(February 19, 2015 / JNS)
These days, knowing that an organization is promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel gets proponents of the Jewish state angry and mobilized. But understanding what BDS actually means is something entirely different, as is demonstrated by the ongoing challenge that the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) faces over its allowance of the New Israel Fund (NIF) to march in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade. To the JCRC, BDS is merely BD—and the NIF reaps the benefit of having the last letter totally ignored.
Undoubtedly, JCRC-NY does good work. Yet when it comes to surreptitious antagonism against Israel, the JCRC either seems unable to see the problem or willingly ignores the “S” in BDS—sanctions. Headed by Rabbi Michael Miller, a very committed man, JCRC-NY established a new guideline for this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade, which will march up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on May 31. The new JCRC rule states, “All Groups must oppose, not fund, nor advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel by not recognizing it as a Jewish state.” Herein lies the problem: BDS is about three initiatives against Israel, not just the first two letters.
The NIF—a non-governmental organization as well as a registered non-profit in the United States and Israel—is a feeder agency for many other groups that carry out various kinds of charity, education, and advocacy work. The name “New Israel Fund,” and the organization’s description of itself, make the group seem genuine and kind. Some of the groups that receive NIF funding do indeed provide helpful assistance to Israelis and Palestinian Arabs through food, shelter, and social services. But the NIF also grants a significant portion of its money to groups that work tirelessly to delegitimize Israel, undermining the soldiers protecting Israel, and pushing war crimes tribunals and sanctions against Israel in world courts, the United Nations, and many other jurisdictions.
Groups like B’Tselem, Adalah, Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), Yesh Din, and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel are among the biggest recipients of NIF money, and these groups are wholly devoted to delegitimizing Israel under the guise of defending civil rights for “everyone.” The NIF is well aware of this, are are Michael Miller and JCRC-NY.
Under the new parade guidelines, groups that support BDS are not permitted to march, and the NIF answered in kind with a proclamation on its website that it does not support BDS. That seemed to suffice for some Jewish groups, and the chief funder of the JCRC, the UJA-Federation of New York, is sternly defending the NIF and its right to participate in a parade that heralds immense pride for Israel each year. UJA-Federation President Alisa Doctoroff is herself a large donor to NIF, and JCRC leaders like Karen Adler support the NIF.
There is sufficient evidence that NIF grantees do engage in BDS initiatives, but that is hardly the issue anymore. The NIF’s activities emphatically hurt Israel by seeking sanctions and war crimes tribunals against Israelis, aiding a new “Goldstone-style” United Nations Human Rights Council report condemning Israel for last summer’s war with Gaza, and by humiliating IDF soldiers as they stand guard on the front lines.
When we get weighed down in watchwords like BDS, we are easily distracted. JCRC-NY and UJA-Federation are hoping for just that—and in the process, both public opinion and the brand of what was once the “Salute to Israel Parade” are manipulated. The proper question to put to both of these Jewish groups is, “Why do you hold the line at boycotts of Israel, even to the point of ignoring the sanctions part of the three-letter term ‘BDS’ itself, and why not reject groups that seek to harm Israel in some very substantial ways outside of simple boycotts?”
By making the NIF seem like a group that loves and even “celebrates” Israel, its agenda is obscured and its mission can both continue and expand. The hundreds of thousands (and in some years millions) who attend the parade are ardent supporters of Israel who truly want to see it thrive in safety and in harmony. But through the NIF’s participate in the parade, those who come out to support Israel are being fooled into believing this group is on their side. The JCRC should know better.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, one of America’s largest independent public relations firms.