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REPORT: Pro-Israel Effort Is Failing — Can Harsh Targeting of BDS ‘Instigators’ Save It?

In a new report circulating privately in Jewish policy circles this month, two leading pro-Israel groups charge that Jewish communal efforts against the BDS movement have largely failed.

The report, issued by the Anti-Defamation League and the Israel-based Reut Institute, claims that Jewish groups’s investments in fighting what they call “the assault on Israel’s legitimacy” has grown twentyfold since 2010, but that “results remain elusive.”

In 2015 and 2016, a long list of Jewish groups, in addition to the Israeli government itself, announced their own programs to counter the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. Organizations and donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to the effort.

The report claims that it’s not working.

“The challenge to the fundamental legitimacy of Israel…[is] growing around the world,” the report says.

The report comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government adopts an increasingly hard-line approach on settlements.

But while the report’s authors acknowledge that the Israeli government’s own actions play a role in the worldwide growth of anti-Israel sentiment, they propose their own action plan for what they call the “pro-Israel network.”

The prescription seems to contain a contradiction. On the one hand, it calls for a big tent approach that accepts progressive critics of Israel. And the other, it demands an all-out assault on leading critics of Israel, sometimes using covert means.

“The instigators must be singled out from the other groups, and handled uncompromisingly, publicly or covertly,” the report reads.

The report is the product of an unlikely partnership between the ADL, a historic Jewish civil rights group, and the national security-focused Reut. News of the partnership was first reported by the Forward last February.

At 30 pages, the document offers a “strategic framework” for opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, among other efforts that the authors characterize as attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.

The report opposes new spending on pro-Israel efforts. Instead, it advocates for the better targeting of preexisting programs; the use of “legal measures” to take on “incitement against Jews and Israel” on social media, and additional investment in “intelligence and strategy.”

ADL and Reut are only circulating print copies of the report. The Forward was given copies on the condition that they not be posted online in their entirety.

In an interview at the Forward’s offices in early February, ADL national president Jonathan Greenblatt acknowledged that the actions of the Israelis plays a role in what the report characterizes as the growth of worldwide anti-Israel sentiment.

“The government of Israel can do a lot to change this dynamic,” Greenblatt said. “So can the Palestinian leadership.”

Yet the report itself appears careful not to make specific demands of the Israeli government. Instead, it acknowledges that the lack of progress on political solutions are directly empowering the so-called “delegitimization movement.”

Its recommendations are targeted mostly at Jewish communal groups, and the broader hasbara, or pro-Israel public relations, apparatus.

In places, the report appears to call for a broadening of the pro-Israel tent, and an end to the exclusion of progressive groups from Jewish spaces.

It calls for a narrower definition of “delegitimization” that will allow left-wing groups to be welcome in Jewish spaces. It also calls for “authentic solidarity” with other minority groups on issues of immigrant rights and racism. It cautions against narrow expectations of transactional benefits, arguing that such work can generally help the Jewish community “re-acquire credibility” among other minorities.

“We invented intersectionality,” Greenblatt told the Forward, referring to the ADL’s history of finding common cause on civil rights issues across ethnic and religious lines.

Yet at times, the report’s calls for a big tent seem strained.

The report suggests that “red lines” for inclusion in the broad pro-Israel network should be drawn at those who express criticism that is consistently one-sided, “not nuanced and without context.” That language has the potential to exclude many groups on the Jewish left that are fed up with Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank.

The report also refers to targeted boycotts of West Bank settlements, a tactic supported by many progressive Jews in Israel and the U.S., as a “challenge.”

It calls for “alternatives” to targeted boycotts, but its recommendations can be difficult to parse: “The polarization around the issue of targeted boycott is an indication of the lack of ethical clarity necessary in order to stand united against delegitimization by fostering diverse coalitions.”

Finally, while the report advocates efforts to engage and win over most critics of Israel, it advocates a hardline approach to what it calls “the instigators.”

Gidi Grinstein, president of Reut, defended the call for acting “uncompromisingly,” in “covert” and public ways, against these critics.

“We have to be very, very strategic,” Grinstein said.

The report’s authors argued that this narrow group of “instigators” are “modern day anti-Semites.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected]

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