The StandWithUs BDS Conference

So a bear walks into a Dunkin Donuts and says: “I’d like a cup of coffee…” and 45 seconds later… “and a chocolate cruller.”

The guy behind the register looks at him for a moment and then asks: “Why the long paws?”

That opener (which, like most gags is better spoken than written) is meant to distract you from a two-week pause in writing, one that’s especially egregious since between my last posting and today, I was able to attend one of the most important events in the last several years dealing with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”

This was the StandWithUs anti-BDS conference that was held in Los Angles weekend before last.  And now that two harrowing un-political work weeks have come and gone, I’d like to post-mortem on one of the liveliest and most enjoyable pro-Israel events I’ve ever attended.

To start with, nearly all the people I’ve been reading, corresponding with, and working alongside in BDS battle after BDS battle were either on the stage or in the audience at the SWU confab.  Contributors to this terrific book on academic boycotts, including Sam Edelman, Tammi Rossman-Bejamin, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, Dr. Roberta Seid, and Dr. Richard Cravatts were on a panel talking about academic boycotts.  Professor Gerald Steinberg from NGO Monitor and the unstoppable investigative journalist Edwin Black followed the BDS money trail.  My old pal Dexter Van Zile headed a panel on church divestment.  And I was honored to share the stage with my friends and allies Mike Harris and Rob Jacobs from SWU to talk about community organizing against BDS.

In addition to this (partial) list of people on the stage, the audience was filled with folks I’ve known, known of, or worked with for years, including the Hillel Director who played such an important role in the recent Northeastern BDS defeat, someone I had corresponded with during a recent academic union boycott brouhaha, and fellow bloggers and activists – including students who have been successfully fighting the good fight on campus after campus.

While I’ve not gone to that many big Jewish events, impressive and articulate students telling their stories always seem to be a staple at conferences and fundraisers hosted by major Jewish organizations.  But the kids who participated at the SWU event were not just there to impress us, but to teach us how on-the-ground organization mixed with verve has beaten BDS bullying time and time again.

The student who got divestment overturned in the Davis student judiciary?  He was there, telling us his tale over breakfast.  And that girl who was arrested by the BDSer/Student Senate President behind the now infamous “Blood Bucket Challenge?”  She was there too, and spoiling to continue to take the fight to the enemy once she graduates from college.

The celebrity headlining the three day program was – surprise, surprise – Alan Dershowitz.  But having watched the famous attorney give his standard Israel talk many times over the years, it was a total treat to see him in action over the course of several days spent conversing with others who already knew the basics, allowing Alan to talk more informally and expansively about a topic we had all gathered to not just discuss but do something about.

It was in the realm of action that SWU CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein and her team created a real breakthrough event.  For while much of the conference was given over to listening to experts talking from the stage, an even larger portion of time was set aside to allow people to gather in smaller groups and discuss areas of interest (BDS on campus, BDS and the Law, etc.).

In the community-organizing panel facilitated by Mike, Rob and myself, we hunkered down with folks who had been working at ground level for years who in aggregate had much more to teach us (and each other) than did the facilitators.  Which meant that successful strategies and tactics were unearthed, articulated, and spread across a community of activists ready to be put into action.

At programs that spill out over several days, some of the most important interactions take place in the off hours.  And my favorite surprise involved post-event beers with two folks from Calgary who I had never met before, but whom I will never forget.

One was a young woman whose family had gotten beaten up during an anti-Israel rally last summer when the streets of Calgary resembled those of Paris.  Apparently, a huge Muslim immigrant community meant that when the crap hit the fan in Gaza, pro-Israel Jews were outnumbered in the streets by a factor of more than a hundred to one.  But rather than let those odds cow her, my fellow conference attendee and her kin have only become more bold, more brazen and more determined to let the world know that Jews can fight (and win).

She had traveled to the event with another remarkable fellow, a native Calgarian Métis who has not only been fighting with the BDSholes for decades (having single-handedly dismantled an Apartheid Wall placed in his way while an undergraduate), but has also used the Jewish and Israel experience to bring comfort and confidence to fellow members of his (first) nation.

I’ll confess to knowing very little about the suffering of this particular tribe at the hands of Europeans who made it a point to strip them of their heritage during the process of “civilizing” the West.  But stories of abuse and a culture and language denied certainly jibe with what I know of how natives suffered over the centuries down here in the lower 48.

But for my new-found-friend, the Jewish tale of cultural survival in the face of all odds was an inspiration he was bringing to young Cree still suffering the wounds of the past.  And the Jewish people’s resurrection of their own nation (with the associated rebirth of an ancient tongue) also meant that even those who had endured unimaginable suffering did not need to see themselves as victims of history.

Of course, others are trying to teach these same kids to embrace their victimhood and make that the centerpiece of their lives.  And while everyone has a choice on what to make of their own suffering, the contrast between Israel and the victim cultures that surround it should give pause to anyone thinking that an embrace of victimhood brings either happiness or triumph.

More than anything else, this chance meeting with my new found Canadian friends taught me how much the Jewish story – especially its most recent chapter of near death and redemption from rebirth – has to offer.

And so the fight must continue against those who are trying to not just snuff out the Jewish state, but to silence a story which contains within it the power to redeem the world (if only enough people would listen).

2 thoughts on “The StandWithUs BDS Conference”

  1. It was awesome to meet you as well, your blog has been a valuable resource in this struggle against racism and bigotry. It was awesome to meet you, yet again I owe Mike Harris a beer lol

  2. Thank you for this very encouraging report on the conference. This war against Jews takes many forms including the attacks from academics and students. And yeah big shoutout to Ryan Bellerose, glad he’s on our side.

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