Categorized | Middle East, USA

Pro- Israel advocates develop strategies at conference

By J.J. Surbeck

J.J. Surbeck

J.J. Surbeck

SAN DIEGO — This past weekend I was privileged to attend and participate in a conference organized by StandWithUs in Los Angeles. Entitled “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel (BDS) – Understanding the BDS Movement’s Strategies and Tactics,” it turned out to be a fantastic experience.

What was unique about it (it’s the first of its kind in fact) was how it allowed experts in the pro-Israel/anti-BDS movement from all over the US and Israel to put their heads together, compare notes, share their experiences and discuss the best strategies to fight the BDS scourge.

It did so by setting up five tracks + one:
1. BDS on Campus
2. BDS in Academia
3. BDS in the Legal Arena
4. BDS in the Church
5. BDS and Community Organizations/Economics

In addition, there was a special plenary session panel on BDS in the Cultural Arts which did not include a strategy session as the other 5 did (see below).

While the nefarious infiltration of BDS is well-known on campus, in academia and in many churches (with different strategies developed more or less successfully to combat them), the two fields of the Legal arena and Cultural Arts have not been given as much attention. StandWithUs is to be commended for shining the light on these areas and innovating by coordinating the efforts of a stable of attorneys willing to offer their services pro bono to assist anyone (particularly students) attacked or assaulted by overly aggressive anti-Israel students or faculty (or, as the case may be, to deal with amorphous college administrations unwilling to do their job of protecting all students). The music and movie industry are also successfully fighting the delegitimizing efforts by BDS activists to have artists and stars cancel tours and visits to Israel.

For each track, there was a plenary session followed by strategy sessions in smaller working groups (except for the Cultural Arts). Each group came up with a string of suggestions which were shared at the last plenary. Since I was in the Community Organizations/Economics group, I presented the Earth Day Israeli tomato plants giveaway model run in San Diego for the last three years as an example that other communities might be interested to emulate (the two representatives from Calgary jumped on it and are going to do their own version soon).

Overall attendance was capped at 250 (60 of whom were students and student leaders) to allow exchanges among participants, which we conducted intensively.

The lineup of speakers was equally impressive, bringing together no less than 36 known figures of the pro-Israel front to address the participants, either as speakers on their own or as part of a panel. For someone like me who’s been involved in this field for close to ten years now, it was a rare treat to be able to meet in person so many celebrities I’d known until now only through their writings or YouTube appearances. As partial as it was, we had here a real who’s who of everyone who matters in this field. The networking opportunities alone made attending the conference worth it.

Among them, two stand out in particular. First, Alan Dershowitz himself was there the whole time and spoke no less than three times to share his views on the current situation and on the work being done by all the people gathered here. Known as a staunch pro-administration Democrat, it was interesting to hear him not exactly mince words regarding its attitude towards Israel and its Prime Minister. As he put it at one point, “Netanyahu did a flip (accepting the Two-State Solution – incidentally that was a first in Israel’s history), followed by a flop (his recent statement that there would be no 2SS), followed by another flip (his apologies for the preceding flop), so now I expect President Obama to do the same thing. He did a flip (his promise that he would always have Israel’s back) followed by a flop (his condemnation of Netanyahu’s own flop), but he hasn’t done another flip yet.” He reiterated his support and admiration for the work of StandWithUs on several occasions.

The second speaker of note was Bassem Eid, a Palestinian Human Rights activist. Ususally when I hear of “Palestinian Human Rights activists”, I tend to dismiss them since at best most of them are apologists for Palestinian terrorism and more busy accusing or condemning Israel for imaginary wrongdoings than protecting the human rights of Palestinians, especially from abuses by the PA or Hamas. But this gentleman is the real deal, as scarce as they are. He expressed in strong terms his critical views of the corruption pervading Palestinian society and leadership and was the first one to admit that PM Netanyahu was correct when he stated the plain truth: Palestinian society is far from ready to be a viable partner in the two-state solution. How refreshing for once to hear a Palestinian admit that they share responsibilities in this whole situation and have a lot of catching up to do before the 2SS can take place. After his speech, I asked him privately if, besides well-known journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, there were many Palestinians wo shared his views, and he assured me that there were thousands of them. I also asked him if he was interviewed in the film From the River to the Sea made by cinematographer Pierre Rehov years ago, and he confirmed that it was him indeed. At the time, I remember being struck by hearing a Palestinian daring to be critical of Palestinian society, so he has remained consistent over the years.

Among the other speakers or panelists, let’s also mention NGO-Monitor Gerald Steinberg and investigative author Edwin Black, who shined some light on the funding of the many NGOs and organizations that make up the multi-faceted BDS family, Dr. Asaf Romirowski, Director of SPME, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (one of the rare organizations with “Peace” in its name that is not in fact anti-Israel), our friend Mitch Danzig, who is part of the new Legal team put together by StandWithUs; John Haber, the clever analyst and writer who maintains the blog “DivestThis.com”; my friend Dr. Michael Harris, SWU coordinator for the Bay Area and his peer Robert Jacobs who does the same for the Pacific Northwest (both areas are hotbeds of anti-Israel activities); Noah Pollack, Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel (he appears in the film The J Street Challenge); our good friend Tammi Benjamin; and Dexter Van Zile, Christian Media analyst for CAMERA. There were many more, but it would take too long to list them all.

Overall, this was a highly motivating experience for me personally, and I hope that StandWithUs will turn this experience into a regular yearly event. Kudos to Roz and Jerry Rothstein, respectively CEO and COO of StandWithUs, their Board of Directors and their international staff. The passion and dedication of all of them was palatable and contagious.

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Surbeck is executive director of San Diego T.E.A.M. (Training and Education About the Middle East)
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  1. […] J.J. Surbeck is executive director of San Diego T.E.A.M. (Training and Education About the Middle East). This article first appeared in the San Diego Jewish World. […]


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