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ADL Enters BDS Fray With Hardline Partner

The Anti-Defamation League has announced its own new effort to oppose the boycott of Israeli goods, joining a plethora of Jewish groups that have launched similar efforts in recent months.

Calling efforts to boycott, divestment from and sanction Israel an “attack on Israel and the Jewish people,” the ADL said on February 29 that it would partner with the Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank, to produce a study of the BDS movement, as it is commonly known.

In the past, Reut has called for the use of aggressive tactics against those it views as denying Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. In a 2010 report, the group called for putting a “price tag” on criticism of Israel and for Israeli spy agencies to collect information on groups working to delegitimize Israel.

The ADL’s initiative is the latest in a string of new multimillion dollar efforts against the BDS movement. A long list of Jewish groups, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish National Fund, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Maccabee Task Force and StandWithUs, along with the Israeli government itself, have announced their own anti-BDS programs in recent months.

“There are many excellent efforts out there aimed at combating BDS and other delegitimization,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, in an emailed statement about the new effort. “We hope our work will complement and reinforce these existing initiatives.”

The ADL would not say how much its new initiative would cost. The group also could not say whether its effort would target groups and individuals promoting a boycott restricted to Israeli companies based on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, whose Jewish-only settlements are considered illegal by the international community. “We’re studying it,” said a spokesman via email.

Greenblatt, who succeeded longtime ADL national director Abraham Foxman in 2015, worked in the White House as a Special Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation & Civic Participation from 2011 to 2014.

The new ADL-Reut Institute joint program will result in a study, to be published later this year, that will outline a new strategy for opposing BDS.

Reut, a not-for-profit organization, has done similar work before. Its 2010 report on “delegitimization,” the last Jewish defense buzzword before the current focus on BDS, was influential in setting policy for Israeli and Jewish groups in recent years as they’ve opposed anti-Israel activists.

In that report, Reut called for a “re-branding” of Israel and “undermining” the “catalysts” of delegitimization. It also called for using Israel’s spy agencies to make delegitimization a priority.

The group also suggested what it called a “price tag” for people who are harshly critical of Israel to make “attacking Israel” a “more risky enterprise.” The report cited press attacks on two Human Rights Watch employees who had criticized Israel during the course of their work. (In recent years the term “price tag” has come to refer to violence carried out against Palestinians by settlers; Reut was not calling for violence.)

In a statement provided by the ADL, Reut president Gidi Grinstein called BDS a “new form of anti-Semitism.”

“We will work to offer a visionary and strategic approach – and to effectuate it,” Grinstein said.

Greenblatt defended his group’s decision to launch its own anti-BDS effort, despite the large number of groups already running their own programs. “I think the ADL has unique capabilities,” Greenblatt said. “We’ve been working with authorities, law enforcement, public officials and others, literally for generations since we were founded in 1913, which makes us very different.”

Asked whether he was suggesting that BDS was a law enforcement matter, Greenblatt said no. He said that ADL “literally for generations” had done research and analysis to aid public officials.

“We have a center for extremism that has been looking at these kinds of issues for a very long period of time,” Greenblatt said.

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