Powers that Be

I’m guessing that many people reading this are dedicated activists with experience battling Israel haters in the endless physical and virtual communities where those battles take place.

People who do Jewish or pro-Israel politics for a living tend to refer to ground-level activists like many of us as “the grassroots,” indicating a separate source of people, resources, strength, wisdom, pressure, or criticism they need to take into consideration as they make their own decisions about which battles to fight.

Historically, these two groups (professionals and the grassroots) spend a great deal of time analyzing or second-guessing each other’s priorities.  But as a couple of news stories over the last few weeks point out, as much as all of us want to think otherwise, there are people in positions of power who get to make the decisions that ultimately set our activist agendas.

For example, the only people who got to decide that the United Nations would put dozens of international companies on a blacklist for doing business in territories disputed between Israel and Palestinian Arabs were the leaders of nation states who dominate that organization’s Orwellian “Human Rights Council.”

Given that the countries driving this decision are dictatorships at war with the democracy they want destroyed, there was little outnumbered democracies like the United States and Israel could do to prevent the blacklist from happening.  And so, once again, our activist agenda was driven by actors well beyond our control.

Now once such an agenda has been triggered, there are things we can do about it.  For instance, the raft of anti-BDS legislation at the state level in the US gave friends of Israel the opportunity to show what they think of the BDS “movement.”  But meaningful and substantial changes to federal anti-boycott regulations passed in the 1970s was required to deal specifically with non-government organizations like the UN stepping into a boycott space previously occupied by the nation states behind the original Arab boycott of Israel.

As this dynamic plays out, the role for we activists is to frame such legislation as (1) an example of sanctions (the holy grail of the BDS movement) being applied to the boycotters and not to Israel; and (2) a direct response to UN misbehavior (thus assigning responsibility for new US law where it belongs: to the UNHCR).

A second story-in-the-making will demonstrate what can be accomplished when an activist makes the transition to powerful decision-maker.  I’m speaking, of course, about Kenneth Marcus, one of the most successful and well-known legal activists on behalf of Jewish rights, being named to the senior civil rights post within the US Department of Education.

If you wanted to prioritize dealing with the harassment Jews and pro-Israel supporters face on campus, there is no more effective path for action than to put into a position of power a thoughtful and strategic thinker like Marcus who is ready to give Jewish students the same civil rights consideration given automatically to every other minority group.

For years we’ve seen college administrators ignore complaints by Jewish students who have seen their events shut down and members harassed, at the same time those administrators take long lists of demands by mobs representing other minority groups with the utmost seriousness.  Such sheepish leaders tend to select who to ignore and who to focus on based on how much damage the complainers can cause.  And with someone finely attuned to this issue deciding who gets sued for discrimination, expect attitudes of those administrators to change sharply and quickly.

In the final analysis, every war, every terror attack, every boycott motion or propaganda campaign directed at the Jewish state has the same origin: the dozens of wealthy and powerful states who have decided to bring their war with Israel to every forum on the planet.

As the conflagration that is the Middle East makes clear, such political cynicism can be lethal to those who practice it.  Which means the best way we protect against these toxins is to do whatever we can to help create and support an Israel that is militarily powerful, economically vibrant and allied with nations not coming apart at the seams.

In short, we must make up in quality what we lack in quantity (once again).


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