Seattle’s pro-Israel rally undermined from within
NIF and Hillel Leaders with help from JTNews trash event they co-sponsored.
The entire academic year had been building up to this Seattle-BDS crescendo. Everyone on the inside, both pro and anti-Israel, knew it was coming. Pro-Israel activists scrambled, planned and educated to be ready.
In April of 2014 the Seattle Jewish Federation announced plans for an historic community wide gathering to learn about and publicly condemn the anti-Semitic BDS movement. Anti-Israel forces on the UW campus submitted a divestment resolution to the UW student senate at almost the exact same time.
The community anti-BDS event would be wide in its appeal featuring a fiery preacher to extol the virtues of Israel and the most progressive personality available who could still publicly and vociferously condemn BDS. Hence the whiplash inducing pairing of Rev. Ken Flowers and columnist Ari Shavit.
38 community organizations signed on as official sponsors or supporters of the event, of these, three of the sponsoring agencies stood out. J Street; the Soros funded full-time critic of the Jewish state. New Israel Fund; a multi-million dollar foundation that has funded organizations friendly to Hamas and the BDS movement. JTNews; a Seattle Jewish Federation owned journal that has promoted BDS affiliated Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and provided fawning coverage to radical anti-Israel activists like Craig Corrie, JVP leader Wendy Elisheva Somerson and blood libelist Linda Frank.
These three organizations were faced with a conundrum. Decline to participate in the anti-BDS gathering and have their true sympathies laid bare or participate and share a stage with unabashedly pro-Israel AIPAC and StandWithUS while appearing to condemn a movement of which they are at best agnostic. (J Street Seattle has laudably declared the BDS movement to be anti-Semitic, the national organization has condemned BDS with one hand while embracing it with the other).
But there was a third option; participate in the community gathering and then flip the messaging on its head. Only days before the anti-BDS event representatives from the leftist groups met with Federation President Keith Dvorchik and other event planners. As event co-sponsors they pressed for modifications in the gathering’s promotional language.
One of the attendees at that meeting was Ben Murane, the outreach director and Northwest representative for the New Israel Fund – a sponsor of the anti-BDS event. Murane has long been a vocal critic of the Jewish state. In a critique of Israeli immigration law Murane has said “Zionist pioneers” should be called “Infiltrators”. In a Youtube video he called for the “reconsecration” of Hebron by cleansing it of virtually all of its Jewish residents. According to Arutz Sheva and CIFWatch, Murane once wrote that Israel is “just at fault as Hamas” for the deaths of Gaza civilians.
Murane later tweeted that he will “ironically” attend “Shavit’s event” noting that he and his allies have “succeeded in toning it down”.
And tone it down they did. Phrases that asserted BDS was “anti-Israel” and a “threat” to the Jewish people were excised. The title was changed from “Anti-Israel BDS Campaign: Bad for Israel, A Threat to Jews in Seattle and Beyond” to merely “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign Against Israel: Bad for Jews in Seattle and Beyond?” The addition of a question mark at the end of the title was insisted upon, let it be a “discussion”, a debatable point rather than a statement of fact.
As the mega community event approached, all eyes were on the University of Washington. Hillel, StandWithUs and others had pooled resources to decisively defeat the UW divestment resolution. UW Hillel director Rabbi Oren Hayon was generous in sharing credit for the victory with his students (but less so with his community partners).
The community gathering went off as planned. The sanctuary of Temple De Hirsch was packed. As expected Rev. Flowers in a rousing sermon condemned BDS and praised Israel. Ari Shavit was equally critical of the BDS movement and while also critical of some of Israel’s policies offered up the sober reality that should Israel’s enemies succeed, there will not be another chance for the Jewish people.
The goal of a unified community rejection of BDS had been achieved, or had it?
Even before the doors opened at Temple De Hirsch that night, the spinmeisters had already released the opening salvo of their counter messaging campaign. The new message? BDS is not the threat; fighting BDS is. History would be changed, a major community event was about to be retroactively hijacked.
Surprisingly it was not J Street (who appeared to stay out of the fray), but Rabbi Oren Hayon of Hillel with a mighty assist from Joel Magalnick at the JTNews who fired the first shot. The day before the Anti-BDS rally the online incarnation of the JTNews featured Hayon’s provocative essay with the shocker headline “A Pyrrhic Victory: Was the price of turning back Israel divestment at the UW too high?“. Two days later Magalnick would feature the wordy manifesto as a can’t be missed full-page, front page, full color headline in the Jewish Federation owned community newspaper.
Hayon’s treatise reframed the anti-BDS efforts from one of pro-Israel advocacy into an act of gross communal irresponsibility. He bemoans the toll inflicted upon pro-Israel students after being “manipulated” by the community to fight the resolution and dramatically ponders if fighting BDS is worth the cost; asking “When will the Jewish community acknowledge that there is no such thing as a sustainable ideal whose preservation requires that we sacrifice our young?”
At the article’s core is a full-bore attack on the same community that stood firmly behind Hayon during the BDS battle at UW. Strategically distancing himself from Seattle’s Jewish leadership, Hayon lets loose, accusing his colleagues with their “hawkish voices” of engaging in “smear tactics”, “witch-hunts and name-calling”. Hayon contrasts his own “richly nuanced” assessment of BDS with the “scorched earth approach” of anybody who doesn’t agree with him. He accused the pro-Israel community of putting forth “with us or against us” ultimatums, when ironically it is Hayon and his acolytes who belittle those with whom they disagree.
