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Tête-à-tête over how to deal with BDS

  • Brog Yoffie HOME
A media brouhaha over the best way to handle BDS on campuses has erupted between Rabbi Eric Yoffie (right in picture at left), a writer, teacher & former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, & David Brog, CEO of Adelson-backed Maccabee Task Force (also executive director of Christians United for Israel) after the former penned an op-ed in Haaretz “Why Adelson’s campus anti-BDS group will be a bust” on December 22 & Brog responded with his own “A Time for Unity” posted on the Adelson-owned JNS news service on December 30
by ANT KATZ | Jan 01, 2016

“Sheldon Adelson founded the Maccabee Task Force (MTF) earlier this year to combat anti-Israel activity at American universities,” wrote Rabbi Eric Yoffie on December 22. “It will not create its own chapters but will provide grants to others advocating for Israel on campus.” Yoffie wrote that David Brog had been appointed head of the new group. 

But, wrote Yoffie, he was unimpressed by Brog’s recently announces strategy, saying:  “Any organisation that thinks this way will be, at best, window dressing on campus, and at worst, a joke.” 

Brog DavidYoffie was taking exception to Brog’s proposed approach which he had disclosed in an interview with Gary Rosenblatt, editor of the New York Jewish Week. Yoffie wrote that what Brog had said “was not encouraging”.


RIGHT: Adelson's
pick, David Brog

“Brog has hired consultants and run focus groups, and the result is much blather about ‘messaging’ delivered in consultant-speak.”

Yoffie says the MTS’ strategy consultant, Bill Knapp, says that facts are important - but so are tone and feeling, and that student thinking may be influenced by their views of justice versus injustice.

“No kidding,” says Yoffie patronisingly. “In one painfully patronising passage, Knapp informs us that young people are ‘smart but often uninformed’ and that their views are ‘pliable’."

David Brog responds

In “A Time for Unity” published this week, Brog responds to the attack by pointing out that the “overriding imperative of the Maccabee Task Force is to build a united front in the fight against BDS.” Brog writes that those who would defend Israel must stop fighting and competing with one another. “When we let baseless hatred divide us, we lose,” he says.

Brog adds that it was “with great sadness that I read an article by Rabbi Eric Yoffie attacking the Maccabee Task Force. This article is no argument for the sake of heaven. This is mistake-riddled and oddly ad-hominem mischaracterisation of everything we intend to do.”

He accuses Yoffie of wrongly attributing quotes to him, which Haaretz had had to correct afterwards; and that he gets his sources and facts wrong. “Yes,” says Brog, “Yoffie should have checked his facts. But more importantly, he should have checked his soul. His baseless attack is a troubling sign of the baseless hatred we must shun.”

This is clearly a tête-à-tête that still has some distance to run. Jewish Report Online will follow events and report on them as they occur. In the meantime, both pieces are reproduced in full below.



Why Adelson's anti-BDS group will be a bust

Posted on December 22 by Rabbi Eric Yossi on Haaretz.com

The head of the Maccabee Task Force thinks that a "no-criticism of the current Israeli government" litmus test can be applied in building pro-Israel and anti-BDS coalitions. That’s delusional.

Sheldon Adelson founded the Maccabee Task Force earlier this year to combat anti-Israel activity at American universities. It will not create its own chapters but will provide grants to others advocating for Israel on campus. David Brog, former executive director of Rev John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has been appointed head of the new group. 

In an interview with Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of the New York Jewish Week, Brog has shared for the first time the approach that he intends to take. What he said was not encouraging. Brog has hired consultants and run focus groups, and the result is much blather about “messaging” delivered in consultant-speak. His strategy consultant, Bill Knapp, tells us, for example, that facts are important but so are tone and feeling, and that student thinking may be influenced by their views of justice versus injustice. No kidding. In one painfully patronising passage, Knapp informs us that young people are “smart but often uninformed” and that their views are “pliable”.

