employ rationalizations, selective facts, or no facts at all for the myriad of contradictions and bias that are incorporated in their worldview.

Palestinian gay hatred? No problem. Just change the subject to pinkwashing; claim that Israel protects homosexuals only to deflect attention from their egregious crime of genocide against the Palestinians.

Hamas targets Israeli civilians? No problem. Claim that all Israelis were or will one day be in the IDF, so they are all legitimate targets.

Ziva Dahl wrote in the Observer, “Anti-Israel BDS campaigns have successfully injected the Palestinians into this intersectional mix…victims of colonialist oppression by pro-Western Israel. The marriage of intersectionality with the Arab-Israeli conflict allows any victim group to make common cause with the Palestinian.”

Intersectionality is being taught in our universities and is having a chilling affect on free speech. The far-left has aligned itself against Israel, so it’s no surprise defending Israel is taboo on campus.

Jewish students are told support for Israel is incompatible with social justice. Many of these Jewish Americans’ only association to Judaism is through tikkun olam, a universal social justice. If a student wants to show support for injustices committed against black Americans, Black Lives Matter insists they drop support of Israel. As its platform states, “The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”

NYU’s chapter of SJP, in alignment with BLM, said, “The same forces behind the genocide of black people in America are behind the genocide of Palestinians.” Progressive orthodoxy demands that you must embrace the boycott and demonization of Israel as an apartheid state. No wonder idealistic Jewish kids without the facts are confused.

Meanwhile, Professors have politicized academic study, resulting in today’s illiberal race and identify politics, transforming education into activism.

Fortunately, organizations like StandWithUs have been fighting for the legal rights of pro-Israel students and arming them with facts to defend themselves from anti-Semitism while remaining true to their liberal values while still defending the US-Israel relationship.

Many State Legislators and members of Congress on a bipartisan basis have come together to fight against the BDS movement, which they correctly see as a form of anti-Semitism.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York deserves great credit for taking on the BDS movement. He said, “If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you…New York will not tolerate this new brand of warfare (BDS)…New York stands with Israel because we are Israel. Political opponents claim we are punishing both activism and freedom of expression…They are wrong…As a matter of law, there is a fundamental difference between a state suppressing free speech and a state simply choosing how to spend its dollars.”

So, what are some actions to combat BDS and its use of intersectionality to destroy the Jewish State?

  • Pro Israel philanthropists should endow university chairs mandating balance and protection of free speech.
    • Donors shouldn’t support universities that don’t protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism.
    • Support organizations that protect Jewish students on campus.
    • Start educating your children about Israel from an early age.
    • Tell them about all the great humanitarian work and social justice projects Israelis perform throughout the world, totally compatible with social justice.
    • Get your kids to go on Birthright. Cheryl Aronson of CJP’s said, “entice them with the beauty, meaning, pleasure and joy of being part of a 3,500-year-old civilization – the Jewish people.”

Anti-Semitic, anti-Israel groups such as SJP see in “intersectionality” an opportunity to make siding with the enemies of Israel part of a package deal for right-thinking people of the left.

Now that you understand why intersectionality has become a weapon against Israel, step two is to begin to combat it.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN™.  He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East and is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

The State of Anti-Semitism on Campus

A disturbing report was published this week on the rise of anti-Semitic activity at American universities  in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. The report was the first time a quantitative account of the prevalence of anti-Semitism on college campuses was produced. It correlated the presence of anti-Israel groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activity, as strong predictors of hostility to Jewish students.

Learn more in Dr. Mandel’s latest vlog:


Is there a Role for Holocaust Education in Fighting BDS?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

The BDS movement’s contemporary anti-Semitism and boycotts of businesses doing business with Israel are sadly reminiscent of yesterday’s Nazis.

The question of what if any role Holocaust education could play in countering the boycott movement against Israel has challenged me time and time again.

It was reawakened after I heard of the remarkable work of Father Patrick Desbois, exposing the little-known story of the nearly two million Jews massacred by the Nazis and their local collaborators in the unmarked killing fields of the former Soviet Union, while local populations watched or sometimes helped.

