Monday, May 23, 2016 - 11:31am

BDS Hotlist: May 2016

The momentum continued in favor of those who oppose BDS this month, as more state legislatures moved towards passing anti-BDS resolutions. While anti-Semitism unfortunately continues to plague the world, rearing its ugly head especially in the United Kingdom this past month, the battles over BDS resolutions continue to tilt in the favor of those who support the Jewish State.

One hard-fought battle in particular culminated in a huge victory for both our organization's efforts and for supporters of Israel. Find out what happened below.

International Political Arena

The UK's Labour Party faces a crisis of conscience in the public eye. After four separate incidents in which current or former elected officials from the Party made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks in public, the leftist group, which holds 229 seats in the UK Parliament -- the second most of any party -- must now contend with what appears to be a serious affliction within its morale.

Late last month it was announced that two Labour members -- Member of Parliament (MP) Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone -- would be suspended from the Party for anti-Semitic remarks made while both were out of office. In Shah's case, the controversy arose over Facebook posts she made in 2014, before being elected to Parliament, in which she suggested that moving Israelis to the United States would solve the conflict in Israel. She was a rising young star in the Party and has since apologized and distanced herself from the remarks. 

Ken Livingstone's story is a bit different. The former London mayor and 40-year stalwart of the Labour Party, Livingstone was suspended for making controversial remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust, and for comparing Hitler's policies to those of present-day Israel. Not only did he refuse to apologize for his claims, but he defended them in a public setting and insinuated that the backlash over the wave of anti-Semitism in Labour is a "well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticized Israel as anti-Semitic." Some members of the Party argued that Livingstone's suspension was unfair under the auspices that most of his comments relating to Hitler and Zionism "were true."

But wait, there's more. Two Labour Party councillors were suspended at the beginning of May for even more outrageous anti-Semitic remarks. Councillor Ilyas Aziz called for Jews in Israel to relocate to America in a series of Facebook posts and also posted offensive images calling for Jews to "stop drinking Gaza blood." The other councillor, Salim Mulla, claimed that Israel is behind ISIS and posted the same message as MP Shah about the "relocation" of Jews to the United States.

What do all of these elected officials have in common, aside from their party allegiance? They all supported the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn, the controversial new leader of the Labour Party who has long been an outspoken critic of Israel.

Since the first few incidents, Corbyn has been cracking down on the Party, and it was soon revealed that these suspensions were only the tip of the iceberg. All in all, some 50 Labour members were secretly suspended for making racist and/or anti-Semitic remarks in the past two months. And now, as of yesterday, Ron Liddle, the British pundit and Labour Party member, has also been suspended from the Party for saying that "anti-Semitism is rife among Muslims." 

Conspiracies over the crisis have flown from the left and the right. Some believe that this is a methodical smear campaign intent on diminishing the reputation of Corbyn. Debate has intensified within the Party over the justification of the suspensions and how long they should be served. 

Yet, despite all of this unfolding right before the local elections in early May, a Labour Party member was elected as the new mayor of London on May 5. Sadiq Khan, the London-born son of Pakistani immigrants, is now the first Muslim mayor of London. He is also the first non-white mayor of London, although, it should be noted that the position has only existed since 2000.

Upon entering office, Khan quickly condemned the recent instances of anti-Semitism within his Party, and also made clear that he opposes the BDS movement. He even attended a Yom HaShoah ceremony. So far, he's off to a great start. We recently applauded him for his efforts

But wait. There's even more. Ironically enough, at an event centered on the theme of anti-Semitism within the UK's Labour Party, held by the University of London Student Union, several panelists called for the destruction of Israel as a solution to anti-Semitism. Tariq Ali -- a British Pakistani writer, journalist and filmmaker -- espoused an opinion that the annihilation of Israel would greatly benefit both Palestinians and Israelis, and would henceforth put anti-Semitism to rest altogether. This of course coming at an event focused on combating anti-Semitism.

And, in a much more positive note, the French bank Credit Mutuel shut down the account of La Campaigne BSD France -- the group that organizes on behalf of the BDS movement in France -- amid escalating concerns over illegal practices. 


For months, since it announced that it would divest its pension funds from several Israeli banks, the United Methodist Church has threatened further punitive action against the Jewish State. The Church, which has 7.2 million members in the U.S. and 12 million globally, has an outsized impact on the religious world. And for months, the American Jewish Congress has lobbied for the organization not to take further action in support of BDS or against Israel. 

Over the weekend, several pro-BDS resolutions were rejected by senior leaders of the Church amid its quadrennial policy conference. One senior leader, John Lomperis -- the director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action Program -- was quoted as having said that the resolutions "pretty much went down in flames," a telling indicator of a poorly planned boycott attempt by a religious organization that has necessary ties to the country that it seeks to boycott. Given the vast range of influence that the Church has, this was considered a big victory in the fight against BDS.