While Hayon denies advocating for an “Open Hillel” model he concludes his essay with an appeal to expand Hillel’s already expansive tent, presumably to include programming compatible with the BDS perspective. While all Jewish students, no matter their politics or ideology are welcome at Hillel; says Hayon “I am hopeful that some brave conclusions will emerge from the reevaluation of Hillel International’s rules of engagement about Israel.”
On cue NIF’s Ben Murane enthusiastically promoted Hayon’s article, featuring it on his own Jewschool online magazine and tweeting of Hayon’s bravery to his followers.
Just hours before the anti-BDS community rally was scheduled to commence Murane belittled the program, feigning surprise that the event, as stated in every piece of promotional material, would be about BDS. Rather than speaking of the Palestinian “Nakba” or tragedy coinciding with Israel’s independence complained Murane, “Shavit will talk about BDS”… “A wasted opportunity”.
Even curiouser, lest we forget, is the fact that Murane’s New Israel Fund was a co-sponsor of the very event he is bashing, and as such he was privy to every detail of its purpose and program well in advance. Why would a responsible community partner lend their name to an event only to publicly mock it and rip it apart even before it was held? Why would he sign on as a sponsor only to later express ignorance as to its message and theme?
A few days later a piece written by a Shoshana Wineburg appeared on Magalnick’s online version of the JTNews. Wineburg excoriates Shavit for his failure to utilize the community gathering to defame the Jewish state. She goes on to chastise Shavit for his lack of “nuance”. By “nuance” she means Shavit should have used what was ostensibly a pro-Israel rally to inform the capacity crowd that…
*Bedouins live in unrecognized villages without electricity or running water. The government refuses to grant the Druze permits to expand their cities. Refugees sleep in sleeping bags in public parks because the government won’t give them work visas. In Israel, public services are separate, and not equal. Israel takes land and resources in the West Bank that are not ours to take. In [Hebron], the streets are divided, just like an apartheid state: One sidewalk is for the Jews, the other is for the Arabs. We finally got a strip of land that we could call our own. In so doing we displaced another people. Israel’s democracy is pockmarked with holes.
Murane promoted Wineburg’s article, saying that her Proctologist’s view of the Jewish state speaks for him as well. “As a fellow disappointed Millenial, this is what I thought about Ari Shavit’s event in Seattle”
One can’t help but wonder if Shavit had spent his entire speech ripping into Israel for every shortcoming, real or imagined, whether Wineburg would have penned an article moaning the lack of nuance in that speech as well. For Israel haters, and how could one not hate Israel if it were as Wineburg describes, nuance is a one way street.
Piling on, Magalnick himself contributed a telling piece, offering his take on the anti-BDS event in an article titled “Ari Shavit in Seattle: Defending Israel must be about the young people“. By the second paragraph Magalnick is in a full-tilt defense of BDS, consciously obscuring the central target of the BDS movement. Magalnick posits that BDS is merely opposed to “Israel’s government” rather than her citizens or its existence. Says Magalnick “Shavit came to Seattle to launch a communal discussion – about the movement against Israel’s government known as boycotts, divestment and sanctions”
The assertion is as disingenuous as it is breathtaking. Since Israel is a democracy, the government, and there have been many since the birth of BDS, is elected solely by the people. If the BDS quarrel is merely with the government of Israel, pray tell which Israeli government would BDS support? As clumsy as Magalnick’s construct is, he would need to argue with the leaders of the BDS movement who are quite clear that their goal is not to topple any specific Israeli government but rather the entire Jewish state.
As Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement explained. “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
While acknowledging Pastor Flower’s unqualified support of the Jewish state, Magalnick closes his piece by culling every critical comment made against Israel by Shavit and highlighting them with bullet points.
It is a truly remarkable thing when a Jewish community can gather in one place to stand in support of one another and of our besieged brethren across the sea. It is a sad but unsurprising thing when a community is unable to unify in support of our only Jewish state. But to feign support in order to engage in a Machiavellian act of communal sabotage is profoundly immoral and should not stand unanswered by our communal leadership.
*Assorted excerpts from Wineburg’s article
miguelito. thanks for articulating so clearly why so many of us left the event with a bad taste in our mouths. thanks for all your efforts in clarifying the mud out of what happened that evening.
Don’t you think that a large part this is desperation in seeing that the many are taking more notice and understanding the intentions of the sides?
People know about Israel and the Palestinian narrative only too well, but they do not know enough about BDS or the friends of the human rights imposters.
One of the most discouraging aspects of all this was for me to learn we have way too many traitors in our midst. Arrogant, smug so proud of themselves “As a Jew” identify themselves when posting a comment in the New York Times or other sites. I have attempted to engage them in a what I believe a “rational” discussion, boy am I naive. I commend you Mike for your tireless efforts in combating bigotry and hatred.
Thanks Herb, that means a lot. And this is exactly what we all must do, call out and expose the bigotry and hatred.
I stood up an left the moment it became clear that Magalnick was MC-ing the hand picked “QA” session. It was the equivalent of putting Iran on the UN human rights counsel. Sometimes the tent is too big…
Great piece! Mostly understated!
Thanks Jacob, it saddened me to write it.