More on this story a little later.

It is a sad fact that when I speak to students on American college campuses about Israel’s rights based on international law, about the Jewish people’s connection to the land and about the centuries of persecution of the Jewish people there and elsewhere, I must be careful not to bring up the Shoah.

It’s certainly not that I don’t believe in the importance of teaching the lessons of Western civilization’s darkest moment, or explaining how different the world would be if Israel had existed for the desperate Jews of 1939.

Yet I hesitate to mention to university students how I felt looking at photos of elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel with their Israeli grandchildren in IDF uniforms, the pride and sorrow in the eyes of the survivors saying “never again” when Jews are in charge of their own destiny.

The reason is that when you speak to today’s college students, who have heard over and over that Israel’s existence is a criminal displacement of an indigenous people, they have been conditioned to see any association of Israel and the Holocaust as a cheap trick to excuse Israel’s supposed abuses of the Arab people. A similar situation is “pinkwashing,” whereby Israel is claimed to be LGBT-friendly only to deflect attention from its egregious treatment of Palestinian innocents.

On today’s college campuses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) advocates claim that Arabs are the new Jews and Israelis are the new Nazis. A recent Pew survey showed the gap narrowing between millennials’ sympathy for Israel and the Palestinians, where support for the Jewish state is stagnant while those sympathizing with the Palestinians have increased 50 percent in the past 10 years. Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal found that polls show twice as many professors on the American college campus identify themselves as Marxists than as conservatives.

The far-left has aligned itself against Israel, so it’s no surprise that being in favor of Israel’s actions is taboo on campus.

Which brings me to Remembrance Day 2016. My 23-year-old son, who is a strong supporter of Israel, joined with me to hear one of the greatest righteous Gentiles of our time, Father Patrick Desbois, speaking at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue’s Remembrance Day commemoration.

Father Desbois is a Roman Catholic priest, the head of the Commission for Relations with Judaism of the French Bishops’ Conference and the founder of the Yahad-In Unum, an organization dedicated to locating the sites of the unmarked mass graves of Jewish victims of the Nazi mobile killing units in the former Soviet Union.

Father Desbois’ story needs to be heard by today’s college students, who live in a generation where Holocaust denial is on the rise.

It was Patrick Desbois’ search for his grandfather’s past (his grandfather had been deported to a Nazi prison camp in Rava-Ruska) that lead to the 21st century’s most important Holocaust revelation. Up to two million Jews and Roma were killed in a three-year period by the Nazis in the Soviet Union, almost all in unmarked killing fields.

Mobile execution units, Einsatzgruppen, killed men, women and children, one bullet at a time, buried their bodies, alive or dead, and moved on to the next town. Nazis with Hitler’s willing executioners, collaborating Ukrainians, Moldavians, Russians, etc., enthusiastically killed their Jewish neighbors as the towns’ children and adults watched, sometimes in horror, sometimes with enthusiasm.

After listening to Father Desbois and watching his story featured on 60 Minutes, I realized that I was doing a disservice by not teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and how they relate to the only Jewish state in the past 2,000 years. This is not to imply, as US President Barack Obama seemed to in 2009, that Israel was created only because of the Holocaust.

In truth, despite the Jewish people’s desire to have a modern Jewish state, reignited with the Dreyfus trial and the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the 19th century, it is unlikely that there would have been an Israel in 1948 if not for a ship called the Exodus and the slaughter of European Jewry. Yet the struggle for Jews to continue, secure and increase their long presence in the Levant predated World War II and continued through the Palestinian Arab grand mufti’s alliance with Hitler.

It is important to begin to consider reintroducing Holocaust education as part of the fight against the BDS movement, whose contemporary anti-Semitism and boycotts of businesses doing business with Israel are sadly reminiscent of yesterday’s Nazis, and the parallels should make us take Islamist threats of extermination seriously.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ and a regular contributor to “The Jerusalem Post.” MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

A Great Teaching Moment

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Being heckled for speaking against BDS.

“He is brainwashing you, don’t believe anything he tells you, it’s all lies.”