The United Methodist Church oversees tens of Methodist hospitals across the United States, and as many people are aware, much of the high-tech medical equipment used in medical facilities today originates in innovative medical research laboratories in Israel. Surely, the Methodist hospitals across the country employ Israeli technology, which is the basis for the argument that AJCongress made when imploring the Church not to boycott Israel after it announced its initial divestment last fall. This again comes as a big win for our organization.

Last week, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who is a practicing Methodist, issued a statement in condemnation of the BDS movement. The statement was believed to be directed towards the Church, although there is no mention of it. Regardless, her voice may have played a big role in ending the Methodist Church's pro-BDS streak, and for that we thank her.

Anti-BDS Laws

Iowa was the latest state to join the ranks of legislatures that have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent months. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill that was approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in February and it was sent to Governor Terry Branstad for his approval. The bill prohibits public entities from entering into contracts of $1,000 or more with companies that participate in BDS activities. The Iowa State Senate also passed a resolution in support of Israel calling for a negotiated settlement resulting in a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, we continue to wait with baited breath as the New York State Assembly decides which of the two anti-BDS bills that it is currently considering -- A.9036 or A.8220 -- will move forward in the legislative process. We will continue with our advocacy campaign to encourage the Assembly to move forward with A.8220 for the duration. Click here if you are a New York resident and would like to contact your legislator in support of this bill, which would forbid the State of New York from conducting business with entities that support BDS and would require the State to compile a list of companies that boycott Israel -- one of the strongest and most comprehensive anti-BDS bills put forth in any state legislature. 

We are also staging an advocacy campaign for California to pass an anti-BDS bill that its legislative bodies are currently considering. Click here to contact your California elected officials in support of AB. 2844.


The University of Chile's Law Faculty Student Union passed a resolution in support of BDS in early May. The resolution prohibits any academic interaction with the State of Israel or its citizens. The students voted in the affirmative of the following two questions:

  • 1. "Do you agree to ban activities that involve the participation of functionaries of the State of Israel or with funding from the Israeli embassy in the law school?" and
  • 2. "Do you agree that the University of Chile should not maintain institutional links with Israeli universities that directly contribute to the violations of human rights of the Palestinian people?"

But in brighter news, early in the month, a BDS resolution was shot down at Vassar College, a prestigious liberal arts school in New York that is no stranger to anti-Israeli sentiment. At Vassar, 39 professors publicly support BDS, and a speaker who made reference to the accusation that Israelis harvested Palestinian bodies for organs was brought to campus in February. To say that rejecting BDS on a college known for its anti-Semitic streak is a big win would be a huge understatement.

Following the controversy of the BDS resolution passed by the NYU Graduate Student Union last month, members of the union have filed an appeal to reverse it. The NYU administration already condemned the resolution, and so did members of the Graduate Student Union who filed the appeal on the claim that the resolution violates both the codes of their parental union, the United Auto Workers, and the student union's contract with NYU.

And, as anti-Semitism continues to plague college campuses, the AMCHA Initiative just published a study that sought to unlock the underlying conditions that predict hostile incidents towards Jewish students and anti-Semitism on college campuses in general. The study discovered that the "strongest predictor of anti-Jewish hostility on campus is the presence of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel." Big shocker.


Last, but not least, American actor Michael Douglas, who won the 2015 Genesis Prize* -- awarded to Jewish individuals who have attained international renown in their chosen field and are firm defenders of the Jewish community and/or Israel -- will speak at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York next week. Douglas will be interviewed live by J Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, and will speak about Jewish values, cultural issues and concerns facing the community.

*AJCongress President Jack Rosen serves on the Genesis prize committee and was very happy to see Mr. Douglas receive the award last year.


Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 12:10pm

On Yom HaShoah we pay our respects to those lost in the Holocaust, but we also look to the future at what must be done to prevent another atrocity of this magnitude, and seek to restore justice to the remaining Holocaust survivors who have to live with the burden of their experiences.

We at the American Jewish Congress reflect on the Holocaust every day, not just on Yom HaShoah. We strive to educate world leaders on the historic injustice of what our ancestors faced, and set the record straight on the current struggle in Israel. Every year, amid our annual Israel Mayors Conference, we take leaders (such as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured below with AJCongress President Jack Rosen and Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni) to Yad Vashem in an effort to cultivate understanding and tolerance.

Monday, April 25, 2016 - 2:01pm
BDS Hotlist: April 2016

Supporters of the Jewish State suffered a serious blow over the past week, as two major educational institutions passed pro-BDS (Boycotss, Sanctions, and Divestments movement) measures, and another is scheduled to vote on an academic divestment resolution on Friday. It seems that colleges and universities have become the breeding ground for BDS, as more and more student governments vote on resolutions to boycott Israel.


Meanwhile, positive developments continued on the state level here in the US, as another state legislature passed an anti-BDS measure in the past month. One of the largest states in the country -- that also has one of the biggest populations of Jews outside of Israel -- is also considering an anti-BDS measure in the coming days. Meanwhile, a highly prominent Congressman took a trip to Israel where they expressed solidarity with the Jewish State a couple of weeks ago.


Find out which congress member visited Israel and learn more about the global fight against BDS by reading on below:

International Political Arena
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan visited Israel earlier this month with a bipartisan delegation comprised of seven congressmen from across the country. During the visit, Ryan reaffirmed his country’s devotion to the Jewish State and condemned the BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. He also linked BDS to anti-Semitism while discussing the recent rise in European anti-Semitism on a radio show, calling BDS a “ridiculous and counterproductive shenanigan.” It was Ryan’s first trip to a foreign nation since assuming the speakership.

Anti-BDS Laws
California is well on its way to becoming the eighth state to pass a law aimed at curtailing the efforts of the BDS movement. The state legislature is considering a measure similar to those of many states that have already prohibited state entities from contracting with businesses that engage in boycotts against Israel. Before the bill can reach the Assembly floor, it must first pass through a number of committees. It was approved by the Assembly Accountability Administrative Review committee last week and will pass through the Judiciary Committee tomorrow, and ultimately the Appropriations Committee before either branch may vote on it. We are currently staging a contact your legislator campaign for our California followers to urge their state representatives to pass the bill.

Colorado became the seventh state to pass an anti-BDS measure late last month as Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill requiring the state’s retirement program to divest from companies that boycott Israel.

In late March,Illinois officially became the first state to publicly list companies that are banned from doing business with any state entity for boycotting Israel. Overall, 11 companies were listed by the Illinois Investment Policy board as being barred from conducting business with state entities for their support of the BDS movement. This, of course, comes amid a wave of state-sponsored legislation targeting BDS supporting corporations.

The recent wave of anti-BDS bills clearing state legislatures is considered a huge boon for supporters of Israel, especially as anti-Israel sentiment gains support on college campuses and in the international political arena. State legislation has increasingly become an integral component of the fight against BDS, gaining traction in particular after the European Union (EU) began labeling goods made within the disputed territories last year. Jewish advocacy organizations (including this one) have turned their attention to state-sponsored anti-BDS measures in lieu of support from foreign nations and international political bodies. The US government paved the way for the recent wave of anti-BDS laws in state legislatures with a law designed to legally strengthen states’ abilities to pass anti-BDS legislation.

The BDS movement suffered two defeats in five weeks at the University of Minnesota, as a pro-BDS resolution put forth and supported by a number of student and faculty groups was twice shot down. While the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) did pass a heavily amended version of the BDS bill, the final product contained no references to specific countries, including Israel, and instead resolved that MSA endorse divestment generally from “corporations involved in human rights violations,” and from “companies profiting from human rights abuses and violations of international law.” You can track all college and university votes on BDS resolutions on the website of the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit focused on monitoring anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, BDS gained ground with victories at two major educational institutions: the City University of New York (CUNY) system and the University of Chicago (UChicago), in the past week. On Friday, the CUNY Doctoral Students Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, and last Thursday the UChicago student government voted that the university should divest itself from ten companies that profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Following the vote, however, the UChicago administration issued a statement clearly articulating that it would not divest from companies doing business in Israel.

New York University’s graduate student union will consider a resolution in support of BDS later this week. The measure would request an academic divestment from Israel, the divestment of the university’s endowment from Israeli companies, and the closure of the university’s Tel Aviv campus. A spokesperson for the school -- which has an incredibly high percentage of Jewish students -- said that the administration has long been opposed to BDS, and that the “vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter,” is “at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas,” and “is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.” The UAW already nullified the pro-BDS resolution passed by academic workers in the University of California system in January, and will likely do so again if the NYU student union passed their version of a pro-BDS measure.

The Rockefellers, an historic family known for amassing unprecedented sums of wealth during the Gilded Age, are on the hotseat for supporting BDS. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), a charity organization owned and operated by the family, has reportedly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to pro-BDS organizations, according to the Shurat Hadin Israel Law center who sent the RBF a scathing letter threatening legal action. The RBF said in response that while they do not support BDS, “they stand behind all the organizations supported by the fund and which work for a just and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.”

A-list celebrities continue to stand by the Jewish State. Kevin Costner recently dismissed the BDS movement during his second trip to Israel, knocking famous BDS activist and Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters in the process. And legendary British singer-songwriter Elton John and American comedian sensation Louis CK are set to perform in Israel in the coming weeks.


