Seeking To Defuse Liberal Critique of Israel

Israel Action Network Seeks To Put Concerns in Broad Context

Soft Touch: Geri Palast, the head of the Israel Action Network, says a nuanced approach is needed to counter liberal criticism of the Jewish State.
courtesy of ian
Soft Touch: Geri Palast, the head of the Israel Action Network, says a nuanced approach is needed to counter liberal criticism of the Jewish State.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 02, 2012, issue of December 07, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

IAN has adopted a broad definition of de-legitimization, one that encompasses everything from heckling the Israeli ambassador during a university speech to boycott and divestment motions in church-governing bodies and anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. Still, the group is counseling a practical, pro-engagement strategy for countering those actions it perceives as delegitimizing.

“Our first point is that you need a nuanced approach. The reflexive reaction that everything [attacking Israel] needs to be boycotted is not always appropriate,” said Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director. “What we are counseling our communities is that you have to match your strategy and your tools to what the real threat is.”

The focus on engagement and on reaching out to liberal and left-wing groups fits well with Palast’s background. Palast came to the project not from the world of pro-Israel advocacy, but from liberal and labor circles. She was the top political director for the Service Employees International Union and later served as assistant secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. IAN defines its purpose as seeking to defuse situations rather than to increase tensions.

A Boycott Divestment and Sanctions conference, which took place last February at the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated this approach. In that case, rather than confronting, protesting or seeking to shut down the conference, pro-Israel advocates put on a program of their own, promoting non-BDS approaches for resolving the conflict between the two sides.

“The community promoted a counter-message that educated a much broader audience about Israel,” IAN’s booklet recounted.

Palast takes a similar low-key approach toward Israeli Apartheid Week, the annual program of events that anti-occupation activists hold on campuses across the country. The events have “fizzled out,” she told the Forward, and therefore the Jewish community should not “waste time on them.”

The ongoing battle at the University of California, Irvine, which in November attempted to pass a resolution divesting from Israel, demonstrated the difficulty in dealing with anti-Israel actions even when the Jewish community does attempt to engage, as advised by IAN. “It’s about building the relationships in advance,” said Palast, who noted that the resolution caught supporters of Israel by surprise. “It shows that work on the campus level needs to be redoubled.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.