Activist offers tools to counter anti-Israel BDS

Activist offers tools to counter anti-Israel BDS

Advocacy should focus on ‘persuadable’ groups: young people, liberals

Noam Gilboord said activists need to listen to others’ concerns when advocating for Israel.     
Noam Gilboord said activists need to listen to others’ concerns when advocating for Israel.     

Hosted by Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, Noam Gilboord, director of Israel and international affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, shared with adults and teens effective tools and messaging to use when countering arguments that are anti-Israel and pro-BDS, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

The March 14 event, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks and the Board of Rabbis of PMB, drew some 50 people, among them members of Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction. 

Gilboord began by nixing Israel advocacy that brags about the country’s accomplishments or touts its history; instead, he urged listening to others’ concerns, admitting to Israel’s mistakes, encouraging joint projects between Israelis and Palestinians, and building an environment of cooperation. During the Q&A that followed, he said that attempting to justify the “settlements” movement in the West Bank poses a problem for Israel’s advocates. 

To provide a context for advocacy, which Gilboord emphasized is directed toward those with other points of view, he reviewed BDS tactics, many of which have been used effectively in other circumstances. He gave examples like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Cesar Chavez’s boycott against California table grapes, divestment from South Africa to end apartheid, and recent sanctions against Iran.

The BDS movement, Gilboord said, uses messaging whose implication is simple: “If you want to consider yourself a morally conscious human being and support human rights, justice, and equality, how can you align yourself to Israel?”

To provide an understanding of that argument, Gilboord showed a BDS National Committee fund-raising video, available on YouTube. “It will give you a look into how effective they are in getting people to join their cause,” he said. 

Among phrases used in the video to characterize Israel are: “ethnic cleansing [in 1948] of 750,000 Palestinians,” “brutal military occupation,” and “expelled Palestinians and cornered others into ghettos surrounded by walls, military watchtowers, and checkpoints.” It also states that “12 percent of the Palestinians live inside Israel as third-class citizens…subjected to a system of racial discrimination and racial laws that amount to apartheid….”

The BDS movement also portrays itself as a supporter of freedom, justice, and equality and nonviolent action. Its stated goals are to end the occupation of land seized in 1967, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

But with two million Palestinians in Israel and four million in the West Bank and Gaza, and with six million Jews in Israel, Gilboord said, “a Jewish and democratic state cannot continue to exist if you look at the goals of the BDS movement.”

Turning to U.S. advocacy, he said it should focus on “persuadable groups,” including younger people and liberals and progressives. To reach them, advocates must go out and have uncomfortable conversations — in person, not on the computer.

Gilboord said JCRC-NY had great success in its advocacy against BDS at the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn in recent years. 

For a couple of years, he said, BDS activists “stood politely outside handing out pamphlets that said, ‘Do you support human rights? Boycott Sabra hummus. Boycott Sodastream.’” The BDS proponents also put a motion before the co-op’s board to ban Israeli products. 

JCRC-NY mobilized to make sure the co-op membership, 16,000-strong, would not support the boycott, said Gilboord. The approach they selected was effective. “We couldn’t go in with the message, ‘Israel is right, the Palestinians are wrong,’” he said. Instead they used the slogan “Yes to a Jewish state, yes to a Palestinian state, no to BDS,” and they won the vote 75 to 25 percent.

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