Monday, March 28, 2016 - 2:33pm



BDS Hotlist: March 2016

American legislatures are coming out strong against the BDS (Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement, as an anti-BDS sensation seems to be sweeping across the United States. Multiple state legislatures have passed anti-BDS laws in recent months, and the number will continue to rise in the coming weeks as considerably more states have opened up to the idea of opposing BDS with formal legislation, and have pending bills in their respective state houses.

This, of course, comes in the heels of mounting anti-Semitism at colleges across the United States and in Europe, and in the wake of one of the biggest anti-Israel showings in the past few years: “Israel Apartheid Week,” which was celebrated by proponents of BDS across the world late last month and into March.

Overall, the past month of BDS-related news saw more victories for Israel than defeats, and ended with a boom as a well-known critic of Israel -- and a powerful member of the international political arena -- changed her stance and decided to come out in support of the Jewish State and against BDS.

Find out who it was, and learn more about the global fight against BDS by reading on below:


Anti-BDS Laws

The US Congress introduced yet another piece of anti-BDS legislation at the end of February. A new resolution aimed at encouraging the Obama administration to invest in Israeli security technologies and other tech sectors -- including those that could prevent cyber security attacks and other national security threats -- is being spearheaded by a bipartisan group of Congress members from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The resolution implores the Obama administration “to explore new agreements with Israel, including in the fields of energy, water, agriculture, medicine, neurotechnology, and cybersecurity.” Congressional insiders indicate that the resolution is intended to send a message to the Obama administration, as well as anti-Israel groups, that the United States is Committed to Israel.

And following the introduction of another congressional bill aimed at legally strengthening states' abilities to pass anti-BDS legislation last month, a multitude of state legislatures passed or introduced bills aimed at supporting Israel in recent weeks. Among other things, the bill protects state and local governments' right to disassociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.

Colorado passed a law that directs its Public Employees Retirement Association to divest from foreign companies participating in BDS just last week. The Indiana legislature -- both the State Senate and the state House of Representatives -- passed a measure that would prohibit the state from conducting business with entities that support the BDS movement, and the bill now awaits Governor Mike Pence’s signature to become law. He is expected to sign. In late February, the Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill similar to the one from Indiana, which is now pending in the State Senate.

And last week, both Florida and Virginia passed resolutions condemning the BDS movement, after Florida already passed an anti-BDS bill -- which was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott last week -- earlier this year.

And in Spain, where a couple of cities have shown support for BDS by passing anti-Israel measures, the municipality of Aviles distanced itself from a pro-BDS motion it passed in January, and denounced it as discriminatory.


International Political Arena
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström -- who made numerous headlines for her unabashed criticism of Israel in recent months -- had a change of heart after meeting with Israeli Knesset Member, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni. Wallström committed to publicly denounce the BDS movement after the meeting, and will publicly support Israel’s right to defend itself as well. She also expressed hope that Swedish-Israeli relations will be normalized following her concession.

This is certainly a big win for Israel, not just because Sweden is competing for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but because Wallström is a powerful political figure in Europe and could surely play a role in condemning the ongoing wave of anti-Semitism there.

BDS Propaganda
A troubling new report by an official committee of the Presbyterian Church USA shows that the church is actively promoting the BDS movement while downplaying the extent of Palestinian terrorism. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said that the “report...promotes boycotts under the guise of religious responsibility,” and that for years “some factions of the Presbyterian Church have [been]....promoting discriminatory attacks against Israel, while ignoring murderous Palestinian terror.”

And in late February, the BDS movement kicked off their annual “Israel Apartheid Week,” which aims at spreading awareness to the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and drawing support for BDS. The anti-Israeli movement is celebrated during different weeks in different regions, but kicked off in the UK during the week of February 22-28. The first day made a sizeable media splash when hundreds of anti-Semitic ads were discovered in over 500 London tube trains, where over 4 million people saw them. Luckily, London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has spoken against BDS in the past, demanded that the posters be taken down, and they were. Transport for London, the group that oversees the London Underground transit system, called the “Israel Apartheid Week” ads an act of vandalism, implying that the posters were not sanctioned to be put up by the organization. “Israel Apartheid Week” is currently being acknowledged in the Arab world, and will be held in the United States from March 27-April 3.

In a similar situation, albeit domestic, a pro-BDS billboard in Chicago is scheduled to be taken down. The advertising agency responsible for the anti-Israel poster, Lamar Advertising, said that it had received a “large number” of social media comments and hundreds of telephone calls protesting it. The billboard is located on a major highway near O’Hare Airport.

And late last month in Los Angeles, the entertainment magazine Variety reportedly refused to publish an anti-Israel advertisement that says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” proposed by the group Jewish Voice for Peace. Oscar nominees were given a free trip to Israel as part of their “swag bags,” and the advertisement -- whose top line reads “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians” -- called on them to reject the offer. Ultimately, however, the ad will never see the light of day. The Israeli government is sponsoring the $55,000 all-expense paid, 10-day travel package to Tel Aviv for all Oscar nominees for best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress, and director categories, as well as Oscar host Chris Rock.