This was the parting diatribe of a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activist, which he screamed at a group of students at Manhattanville College during my lecture on BDS.

On my spring semester speaking tour, I was invited to speak by Mellysa, an Emerson Fellow of StandWithUs at Manhattanville College, and their Hillel director. I was asked to give them a choice of topics that I usually speak about; Israel, the Middle East and regional conflicts, for a multicultural group of students on campus.

When it came time to choose a topic, I suggested that they consider a new lecture I had been asked to give to three northern New Jerseycolleges just two weeks before, where the students wrote the title, “Attacks from the BDS Crowd: 10 of the Nastiest Things and Falsehoods Thrown at Israel, and What To Do about Them.” I asked Rachel Klein, the Hillel director of Westchester County New York, if I could present the same topic, and she reluctantly agreed. She hesitantly said, “we don’t have a BDS problem on this campus, so I hope it doesn’t create one.”

Well, either I caused a BDS problem or there was a problem hiding just beneath the surface of this beautiful, leafy campus.

Manhattanville College is a liberal arts university in Westchester County New York with 1,700 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students from 76 countries and 48 states. Manhattanville’s mission is to “educate students to become ethically and socially responsible leaders for the global community” The group that came to hear me that Thursday night in April was a multicultural group of students, who on the whole were similar to other students that come to hear me speak on other campuses, not particularly knowledgeable on the issues of the Middle East, Israel, or the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel.

Lack of information or interest is the greatest enemy of those of us who want to create a factual understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and explain the 1,400-year hatreds within the Sunni and Shi’ite world.

When I speak to any college or highschool group, I watch the eyes of the audience during my talk to see if I am losing anyone, and will then immediately re-adjust the talk. But this group remained attentive right up until the time that a fifty-something member of the audience, sitting front-row center, interrupted my presentation.

A few weeks ago I wrote about pro-Israel speakers being shouted down by “social justice” activists, as far-left Progressives, in the name of human rights, claim that they should deny Israel’s defenders the right to speak.

The language of human rights, i.e.

apartheid, ethnic cleansing, racism, is the bludgeon they use to delegitimize Israel. Part of the reason for this illiberalism is that today, education and academic discourse at many of universities has degenerated into narrow- minded political indoctrination by teachers with a one-sided mission.

So it is instructive to describe what I and the students experienced, what it is like to be heckled.

Rachel Klein, the Hillel director, said, “What students saw at Manhattanville College was all too real – even when ‘armed’ withthe facts, discourse is not possible when the other party is engaging in harassment and bullying, and clearly not interested in facts. The real issue on campus is that colleges and universities are becoming places where harassment, intimidation and bullying silence civil discourse.”

So this became a teaching moment to help undergrads see the intolerance on today’s college campus firsthand, and begin to understand that this is a terrifying growing phenomenon.

(This was not the first time I have been heckled speaking on campus.) This gentleman who became my heckler at first began mouthing to himself that the information in my PowerPoint presentation wasn’t true.

Only I could see him becoming agitated; the students were unaware of what was about to happen.

Next came the hostile questions. He was particularly angry that I talked about the five times the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza could have had an independent state, and how each time either the greater Arab world, or the Palestinian leadership had rejected or didn’t respond to the Israeli offers.

He said that everything was about the settlements, that Israel stole the land, and that the 22 percent of the land the Palestinians were forced to accept was being taken away from them by settlementgrowth. These types of statements are usually followed with the claim that Tel Aviv is a settlement on stolen land.

When I asked him why no Palestinian state was created in the 19 years from 1949-1967 when there were zero settlements, while Egypt and Jordan occupied those territories, he said it wasn’t true, and then went on to attack me further. I decided to pursue the argument with him in front of the students.

I asked him, if this were about the settlements and is a purely territorial conflict, then why in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive war, did the Arab League respond to Israel’s offer of returning all of the land with the response of “No Peace, No Negotiation, No recognition” of Israel. He said that was not true. I told him I could not debate with someone with his or her own set of facts, but he again simply said it wasn’t true, and I could see him seething with anger.