Rabbi YoffieAny organisation that thinks this way will be, at best, window dressing on campus, and at worst, a joke. 


LEFT: Rabbi Eric Yossi

The following are some thoughts for the Maccabee Task Force on what is required to make an impact on campus, drawing on my experience over several years of lecturing about Israel at colleges and universities. Six principles are key.

1. Don’t assume the worst: The campus is not always a hotbed of hostility to Israel

Yes, enemies of Israel are to be found on campus, and BDS is a project of bona fide Israel haters.  Also, there are always some self-hating Jews ready to defend the rights of every group but their own. But the overwhelming majority of students have other things on their mind. And the Jewish community has done a very creditable job in combatting BDS and other anti-Israel activity aimed at students.

 

2. Tell Israel’s story simply, honestly, and directly

This may seem obvious, but is not. As Jonathan Sacks has recently pointed out, we Jews are master storytellers who have forgotten how to tell Israel’s story. Even worse, our enemies are better at telling their stories than we are at telling ours.

3. Tell the truth about Israel

This is critically important. And the truth is this: Israel is the product of Zionism, a national liberation movement that came into being to give the Jewish people control over their own destiny. Zionism created a state in the land of Israel intended to be both Jewish and democratic. This homeland was expected to promote the religion, civilisation, and culture of the Jewish people and its dominant Jewish majority, while granting full civil and human rights to its minority citizens. 

The only way that the goals of Zionism can be met is by partitioning the land of Israel into a Jewish and a Palestinian state. This was true in 1947 when the United Nations created Israel, and it is true now. Important matters of borders and security will be negotiated between Palestinians and Israelis, but there is no alternative to two states. Otherwise, Israel will be either Jewish or democratic but not both, an unthinkable proposition for the Zionist founders.

4. Acknowledge Israel’s faults, and don’t try to justify her settlement policy

Israel’s settlement policy makes a two-state solution difficult and perhaps impossible to achieve. University students think that this policy makes no sense, and they will not listen to the usual litany of weak excuses to justify it. In my experience, nobody on campus defends settlement expansion, including mainstream Jewish groups. They know it is a losing argument that works against Israel’s interests and values. If the Maccabee Task Force thinks I am wrong about this, it should sponsor a speaking tour on campus for a settler leader and see what happens.

Opposing settlement does not require breast-beating or demonising Israel. It simply means admitting that expanding settlements is a mistake and must stop.

5. Don’t try to promote Israel with the argument that 'the other side is worse'

The Palestinian national movement has too often been murderous and bloody, and it equivocates on the justice and necessity of a two-state solution. Still, it is a mistake to dismiss every criticism of the Jewish state with the assertion that the Palestinians are even worse. This amounts to an argument that Israel is the lesser of two evils. Far better to say that Israel is an imperfect work in progress but also a glorious achievement - and a state that is held to the highest standards by Jews everywhere.

6. Work with allies on the right and left who accept the foundational principles of Zionism, and don’t work with those who don’t

Coalitions of Israel supporters are the key to pro-Israel advocacy. Brog says that he understands this, but really doesn’t. He rightly rejects Jewish Voice for Peace (sic), an anti-Israel group if ever there was one, but then puts J Street U – J Street’s campus affiliate – in the same category. I don’t agree with J Street on everything, but they are an essential part of the Zionist family. And they are exceedingly effective pro-Israel advocates and anti-BDS organisers on campus, especially with students on the left.

Brog disqualifies J Street because they spend their time “criticising Jerusalem’s positions”. In other words, the Maccabee Task Force regards as allies only those who refrain from criticism of Israeli government policies. Has Mr Brog ever been on campus? It is madness to think that a no-criticism litmus test can be applied in building pro-Israel and anti-BDS coalitions. 

Based on what Brog has said so far, the Maccabee Task Force will not be adhering to the principles I have outlined.  And the likely result is that the Task Force will be a bust. My recommendation to Mr Adelson is that he take these dollars and pour them into Birthright where they will do some good.  When it comes to Jewish students, Mr Adelson, an exceedingly generous Birthright donor, should stick to what he knows.