Three major victories against BDS unfolded on US college campuses in recent weeks:

A resolution in favor of BDS passed in a vote by the Student Association at Vassar College last week, however, a concurrent amendment -- which would have required the VSA to restrict funding from the Vassar Student Activities Fund, did not receive the two-thirds majority needed in order to be implemented. Late last month in Boston, Northeastern University’s Student Government Association rejected a pro-BDS resolution for the second year in a row.

And the Student Senate of the University of Indianapolis rejected a pro-BDS measure with a slim margin -- just two votes shy of passing it.

And up north, students of McGill University -- a liberal arts college in Montreal, Canada -- voted against a BDS motion by a sizeable margin -- 57% to 43%. Pro-BDS forces at McGill have tried and failed three times over the past 18 months to pass a BDS motion.

More troubling news out of Oberlin College -- the ultra-liberal liberal arts college, which has played host to a variety of startling pro-BDS and anti-Semitic events in recent years: the president of the prestigious Ohio school is defending a professor who has been posting a barrage of anti-Semitic rants and strange 9/11 conspiracies on social media. In defense of professor Jay Karega’s freedom of speech, President Marvin Krislov released a letter emphasizing the importance of academic freedom. Although the school did release a brief statement saying that Karega’s views do not represent those of the college.




Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 4:44pm

Egypt once again has a working  Ambassador posted in Israel, and in the daily crush of news out of the region, this important development has flown under the radar. Make no mistake: it’s a big deal.

Hazem Khairat met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem this week, officially making him Cairo’s first emissary to Israel since 2012.

Khairat’s arrival was touted by both governments as a sign of warming relations between the two nations, which became strained under the rule of former Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted in 2013. Ambassador Khairat expressed hope that the two countries’ relationship could be “constructive” towards bringing peace to the region.

The American Jewish Congress has long been involved in the Egyptian-Israeli relationship. AJCongress President Jack Rosen has visited Egypt numerous times in recent years, working to build bridges not only between Egypt and Israel, but emphasizing the importance of Egypt nurturing historic ties with what today is a greatly diminished Jewish community.

Further, there is no shortage of issues Egypt and Israel must work on together, from security and terror threats by Hamas and ISIS, to energy and other trade relations. The momentous Camp David peace agreement is one month short of its 37th anniversary, and it’s past time to move beyond the “cold peace” that has characterized relations. The fact that Egypt and Israel have not fired a shot at each other in generations is cause for celebration, but friendship between the people of each country could generate enormous benefits. 

Khairat’s presence in Jerusalem is a welcome sign of progress. We hope that as stability grows in Egypt, Cairo will continue to reopen diplomatic channels throughout the Middle Eastern and reassume its leadership role.

Israel, of course, also has a vital role to play, with new opportunities to reach out to neighbors prepared to view the Jewish state with fresh eyes. The shared challenge of responding to the hegemonic ambitions of Iran provides Israel and many Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, a chance to work together as never before. 

Let’s hope that Ambassador Khairat’s efforts will bear fruit for both countries, and that in the not-too-distant-future other regional ambassadors to Israel will become the norm rather than the exception.  


Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 9:28am

The past month of Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement (BDS) related news was marked with ups and downs, victories and defeats. On the domestic front, a number of states advanced anti-BDS legislation, marking a win for supporters of Israel, who rely on US legislators to put the best foot forward when it comes to the issue. However, BDS is still as prevalent on US college campuses as ever, and safety concerns over borderline-violent and hateful protests from BDS supporters continue to be cited across the US. On the bright side, a new national campus group -- Students Supporting Israel -- has arisen to combat the toxic and deep-seated presence of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Internationally, anti-Israeli sentiment continued to be espoused by numerous countries and institutional bodies over the past month, but there were key victories in two European states that sought anti-BDS legislation. And at the eleventh hour, a key ally to Israel lambasted the United Nations (UN) for their clear bias against the Jewish State.

Find out who it was, and learn more about the global fight against BDS by reading on below:

Anti-BDS Laws

Both chambers of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at bolstering states' abilities to adopt anti-BDS legislation last week. The bills protect state and local governments' right to dissociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel. Following a string of state-level anti-BDS legislation introduced in numerous states in recent months, and modeled after the successfully executed anti-BDS laws of South Carolina and Illinois, these new Congressional bills are aimed at showing support for anti-BDS measures and at providing a legal backing for them.

And some more good news from across the pond: the United Kingdom passed its own anti-BDS bill, which will prevent any public body from imposing a boycott on a World Trade Organization member. Israel has been part of the WTO since 1995. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightfully praised the UK for making the move.

The municipality of Paris followed suit last week, when the Paris City Council adopted two nonbinding resolutions condemning attempts to boycott Israel, which are already illegal in France.