I told him about the Camp David and Taba peace talks in 2000 and 2001, where Israel offered control of the Temple Mount to the Arabs, east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and over 90% of the West Bank for an independent Palestinian state, I asked why the response to that offer was the suicidal violence of the Second Intifada.

He merely asserted that was a lie.

I asked him if he knew about the Olmert offer in 2008 where Israel offered 100% of the West Bank with land swaps, the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had never bothered to respond to. He said that was a lie. I told him I had even spoken to the cartographer who had been in the room with Olmert and Abbas to confirm the offer, but my heckler was not impressed; these things had to be lies, as they did not conform to his view of reality.

What about 2014, I asked him, when Israel accepted US Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer of negotiations without preconditions, but the Palestinians rejected the proposal unless all their preconditions were met beforehand.

All lies, of course.

His “facts” neatly fit into a hostile political agenda the goal of which is to destroy Israel – within any border.

That is what BDS is about, not a twostate solution.

After he starting ranting about Israelis never ever prosecuting anyone who commits a crime against Palestinians, I asked him to wait until my lecture was over and I would answer some more of his questions.

He became more belligerent and the organizers of the event asked him to leave, at which time he started confronting the students by screaming, “you are all being brainwashed, and it’s all lies.”

I wish I were the only speaker who has been verbally attacked in what is suppose to be the marketplace of ideas on a college campus. In fact America as a whole is supposed to be a place where free speech flourishes.

Just ask Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, whom pro-BDS advocates recently shouted down in San Francisco.

So what did I tell students to do? If they want to support Israel I recommended a few options: • First, educate yourselves • Tell personal narratives, which are more powerful than a list of facts • Build partnerships on campus with different organizations • Help someone connect to Israel via common interest • Tell the great story of Israel’s humanitarian record • Don’t give up or give in to those who have their own set of facts Why tell this story about a confrontation typical of those we run into as public speakers favoring a strong Israel? The moral of the story is that we all need to know enough of the history, enough of the facts, to be ready to push back wherever we can against the tide of misinformation that otherwise gradually seeps into the general consensus. Look at Europe, where a large percentage of ordinary people think Israel is a bully that should be brought to its knees.

Could this happen here? The enemy is working hard at it.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Can You be Against BDS and for BDS?

Going forward, everyone needs to reflect on the reality of the world Israel lives in.

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Can an organization or individual claim they are opposed to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel, but still support boycotting Israeli goods, academics and people over the Green Line? There seems to be a strange phenomenon among American Jewish progressives, saying they oppose the BDS movement, except that it’s OK or a good thing to boycott Israel over the Green Line. They seem not to realize that the worldwide BDS movement is not a humanitarian movement trying to foster a two-state solution. The goal of its founders and supporters is the destruction of Israel, a non-indigenous people who they claim forced out the rightful indigenous Arabs.

Zionism is to them a racist movement based on colonialism and apartheid, which should be given no sanctuary at all in the Middle East. American progressives play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, to divide and conquer Israel by backing BDS for part of Israel.

Boycotting Israeli goods on either side of the Green Line is overwhelmingly opposed by mainstream Israelis of the Left and Right, who see clearly that any boycott is part of a strategy of delegitimization of Zionism itself.

Israelis across the political spectrum know this is true because their governments have painfully offered almost all of the West Bank with Jerusalem as a capital for a Palestinian nation three times within the past 15 years to no avail, with the Palestinian response being rejection and escalation of violence, the Israeli willingness to consider compromise being seen only as a sign of weakness.

The mainstream political Israeli Left and Center have made it clear that any boycott of Israel over the Green Line is part of the BDS movement. Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said in regard to the newly announced EU boycott of Israeli products over the Green Line, “This decision is based on hatred, falsehood and ignorance, devoid of any moral value.” Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid tweeted: “Jews are being stabbed in the streets and the EU has given in to BDS. This decision discriminates against Israel and encourages terrorism.”

