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July 26, 2012 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-07-26

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metro >> on the cover

Down With Demonizing

Israel Action Network takes dead aim at network that delegitimizes Jewish state.

Robert Sklar I Contributing Editor

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

Federations of North America and the
Jewish Council for Public Affairs, both based
in New York.
Dabscheck is referring to the loosely
held network of marginal forces, European-
rooted but globally spread, that seek to
undermine Israel's sovereignty by claiming
Israel occupies Arab land and thus is an
apartheid state, Nazi-like, a war criminal
and a human rights violator. These naysay-
ers generally subscribe to one state with an
Arab majority as the solution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict.
Local delegitimizing echoes from the
Palestine Office-Michigan in Dearborn.
Other promulgators of delegitimizing acts
include Students for Justice in Palestine,
American Muslims for Palestine and, at
times, Jewish Voice for Peace, according to
IAN.
The Presbyterian Church (USA)/Israel
Palestinian Mission Network also has under-
taken activities that stray into dark territory;
contrarily, the 2012 General Assembly of
the PCUSA narrowly rejected Israel-related
divestment in a key summer vote.
Churches and mosques that unwittingly
or knowingly allow speakers to demonize
Israel are especially vexing, according to
IAN.
"The discussion onIsrael has taken a very
nasty turn," Dabscheck told the JN in an
exclusive July 11 interview.
Dabscheck and Jason Pearlman, the
Jerusalem-based Israel Desk director of
IAN, visited the JN offices July 11 as part
of a two-day local visit
to meet with Federation
and Jewish Community
Relations Council leaders
as well as a contingent of
rabbis. IAN helps Jewish
groups and non-Jewish
allies strengthen their
Jason
capacity to counter the
Pearlman
movement to delegitimize
Israel. Locally, the Jewish
Federation of Greater Ann Arbor called on
IAN to help strategize over anti-Israel bus
ads.

Standing As One
The Jewish community takes pride in the
diversity of opinion on the policy actions
of the Israeli government. But Jews stand
virtually united against delegitimizing of
Jewish state, Dabscheck said."We're building
a viable continental network," he said.
The delegitimizing campaign grew from
the international NGO (nongovernmental

10 July 26 . 2012

organization) gathering that took place
in collaboration with the 2001 U.N. World
Conference Against Racism in Durban,
South Africa. Anti-Israel NGOs took advan-
tage of the second Palestinian intifada
(uprising) to color Israel a pariah state
worthy of political and economic exile. But
NGOs aren't the only culprit. Governments
influenced by the biased United Nations still
equate Zionism with racism — the U.N.
1991 Zionism Equals Racism revocation
resolution notwithstanding.
IAN strives to educate, organize and
mobilize the 155 federations and 300 smaller
communities represented by the Jewish
Federations of North America (JFNA) and
the 14 member agencies and 125 commu-
nity-relations councils of the Jewish Council
for Public Affairs. JCPA member agencies
include the four major religious streams of
Judaism, the Jewish Labor Committee, the
Anti-Defamation League, the American
Jewish Committee and Hadassah.
The hope is for this JFNA/JCPA collective
to lead the public conversation about Israel
while IAN remains in the background as a
researcher and resource. IAN also partners
with such outside agencies as the Jewish
Agency for Israel and Hillel: The Foundation
for Campus Jewish Life.
Demonizing groups sometimes join
forces to pursue their joint cause of liberat-
ing "Palestine" from the Zionist "aggressor."
Take, for example, the U.S. Campaign for the
Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
"Those trying to undermine Israel's
Dabscheck said, "are targeting certain
constituencies such as college students, par-
ticular church and faith groups, and political
progressives:'
Preyed upon are people ignorant of
Middle East politics and susceptible to
twisted narratives.
The Reut Institute, an Israel think tank,
points out "the delegitimizers work from
the 'periphery to the center' and 'bottom-
up: thriving in social networks and on the
Internet. Hence, while in formal policy
spheres Israel's diplomatic position remains
relatively strong and solid, Israel's standing
among the general public and intellectual
elites is being eroded"