And in Germany, the Munich-based DAB Bank plans to discontinue the account of one of the top BDS campaign websites in Germany.

UN Condemnation

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused the UN of harboring a deep-seated bias against Israel during a speech she gave in Netanya. Power went as far as to say that “Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country,” and that it is now “Israel as an idea.” She emphasized that “Israel is just not treated like other countries.”

Some see Power’s trip to Israel as a sign that the US has renewed interest in restoring peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but at the very least, her strong words represent a much needed showing of support from a key UN member state amid months of anti-Israeli bias from both the UN and the European Union.


Back on the domestic front, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill banning the state from conducting business with entities that boycott Israel. It now lies in the hands of the State Senate.

And after the New York State Senate passed a bill that would prohibit the state from conducting business with pro-BDS organizations last month, the future of the legislation now lies in the hands of the New York State Assembly, which is considering two different versions of the bill: one that would specifically prohibit the state from conducting business with BDS supporters, and another that would more broadly bar the state from doing deals with organizations that adopt a boycott against any ally of the United States.

The American Jewish Congress is currently running a petition campaign urging the New York State Assembly to pass one of the bills.


A startling report released in late January indicates that 2015 saw a 40% surge in violent anti-Semitism globally, and that more than 40% of EU citizens hold anti-Semitic views. The report discusses the rise in anti-Semitism as following a “triple alliance against the Jews: an increase in anti-Semitism on the part of Muslim immigrants, a rise in the extreme right, accompanied by xenophobia and violence against minorities; and a rewriting of Holocaust history, mainly in Eastern Europe...and in Western Europe, dissemination of hate-filled propaganda by radical left-wing movements, which promote boycotts and the delegitimization of Israel and create a climate that encourages attacks on Jews for their identification with Israel.”


Late last month, a group of British doctors submitted a request to have the Israel Medical Association expelled from the World Medical Association, in a clear showing of support for BDS. Their motives seemed not to take into account the fact that Israel, nicknamed the “Start-Up Nation,” is home to many medical facilities that conduct crucial research and develop innovate medical technology. Ultimately, however, the WMA decided not to expel Israel.


In a sign of protest to the growing (and stifling) presence of BDS on US college campuses, a pro-Israel professor at Connecticut College, Andrew Pessin, has taken a leave of absence to study Jewish philosophy and Israeli history. This is the second semester Pessin has missed since receiving death threats over a 2014 Facebook post criticizing Hamas.

Oberlin College, a prestigious left-leaning liberal arts school located in rural Ohio, has long harbored a student population with a strong support for BDS, but as of late January, the hateful rhetoric has apparently gone too far; a group of Jewish Oberlin alumni wrote an open letter to the school administration citing concerns over the inflammatory language used by student organizations on campus, several of which have “assumed the role as the mouthpiece of the BDS movement.”

The Columbia University chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) is hard at work combatting the efforts of the pro-BDS group, University Apartheid Divest -- a joint organization formed by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace -- whose disruptive behavior has alienated many students. SSI Columbia founder Alexandra Markus, said that the lack of tolerance for Israel supporters from the radical leftwing campus group is overbearing and hypocritical, considering that the social justice issues for which most left-wingers advocate inherently involve promoting tolerance -- whether it be racial, gender, or sexual orientation issues. She also said that supporting BDS is becoming “the cool thing to do” on college campuses.

And York University, in Toronto -- a city that has certainly not been quiet about BDS -- is at risk of losing “thousands of dollars” in funding from Canadian businessman Paul Bronfman, who has threatened to end his patronage of York until they remove what he refers to as an “anti-Semitic mural” of a Palestinian protest hanging in the student center.

Pop Culture

Pop icon Jennifer Lopez has received a barrage of backlash over the announcement that she would perform in Tel Aviv for the first time ever this summer. The hashtag #CanelTelAviv has flooded social media feeds for the past few weeks, but no word has come from the L Jo camp as to whether or not she will alter her tour dates.

BDS supporters have also gone after Bruce Springsteen for the past couple of weeks, as he too will perform in Israel this summer. The same hashtag, #CancelTelAviv, has been employed in this instance as well.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 10:42am

Today marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz -- the largest German concentration camp -- where over one million people were killed during the Holocaust.

Auschwitz is considered the main symbol of the Holocaust, as it lays claim to the largest Jewish graveyard in the world. Between 1933 and 1945, eleven million people died at the hands of Adolf Hitler's tyrannical regime -- 6 million Jews, alongside 5 million gypsies, members of the LGBT community, prisoners of war, and European nationals.

Warnings of the danger of German nationalism echoed across Europe as early as 1930, the year that Winston Churchill first broached the topic, but the West was slow to respond to the desperate pleas for help from Europe’s Jewish population, and by 1933 the Holocaust was already under way. Anti-Semitism swept across Europe like a fervent wildfire in the mid-1900’s, afflicting the minds of many with the aid of German propaganda. By the time the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, it was far too late.