  • Eric H Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism.



Jewish Report editor Vanessa Valkin recently had an exclusive interview with the famously media-shy Sheldon & Miriam Adelson which is another insightful read on this website.
SEE: LUNCH WITH THE ADELSONS, whom Valkin referred to as “Enablers of dreams”…

 

A time for unity

Posted on December 30 by David Brog on JNS.org

The overriding imperative of the Maccabee Task Force is to build a united front in the fight against BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement). We who would defend Israel must stop fighting and competing with one another. We must overlook our differences, lock arms and work together. We must all remember that painful lesson of Jewish history: When we let baseless hatred divide us, we lose.

It was thus with great sadness that I read an article by Rabbi Eric Yoffie attacking the Maccabee Task Force. This article is no argument for the sake of heaven. This is mistake-riddled and oddly ad-hominem mischaracterisation of everything we intend to do.

Brog David CUFI


RIGHT: David Brog

For starters, Yoffie repeatedly attributes quotes to me that I never said. The actual source of these quotes is our communications consultant, Bill Knapp. Among his many impressive accomplishments, Knapp was communications director for Clinton/Gore ’96. Thus the words that Rabbi Yoffie seeks to dismiss as “blather” from an out-of-touch conservative (ie me) were actually insights from one of the top Democratic communications specialists in Washington. Ironic, don’t you think? [In response to our complaint, Haaretz updated Yoffie’s article to correct this error.]

After getting his sources wrong, Yoffie goes on to get his facts wrong. We have repeatedly written and stated – including in the very article that Yoffie sites – that the Maccabee Task Force intends to tell truths about Israel that will resonate with students. Far from insisting that Israel is perfect, we intend to stress that Israel’s conflict with her neighbours is complex, and therefore it’s terribly wrong to blame Israel and Israel alone. But Yoffie ignores all evidence of our real plans to write an article lecturing us that we must do… exactly what we’ve already said we’re going to do.

Yes, Yoffie should have checked his facts. But more importantly, he should have checked his soul. His baseless attack is a troubling sign of the baseless hatred we must shun.

Both Yoffie and I love Israel. We both believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist and a right to defend itself. We both understand that BDS is a slander that must be fought. So why exactly are we fighting each other? Why are we exaggerating the small things that divide us instead of focusing on the urgent things that must unite us?

I can assure you that every unit in the Israeli army contains soldiers who passionately disagree about Israeli politics. And I’m certain that when they’re off duty these soldiers have some animated policy debates. But I am equally certain that when the chips are down, they have each other’s backs. That is how responsible adults behave.

We in the pro-Israel community are in a public relations battle. And we need to do better. We need to build and demonstrate unity. We need to show each other a little love and a whole lot of grace. The students we seek to lead are watching us, and they are not fools. If we prove to be dedicated to a cause greater than ourselves they will be inspired to join us. But if all we exhibit are large egos, pointy elbows and the need to always be right, they will be repulsed. There is no greater way to alienate our young people than to show the pro-Israel camp to be the refuge of the angry and the obsessed.

Dear Rabbi, I have a humble suggestion. If you have advice you would like to give us, then pick up a phone. You might just find that we are not the caricature you have imagined. And you will definitely find a listening ear on the other end.

  • David Brog is the executive director and CEO of the Maccabee Task Force. He is (or was) also the executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Before CUFI, Brog worked in the United States Senate for seven years, rising to be chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has also served as an executive at America Online and practised corporate law in Tel Aviv, Israel and Philadelphia, PA. Brog is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State (2006) and In Defence of Faith: the Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity (2010). In 2007, the Forward newspaper listed Brog in its “Forward 50″ most influential Jews in America. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School.



Related Read on Haaretz:
Funding starts with $20 million but 'the sky's the limit,' says Brog

 

1 Comment

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