Building Bonds
Dabscheck cut his strategizing spurs as part
of the senior leadership team at the David
Project, the Boston-based shaper of campus
advocacy for Israel.
Ultimately, he believes, purveyors of
delegitimizing undercut the chance for last-
ing peace and a two-state answer along the

Israeli/Palestinian border.
"Throughout different levels of public life
he said, "they target areas of cooperation
between Israelis and Palestinians, marginal-
izing the debate and, in many cases, empow-
ering the extremists"
A pivotal tactic involves calling for a
BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions)
offensive against Israel, much like some
Protestant churches, universities, municipali-
ties and corporations have sought to win
support for impoverished Palestinians of the
West Bank, in which Israel militarily main-
tains a presence for security reasons. Few
efforts succeed to boycott Israeli products,
citizens and events or to divest from Israeli
companies and institutions (including Israel
Bonds) and from certain foreign companies
that do business in Israel. Economic sanc-
tions on Israel also haven't succeeded.
IAN argues that BDS supporters often
don't understand the BDS crusade is a front
for coalitions that eye one state with an Arab
majority and a Jewish minority. That's why
IAN is reaching out to vulnerable groups
to clarify the underlying intent before BDS
rhetoric takes root.
IAN isn't so worried about diaspora
groups that lead tours to Israel. "People come
to Israel and see, experience and gain an
appreciation for it',' Pearlman said. "Israel
speaks for itself. Our job is to create that con-
nection to, and understanding of, Israel for
vulnerable constituencies"
BDS is particularly effective when an
approached group or constituency doesn't
have a strong impression about Israel. To
diminish the effect, IAN looks to tell Israel's
story more widely.
The local Jewish Community Relations
Council (JCRC) worked with IAN to iden-
tify influential Presbyterians involved in
the Presbyterian Church
(USA)'s discussion about
whether to divest before
the General Assembly
divestment vote failed.
"We contacted them
and even sent two local
Presbyterians on an
IAN study mission to
Sharon Lipton
JCRC President
Sharon Lipton told the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit's executive committee
in July.
The JCRC plans to mobilize Metro
Detroit rabbis to be more involved as Israel
advocates, Lipton added. "They have good
interfaith relationships. And they are good
as news media spokesmen and spokes-
women. Also, they can use their pulpits to

motivate congregants to be advocates for
Israel with their neighbors, co-workers and
others."

Moment Of Reckoning
The Detroit Federation
contributes $30,000
annually toward the $1.5
million annual budget
of IAN and its seven-
person staff.
"We cant miss an
opportunity to talk about
Allan Gale
Israel or to share our per-
sonal stories about Israel':
said Allan Gale, JCRC associate director.
"Everybody has a part in this:'
IAN has a vested pursuit in Metro Detroit,
home to more than 250,000 Arabs, including
many Muslims. A high priority is working
with the segments that don't cross the red
line of being anti-Zionist.
IAN focuses on reaching persuadable
people and organizations — whether Jewish,
Christian or Muslim — to promote dialogue
and combat the corrosive impact of ridicul-
ing Israel, Dabscheck said. "Very hostile
groups aren't our target': he said.
Gale acknowledges the red line is moving.
"What do you do if for example, a board
member in an organization that has not
taken an anti-Israel or anti-Jewish action is
not dean? How do we decide whether that
organization deserves relationships with
our community? That's something our own
JCRC is debating. Its our most difficult issue
— and we don't have an easy or complete
answer:'
Still, Gale added, part of what the JCRC
does is outreach. "We can't ignore our large
Arab and Muslim communities," he said.
"We have some tension with Arabs and
Muslims; are we to absent ourselves from
addressing that?"
Demonizing can both irreparably scar
Israel and provide a bully pulpit to extol
anti-Semitism, Pearlman underscored.
"It can affect Israel's economy as well
as Israel's ability to speak for and defend
itself,' he said. "It also can limit respect
for Israeli diplomats. Clearly, it's a global
concern that's an affront to values and dia-
loguing"
IAN thinks on a global scale, but advo-
cates local galvanizing.
"At the end of the day,' Dabscheck said,
"we want a strategy that legitimizes Israel
and moves along the peace process."

To learn more about Israel Action Network, log

on to: www.lsraelActionNetwork.org .

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