While thoughts of lost family members and iconic Jewish figures linger in the minds of Jews every day, today is special in that every moment is filled with heartbreak and melancholy. Today, we honor the memories of those lost, pay tribute to those that could have been, and we say to ourselves: "never again."

And this year especially, as we’ve seen a resurgence in virulent anti-Semitism across Europe in recent months, we must double down on our efforts to fulfill that mantra of “never again,” and do everything in our power to educate those who have hearts filled with hatred, to stop genocide in its tracks wherever it rears its ugly head, and to seek peaceful solutions where they are attainable. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 2:21pm

The European Union has, unfortunately, expanded upon its decision to label products made within the disputed territories of Israel by enacting a new resolution that distinguishes between Israel-proper and said territories; the resolution stipulates that all agreements between Israel and the EU will not apply to any areas past the original geographic boundaries of Israel drawn up a year after the Jewish State was established.

This ill-willed resolution, that seems to be the next logical progression of the EU's support for BDS, could very well open the floodgates for a torrent of pro-BDS measures in Europe.

We are hard at work doing everything we can to educate and advocate on the true implications of BDS and to end the anti-Israel movement.

Here is the latest edition of BDS Hotlist:

Help us fight the radical BDS Movement domestically and abroad. Click here to donate to our efforts today.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 4:00pm

Today we honor one of the great warriors for justice in the history of the United States, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), three days after what would have been his 87th birthday.

MLK, whose leadership in the battle for racial equality resulted in the passage of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped secure the same rights for African Americans that had been available only to white Americans.

Today, the struggle for equality continues, as  efforts to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community to rest on the groundwork and inspiration of MLK’s achievements. 

(Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with past AJCongress President Rabbi Joachim Prinz and US President John F. Kennedy)

As an organization that long has sought equality for all Americans, the American Jewish Congress played a critical role in supporting MLK and the civil rights movement. MLK often met with our then-president, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, to talk and strategize about how to  advance human rights for all Americans. On many occasions, AJCongress leaders stood side by side and marched with MLK, during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and on other occasions around the nation.

If not for his assassination, MLK  undoubtedly would have continued his instrumental work on behalf of millions. He spoke truth to power, providing a voice for all those who otherwise were not heard in the political arena. There is no way to say for certain what more he might have achieved in the ongoing struggle for the advancement of equal rights, but even in his brief time on this earth, Martin Luther King, Jr. became one of the most important leaders in American history, remembered today around the world.

Every generation is faced with enormous challenges. The pursuit of justice and equality is an obligation we must assume in our own time if we are to honor the memory of MLK, and we must teach our children to have the courage to speak out to  right the wrongs they will encounter. His was a short but extraordinary life, and every American forever will be in his debt for reminding us that truth prevails only if men and women of goodwill are willing to fight and sacrifice.    

Rest in Peace Martin Luther King, Jr., as we celebrate your powerful example.

--American Jewish Congress

Friday, January 8, 2016 - 10:33am


The New Year began with a major crisis in the Middle East, one that is likely to shape the face of the region, and international relations in general, for years to come. The rapid escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran began with the execution of senior Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis, who accused him of calling for an armed insurrection against the state. This was  followed by an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran which, in turn, led Riyadh to sever diplomatic ties with Iran. Multiple Sunni nations--including, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, and Djibouti--announced their support for Saudi Arabia in the following days. Iran has also accused Saudi Arabia of “intentionally” striking its embassy in Yemen, which was hit by an airstrike late Wednesday night.

Many see this confrontation as the culmination of an ongoing cold war between the two countries. While the two rivals had, until now, largely fought each other for regional hegemony behind the scenes through proxies in Yemen, Syria, and to some extent, Lebanon, hostilities now threaten to turn into a full-fledged sectarian conflict. The growing animosity between the region’s two giants, one the global leader of the Shi’a  and the other of the Sunni world, has repercussions far beyond Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and US’ Policy on Syria and Iran  

This chain of events was driven partly by Saudi efforts to clamp down on internal dissent, but also by Riyadh’s  significant disappointment and unease with US policy in the region in recent  years. Following the Iran nuclear deal, the fear in Riyadh is that Washington  is giving preference to Iranian interests over those of Saudi Arabia, and that the nuclear deal will have disastrous consequences for Saudi Arabia’s political standing in the region and for its economy once sanctions against Iran are lifted. The fears in Riyadh only intensified after the Saudis realized that Washington had also changed its stance on the war in Syria. Having favored Assad’s immediate removal from power since the early years of the Syrian civil war, the Obama administration seems to have suddenly aligned itself with the Russian-Iranian position, which would allow for a transitional period of at least one year during which Assad would remain in power. Then, only a few days ago, the Obama administration decided not to follow through with its threat of imposing new sanctions against Iran following recent Iranian ballistic missile tests. In severing ties with Iran, the Saudis seem to be signaling to the Obama administration that if the US  fails to come out against what they perceive as Iranian aggression in the region, they will do so on their own.

