Every organization that works on Israel recognizes that our community is suffering from increasing polarization. That is why we are puzzled when one of the most respected mainstream organizations in the U.S. exacerbates, rather than quiets, unnecessary confrontation.
Once again this week, the Anti-Defamation League has published its list of the “Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups in America.” The ADL says it selects the list based on its assessment of each group’s “ability to organize, sponsor and endorse Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel; their sponsorship of and participation in anti-Israel rallies, panel discussions or conferences; and their ability to pursue anti-Israel policy initiatives and lobbying efforts against Israel.”
As leaders of organizations that staunchly support free debate about Israel, and that also oppose the global BDS movement, we question whether such lists are a useful way to oppose beliefs and tactics with which we disagree. We believe that the way for Israel to flourish in peace and security is to end the occupation, achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution, and protect Israel’s identity as a democratic and pluralistic Jewish homeland. Simply dismissing organizations which seek to end the occupation and resolve its human rights issues by other means – even if we disagree with such means – is taking an easy way out. And lumping organizations which truly oppose Israel’s right to exist with others that harshly criticize Israeli government policy is shortsighted and unproductive.
In its statement on its website, the ADL issues a blanket accusation against the groups on the list, stating that many “are known to employ rhetoric that is extremely hostile to Israel, Zionists and/or Jews” including “offensive parallels to the Holocaust, calls for the dismantlement of the state of Israel and expressions of support for terrorist groups that seek Israel’s destruction.”
However, examining the individual reports on the ten groups, it becomes clear that the “sin” of several does not go much beyond support for the BDS movement or partnering with those who do. For instance, the indictment of “CODEPINK” reads: “CODEPINK’s objective is to reduce U.S. support for Israel and end U.S.-led wars and military campaigns in the Middle East and elsewhere. Though some of its initiatives have little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (e.g. opposition to U.S. drone strikes, the closing of Guantanamo Bay), four of the 12 “Issues” listed on its website are about Israel, including a call for BDS against Israel and advocacy on ending U.S. aid to Israel.”
Meanwhile, the ADL admits that the Muslim Public Affairs Council explicitly recognizes Israel and supports a two-state solution, but partners with groups in the BDS movement. This is guilt by association and an unfair indictment of an organization that seeks dialogue with our community.
Issuing such blanket denunciations is ultimately self-defeating. Indeed, such condemnations have been issued, and are occasionally still issued, against our own organizations by various self-appointed guardians of ideological purity, who often turn out to be fronting an ultra-nationalist, pro-settlement agenda in Israel. That’s why we believe so strongly in open debate, why we do not launch guerrilla media campaigns against those who oppose our progressive values and why we must speak out when other organizations, including those with whom we profoundly disagree, are smeared with the same tactics.
We have the deepest respect for the ADL and the important role it has played in combatting anti-Semitism and racism in the United States. It should continue to do this by cataloging and drawing attention to specific cases wherever they occur. It should however be wary of devaluing the reality of anti-Semitism by applying the charge broadly against political organizations whose aims and tactics it disagrees with or suggesting that vigorous criticism of Israeli policy equates to anti-Semitism. And it should be careful not to further alienate the majority of American Jews whom, as the recent Pew survey demonstrates, care deeply about Israel, but are no longer convinced that Israel or the Palestinians are sincerely searching for peace.
There is room for an important debate about BDS, a debate we believe we can win and are winning. We can and should discuss the contours of a final negotiated settlement, Israel’s future as a democracy, and the complexities of Israel-Diaspora relations.
This list makes no contribution to those debates. We hope that 2013 is the last year it is issued.