Maccabees, Reform Rabbis and the Quest to Slay the BDS-Monster

Maccabees, Reform Rabbis and the Quest to Slay the BDS-Monster July 9, 2015


As I blogged about several weeks ago, Sheldon Adelson & Co. have founded a new multi-million dollar effort to slay the BDS-beast that is stalking college campuses. The knights that they set loose will be known as the campus Maccabees. (I also pointed out what a poor choice of names this is.)

In this week’s Forward Jay Michaelson has a great piece about why this effort will fail. He enumerates four reasons, beginning with the fact that the Adelson project is an effort built on “ethnocentrism and a refusal to admit ambiguity and nuance.” This type of approach does not go down well with the college crowd.

He concludes with an observation that’s similar to the one that I’ve been making on this blog. The pro-BDS movement is not primarily driven by antisemitism:

…the Maccabees Strategy that we’ve seen so far is going to backfire because it willfully misdiagnoses why so many people are critical of Israel right now.

The reason is not because the critics are anti-Semitic, hopelessly liberal or otherwise deluded. It is because many people think it’s wrong for any state to deny 4 million people the right to vote, to determine their own future, and to live free of military occupation. That’s true of China too, but when it’s the Jewish state (and one propped up by American aid), American Jews feel particularly implicated.

Michaelson’s column was published several days ago. To his four reasons we might add a fifth after today’s news that the Maccabees have announced that their commander will be David Brog, the executive director of the evangelical Christians United for Israel. That’s the group founded by Pastor John Hagee. You know him. He’s the guy whose reaction to the SCOTUS same-sex marriage decision was that the “Supreme Court has made America the new Sodom and Gomorrah.” Those liberal Jewish college students are really going to love his pal Brog.

Sadly, it seems that the entire organized Jewish world is caught up in this BDS hysteria. That includes the liberal Reform movement’s rabbinical body.

Late last month the United Church of Christ (UCC) voted to divest itself of investments in seven companies that it believes contribute to the Israeli occupation. I think that some of their choices were silly (I’m a big lover of SodaStream which is about to relocate from the West Bank in any event). I’m also quite unconvinced that the largely symbolic BDS effort will have any real economic impact on Israel or the targeted corporations.

But the Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) could not refrain from offering this over-the-top response:

…the UCC has now taken sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has explicitly joined the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a contemptible effort to delegitimize the State of Israel and deny the Jewish people’s right to statehood.

The very first paragraph of the UCC statement talks about “a just and fair resolution to the conflict” and the importance of “Israel’s secure existence.” Disagree with their decision all you want, but to call it “a contemptible effort to delegitimize the State of Israel and deny the Jewish people’s right to statehood” is plainly inaccurate.

The UCC did reject a second proposal that would have labeled Israel an “apartheid state.” A majority of its General Synod voted in favor of the statement, but it failed to achieve a required two-thirds majority. The CCAR noted the simple majority vote “with revulsion” and took “cold comfort” in its failure to meet the two-thirds threshold.

I, too, disagree that Israel proper is an apartheid state. There is significant discrimination against Israeli Palestinians, but not rising to the level of apartheid.

The occupation of the West Bank is another story altogether. Now approaching its fiftieth (!) year, it’s certainly creating some kind of parallel to apartheid. When you have hundreds of thousands of residents of the same piece of land who are entitled to vote for the leaders who govern them while at the same time there are millions of disenfranchised residents living right alongside them with no say in the matter, it certainly can’t be called equality. And don’t even get me started on the Israelis-only West Bank bypass roads and other inequities.

In the meantime, while Adelson’s Maccabean knights wander America’s campuses on their quest to slay the BDS-monster, Israelis lie on beaches and sit in coffee houses slowly committing suicide. That image, by the way, comes courtesy of the ominous op-ed column written by the very Zionist Ari Shavit in today’s Haaretz. Anyone who really cares about Israel should read it.

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