Op-Ed: Should a Pro-BDS-Activist Jew Address a Jewish Group?

Does it matter if a Jewish boycott campaigner addresses a Jewish audience? The determining factor is not free speech and Jewish values, but one simple test.
Published: Wednesday, May 01, 2013 11:25 AM


What great principle is violated when a Jewish academic, unexceptional except for his vocal support for boycotting Israel, speaks on some tepid topic at the South African Union of Jewish Women? What makes it wrong? Or, how is it wrong?

A strong minded Zionist would brand him a traitor and have the man sent to Coventry. If that’s what he wants the international community to do with Israel, then give him the treatment. Touché.

Even lukewarm Zionists could not feel easy with a fellow Jew allying himself to a group of conspirators who lick their chops at the prospect of a pariah Israel wandering alone in the diplomatic wilderness, vulnerable to the final thrust.

Any who doubt the motive of boycott campaigners has only to pin one down to specifics. What must Israel do before he’d feel ready to move on? The ‘big three’ would come up, demands with no definition or limit. 1) End the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall; 2) Recognize full equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; 3) Respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return home.

Meet all, or just meet one – and the blue and white flag becomes a collector’s item. So yes, a Jew allying himself with BDS acts duplicitously.

But what’s the great principle for his exclusion? Liberal minded Jews would remind us of great Jewish values. Even a demoniser and would-be-destroyer of Israel has things to say on local issues of the day. Why make Jewish forums off limits? Freedom of speech defines the Jew, and only look at what goes down in the Knesset. That’s the kind of argument liberal-minded Jews would make. And who’d dispute them? Not I.

For the determining factor don’t look in that direction at all.

Look at reciprocal rights. Look at the way he treats Jews who support Israel. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” would be the maxim of the pro-boycotter.

Claiming freedom of speech for himself, he’ll deny it to others. He’ll go so far as to support strong- arm methods on unlike-minded Jews.

A delegation from the SA Jewish Board of Deputies visited Rhodes University in Grahamstown SA and uncovered that very thing:

1. Official anti-Israel hatred; 2) Pressure on Jewish staff and students to stop supporting Israel; 3) Jewish students afraid to disclose their religious identity; 4) