Importance of using boycotts of Israel ‘unquestionable,’ writes JCC in Manhattan director of film programs

(JNS.org) Isaac Zablocki, director of film programs and the Israel Film Center for the JCC in Manhattan, in an Aug. 15 blog post for the Huffington Post stressed what he called the importance of using boycotts to pressure Israel in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Zablocki later clarified that he does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The JCC in Manhattan, whose director of film programs expressed public support for boycotts of Israel in a Huffington Post op-ed. Credit: Team Boerum via Wikimedia Commons.

In his post, Zablocki opposed a BDS movement letter asking Iranian film director Moshen Makhmalbaf to boycott the Jerusalem Film Festival. Zablocki also criticized calls for Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri to boycott the festival.

In his opposition to those efforts, however, Zablocki seemed to support the broader concept of boycotting Israel.

“In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nonviolence is a welcome form of protest for the region, and the importance of the use of boycott to get international attention towards pressuring Israel to end the occupation is unquestionable,” Zablocki wrote. “However, the protest of art, culture and education brings up dangers in the realm of freedom and evolution of thought. Artists and educators have an important impact on changing society.”

“When we start to boycott art and limit the reach of great minds and talent to places, we are limiting potential of change,” he added.

To clarify his blog post, Zablocki later stated, I do not support BDS as has been claimed.  I oppose it in all forms. In my article, I only intended to assert the obvious, which is that while people have the right to boycott, I do not support it when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Richard Allen, head of the pro-Israel group JCC Watch, told JNS.org that Zablocki’s blog post is “not shocking,” in light of the JCC in Manhattan hosting events promoting groups such as B’Tselem, Partners for Progressive Israel, and the New Israel Fund. Those groups have been accused of funding and promoting BDS, but all deny that they support the movement. The New Israel Fund states that it opposes BDS and “will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.”

Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, said the organization “does not support BDS.”

“We stand with Israel against de-legitimization and emphasize this through the JCC's David H. Sonabend Center for Israel,” Levitt wrote in an email to JNS.org.

“Mr. Zablocki’s intention with his Huffington Post article was the exact opposite of its perception and was written to reject BDS as insidious,” she added.

The JCC in Manhattan, according to the most recent Internal Revenue Service Form 990 available, received $571,000 from the UJA-Federation of New York in 2011. JCC Watch, which has been calling for new guidelines that prevent the UJA-Federation of New York’s funding of activities that provide for platform to BDS activists, arranged for three protests over the last three months outside of New York City’s 92nd Street Y. The protests were in response to the Y’s invitation of anti-Israel activists Roger Waters (the Pink Floyd band member) and Alice Walker (the author of “The Color Purple”). The Y is also funded by the UJA-Federation.

Starting Sept. 12, Allen’s group will move its monthly protests from the Y to outside the UJA-Federation building. Promotion of BDS “should not be done with Jewish charitable money,” Allen said.

The UJA-Federation did not immediately return a request for comment from JNS.org.

Posted on August 19, 2013 .