Hilik Bar, secretary general of the Labor Party and Deputy speaker of the Knesset told me, “We are against BDS over the Green Line, and BDS in Israel, and any kind of BDS.” Speaking last week before the European Parliament, he said, “When you label products, you are labeling yourselves as less relevant to solving the conflict, as an unfair broker… Be against boycotts and for promoting cooperation.”

Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union said, “True, [the European boycott] starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won’t stop at the settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel.”

Many on the American Jewish Left are more aligned on this issue with the Israeli far Left and Israel’s Arab parties than with Labor and the Zionist Union. American progressive organizations believe there is a real distinction between boycotts of Israel and boycotts over the Green Line. They find no contradiction between rhetorically standing strong against the BDS movement that delegitimizes the Zionist state, yet defending boycotting of Israeli goods from over the Green Line as legitimate.

They believe Israel needs to be pressured for its own good to remove all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, which are to them the cause of most of the problems of the Middle East. They do not distinguish between communities in Judea and Samaria that are necessary for Israeli security, Jewish majority areas of Jerusalem over the armistice line or areas that were part of the Clinton or Olmert land swap plans from other “occupied” territory. Until the Obama administration, areas such as French Hill, Gilo, or Gush Etzion were not considered controversial, and were always assumed to be part of a future Israeli state.

American Jewish progressives don’t seem to respect the judgment – born of decades of experience – and will of the Israeli electorate who have to live with the consequences of the boycotts, endure the nightmare of Palestinian terrorism, and who put their own children in harm’s way. They also ignore the true meaning of UNSC Resolution 242, whose language and authors clearly called for an adjustment of the 1949 lines, giving legitimacy to Israeli land claims over the Green Line. They subscribe to a politicized, biased view of international law which says that Israel is a semi-illegal stepchild state with fewer rights than every other nation on the planet.

This has also been the Obama administration narrative since taking office in 2009. Ambassador and former Obama Iran and Middle East expert Dennis Ross wrote in his new book, Doomed to Succeed, that the administration’s preoccupation “and collective view that the Israeli occupation and settlement activity – not Palestinian behavior – were responsible for the conflict argued for pressure [on] Israel.” It is a short leap from there to rationalizing boycotts of Israel, which the EU has already done.

The news from Europe is not all bad. David Harris of AJC opined that we should recognize and appreciate the 12 EU countries that did not sign the BDS boycott of Israel: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.

Which gets us back to the conundrum: Can you and your organization be against BDS if you subscribe to boycotting Israel over the Green Line? Can you feel comfortable contributing to the isolation of Israel in the world and singling out Israel for condemnation of the occupation of disputed territory, knowing that treating Israel differently from any other country is defined as anti-Semitism according to the US State Department’s definition? Can you just ignore the unprovoked, egregious occupations by Russia, Turkey, China, Pakistan and Morocco, while joining forces with those who want BDS to destroy all of Israel? Controversy has arisen in regard to organizations that have given a platform to those who want to boycott Israel or create a single binational state. J Street says it is against BDS, but has had a keynote speaker who endorsed BDS against Israeli goods over the Green Line and has had speak at its national meeting a group that is against the Jewish state itself. All is done in the name of freedom of speech, respecting all opinions, but its more than that: Giving someone’s odious views a platform on your stage gives them a seeming legitimacy, that goes beyond freedom of speech.

The New Israel Fund also claims to oppose BDS, but supports organizations that are full-time demonizers of Israel. Can they honestly say they are against BDS and still support anti-Israel organizations like Adalah, Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), Yesh Din and Machsom Watch, who directly or indirectly support BDS and whose agendas are more aligned with Palestinian propaganda than with Israeli interests? In this highly contentious debate, ad hominem attacks have taken place in the States. That should not happen; it is wrong, and counterproductive. However, defenders of boycotters of goods from Judea and Samaria should be called to task for the damage they do, whether from the pulpit or in the pages of Haaretz.

Going forward, everyone needs to reflect on the reality of the world Israel lives in; who its neighbors really are, and how difficult surviving in the Levant is when the world disproportionately criticizes you and refuses to acknowledge that you have been under an Arab siege to destroy your legitimacy for over 67 years.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.