Jewish leaders from throughout the state gathered in New Brunswick last week to develop strategies for defending Israel.
A one-day “consultation” at Rutgers University June 1 was a first for the Israel Action Network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Student activists, community relations experts, and professionals and volunteers representing 10 state federations — including United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ — heard presentations on efforts to isolate Israel. They weighed strategies for combating the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement prevalent on college campuses and among what one presenter called the “progressive elites.”
“Our goal is to organize communities and CRCs so that they can in turn organize their own communities to counter delegitimization,” Geri Palast, managing director of the IAN, told New Jersey Jewish News. “We want to develop the best way to educate and train, develop strategies that work, and help each community develop their own approach, either proactive or in response to whatever particular issues are arising.”
Melanie Roth Gorelick, associate director of the Community Relations Committee of UJC MetroWest, was among the local leaders taking part in the consultation.
“The assault on Israel’s Legitimacy is of major concern to MetroWest,” she told NJJN. “This IAN consultation provided us with a great opportunity to put time aside to strategize with 15 MetroWest activists and those from around the state on how to counter concerns in New Jersey. IAN ensured that we were informed with the latest effective strategies and pro-Israel research.”
In separate breakout sessions, national experts — including Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee, Martin Raffel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Martin Schwartz of the Jewish Labor Committee — discussed the “delegitimization” movements’ inroads into churches, campuses, and the civil society sectors.
Emerging themes included the need to build coalitions among other faiths, unions, and ethnic groups; to emphasize the positive aspects of Israeli society; and to strengthen awareness of Israel within the Jewish community itself.
Like many at the conference, Palast was careful to distinguish between acceptable criticism of Israel and delegitimization.
“BDS is a larger PR effort that says Israel is a pariah nation and can be analogized to apartheid South Africa” or Nazi Germany, said Palast. She said IAN is aimed like a “laser” at those who deny Israel’s sovereignty, as opposed to debate its policies.
The NJ State Association of Jewish Federations joined IAN in coordinating the event. AJC, part of the national coalition addressing these issues, sent a sizable NJ delegation to the consultation.