An international coalition representing more than 50 Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy groups came together in Los Angeles this weekend to strategize about the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Hosted by pro-Israel educational organization StandWithUs, the conference — called “Combating The Boycott Movement Against Israel” and attended by several hundred students, professors, professionals and others — featured two days of lectures, panels and strategy sessions, with a keynote address by famed Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. The various sessions focused on BDS and its ramifications in different areas, including on campus, in the legal arena, churches, community, business and culture.
Regarding one session, devoted to the “money trail,” the president of Israel-based watchdog organization NGO Monitor Gerald Steinberg, told The Algemeiner: “In some areas we challenge BDS on the one-to-one level, or the retail level, by debating BDS advocates directly, or by countering them on campus. But what we are doing is looking at them wholesale, trying to discover just who is funding the various groups behind the BDS movement.”
Another session, on the campus situation, featured several professors from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which describes itself as a “community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues,” talking about the corrosive and divisive impact of the BDS movement on campus norms, climate, and civility.
A third session discussed progress in passing anti-BDS laws over the past year. “We’ve gone from zero states with such legislation,” said Jacob Millner of the Israel Project, “to seven states having passed bills, another seven with bills pending, and several more actively considering legislation.”
Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, outlined how this has complemented campus strategies. “Showing campus BDS activists that they can’t win on the higher level, that no universities will endorse BDS lest they end up losing state funds or otherwise break the law, demoralizes them,” he said. “Plus, some student government leaders aspire to higher public office when they graduate. They might think twice about endorsing BDS on campus when it might come back to haunt them when they later run for public office.”
One theme repeatedly stressed throughout the conference, held at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, was the necessity for the pro-Israel community to forge alliances with other groups. Success on that front was described by David Walker, of Christians United For Israel, who had recently led a group of 35 African-American leaders on a fact-finding trip to Israel. “Students for Justice in Palestine tries to connect the suffering of African Americans with that of Palestinians, forging what is ultimately a dubious emotional connection to mobilize people against Israel,” he said. “To the contrary we remind our constituents of the great pro-Israel legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the shared history of Jews and African-Americans working together to advance civil rights.”
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein, who pointed to a pro-BDS strategizing conference being held simultaneously in Ramallah, in the Palestinian Authority, said, “We believe that the best way to beat BDS, this latest threat to Israel, is to unite, educate ourselves, develop effective and coordinated strategies and form a network of committed professionals and volunteer activists.”
In closing remarks, Dershowitz noted how much he had learned from the various sessions, including from the many students present. “I feel rejuvenated and optimistic that we will win this battle against BDS, when I see the passion, intelligence and love of Israel here,” he said.