StandWithUs Hosts Conference to Fight BDS Movement
JNS.org – Long admired in pro-Israel circles for his 2003 book The Case for Israel, former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz is now targeting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“It’s not really a movement, it’s just a tactic directed against Israel,” Dershowitz said in the opening remarks at last weekend’s BDS conference hosted by the advocacy group StandWithUs. “I try to make the argument that it’s anti-peace and anti-two-state solution. If you’re in favor of peace and the two-state solution, you should fight against BDS.”
More than 250 people, representing a variety of Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy groups, gathered from the March 4-6 “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference in Los Angeles. They met to exchange ideas and strategize in the face of BDS’ multifaceted threat against Israel.
StandWithUs has now hosted this annual anti-BDS summit for three years, which it describes as the first large-scale national conference devoted exclusively to the issue of tackling BDS.
At the conference, Peggy Shapiro, the Midwest director of StandWithUs, shared the story of a Palestinian man that she met in Israel last year who works for an Israeli candy company in the West Bank. While the BDS movement wants to close all such factories, Shapiro told the crowd how happy the Palestinian man was to work there. “We need the legislation to protect Palestinians, who are impacted first when Israeli businesses are forced to withdraw from their communities,” she said.
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, updated attendees on the progress of anti-BDS legislation on the state level in the United States. During last year’s conference — in April 2016 — a total of seven states had passed anti-BDS measures. Roughly one year later, that total is up to 16 states, with many of the bills passing unanimously.
Kontorovich also addressed the constitutional concerns regarding free speech that are raised by critics of anti-BDS legislation.
“What these laws deal with is … discriminatory business conduct and practices,” he said. “When a company decides not to do business with someone because of its affiliation to Israel, it’s engaged in a form of impermissible bigotry and discrimination. The states are saying you’re allowed to discriminate. It’s America. But we don’t have to subsidize your discrimination with taxpayer money.”
At the conference, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin — the director of the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to documenting and combating antisemitism on college campuses — also gave recommendations for combating the academic boycott against Israel.
One of the other themes of the conference was a push for pro-Israel outreach to minority groups. Ron Krudo, the Executive Director of Campus Affairs for StandWithUs, noted that campus groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine have successfully recruited allies such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ groups by portraying support for BDS as a human rights issue.
“Students active in student government truly believe [that] they’re fighting for human rights,” Krudo said. “Pro-BDS groups have been really effective at lobbying student leaders, but we’ve gotten better at it. … We’ve worked with many of our partners to strategize how to better lobby student leaders in these cases. We’ve been able to overcome a majority of [pro-BDS] resolutions on college campuses.”
Dershowitz said that the BDS movement’s strategic usage of “intersectionality” — aligning itself with social justice causes — has “no academic legitimacy.”
“It’s just a simple way of academically justifying antisemitism and anti-Zionism by saying [that] the world is divided into the oppressed and the oppressor,” he said.
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein told the Haym Salomon Center that the anti-BDS community is “growing and getting smarter” as a result of the group’s annual conference.
“Our students and young people feel much more supported,” she said. “Our professionals are making really great connections for the future. Everybody really got a lot out of the conference. That’s what everybody here keeps telling me.”
Oren Peleg is a contributor to the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group.