Jewish professionals and activists are taking a Philadelphia-based Quaker group to task for organizing a seminar for college students to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS.
The American Friends Service Committee, a national organization based in Center City, is teaming up with the Jewish Voice for Peace to run a July 28 to Aug. 1 camp in upstate New York that it says will focus on how to use economic activism to target certain Israeli companies with the aim of changing Israeli policies.
An AFSC spokesman said she didn’t know how many students planned to attend.
In an essay earlier this year, Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman called the use of BDS tactics anti-Semitic. BDS supporters blame Israel for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often refuse to support Israel as a Jewish democratic state and push for the Palestinian “right of return,” a position that could spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
AFSC supports the right of return. The ADL has previously called the Jewish Voice for Peace one of the most anti-Israel groups in the United States.
Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, a joint project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said her group “finds it ironic that an organization that was founded on promoting peace is sponsoring something that does not support conflict resolution.”
The national organization, Palast said, won’t be taking any further steps or protesting the seminar.
Locally, Linda Maizels, the Jewish Federation’s senior associate for Israel and the Middle East, wrote in an op-ed in this week’s Exponent that by supporting BDS, “AFSC places itself at cross purposes with its own mission statement.”
Maizels said it’s unclear whether or not Federation would be taking any further steps.
Jewish communal professionals often wrestle with whether a robust response is counterproductive, bringing more attention to anti-Israel activists.
Gary Erlbaum, a longtime Jewish communal leader, has raised the issue with leaders of the Federation and shared news about the training camp with followers on his large email list. He believes Jews need to take a more confrontational approach.
“There is a big movement in the Jewish community to do intercommunal outreach, to try to affect the views of other people,” said Erlbaum. “But I think there comes a point in time when you have to recognize who the enemies are.”
The AFSC has been active in the Israeli-Arab conflict since 1948 and has long been considered to have a pro-Palestinian bent. The issue hits home in Philadelphia, where so many Jews attend Quaker schools, although many of the schools have long sought to distance themselves from the AFSC.
Alexis Moore, an AFSC spokeswoman, said her group rejects “the idea that BDS is anti-Semitic. We are not targeting a country.” Instead, it is targeting specific companies like Israeli-owned Sodastream, that has its home fountain soda maker factory on the West Bank. “We see nothing anti-Semitic in the use of these non-violent tactics. Our work is rooted in human rights and equal justice for everyone.”