Fallout from the Saudi announcement was immediate: Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in cutting its ties with Iran, the UAE curtailed  its diplomatic representation in Tehran, Kuwait recalled its ambassador from Iran, and Sudan expelled the Iranian ambassador from Khartoum.

Room for Optimism

While the above does not leave a lot of room for optimism, in my first letter of 2016 I would like to note several recent developments in the Middle East that nonetheless may indicate some progress in the region on both conflict resolution and human rights.

Turkey – Israel Relations 

One conflict in the Middle East that seems to be nearing resolution is that between Turkey and Israel. This anticipated resolution would bring  to an end a five-year period in which relations were strained following the 2010 Israeli commando raid of a Turkish ship as it attempted to break the Gaza blockade, during which nine Turkish citizens were killed. In  an about face, President Erdogan publicly stated several weeks ago that the rehabilitation of relations between the two countries is essential for the region’s stability. Shortly thereafter, both countries confirmed that they had concluded the details of an agreement that will allow a Turkish ambassador to return to Tel Aviv and an Israeli ambassador to Ankara. No doubt, this development is driven first and foremost by the strain in Turkish-Russian relations, which has led Erdogan to seek new regional alliances that will help him protect Turkish interests in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East at large. At the same time, both countries have additional national security interests that have accelerated their negotiations, especially the  desire to prevent Iran from increasing its influence in the region.

Human Rights in the Gulf

The close of 2015 offers some glimmer of hope not only in terms of conflict resolution but also in regard to human rights. Only several weeks ago, Saudi Arabian women were allowed to vote in local council elections and to run as political candidates for the first time in the country’s history. Nearly 1,000 women ran in the elections, and 19 of them won seats on various municipal councils. Around the same time, Saudi authorities also announced a decision to allow divorced women and widows to manage family affairs without requiring a man’s approval or a special court order, a major step to scale back some of the legal powers that Saudi men hold over their female relatives.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are barred from driving and in which they are the legal wards of a male "guardian," usually a father, husband, or brother, who is empowered to make major life decisions for them. Moreover, the municipal council elections do not carry much importance and the female candidates were not even allowed to meet male voters face to face in their campaign to  persuade  men to vote for them. Even so, it is possible that what we are witnessing is the beginning of an historic change that may eventually lead to the empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia, albeit slowly and gradually. This remains, of course, a big if, but there is certainly cause to be hopeful.

The Battle Against ISIS

Finally, 2015 ended with some  optimism regarding the fight against  ISIS in Iraq and Syria,  and the efforts to cripple its power and the threat it represents. The importance of the victory of Iraqi forces  in liberating Ramadi, the capital of  Sunni Al-Anbar province, located some 100 km from Baghdad, cannot be overstated. This is the most notable setback ISIS has suffered in Iraq in more than two years, as it could lead to ending ISIS’s control over other cities in Al-Anbar. According to various estimates, ISIS lost about 15 percent of its territory during 2015.

In any event, territorial defeats by ISIS are not  an indication that the organization is close to being eradicated altogether. ISIS is a global network committed to using terrorist methods and defeats suffered by ISIS in the Middle East may further motivate its members to strike in Western capitals, as they did weeks ago in Paris. Still, the fact that 2016 begins with ISIS on the defensive in Iraq and Syria, and that Iraqi forces, with US assistance, are taking up the fight, is a promising sign.

US in the Middle East in 2016 

Entering 2016, the dye has been cast with respect to how the region views the role of the United States. For better or worse, the Obama Administration long ago decided that the risks of action outweigh the risks of inaction,  a position extremely unlikely to change over the next 12 months as the President’s power begins to wane. The various players in the Middle East, large and small, have built that reality into their calculations. 

There is truth to the argument that the people of the region have to want peace and stability, and that the United States can’t be expected to impose it from above. But there can be little doubt that an America that sidelines itself, exerting less influence among both friend and foe, removes the only leadership force that has the  potential to impact events for the good in a sea of extremism. And, as we have seen recently, a smaller role for the U.S. provides no assurance that terrorists and their sponsors will not hit America at home. 

Notwithstanding some of the positive developments outlined above, the great likelihood is that 2016 will see worsening violence in the Middle East and in the West, including in the U.S. While the state of the economy always is a predominant issue in our Presidential elections, foreign policy and national security issues almost certainly will loom larger than ever when we go to the polls in November. We must pray fervently that the campaign for the White House will rise to a level of seriousness equal to the threats and challenges we face.

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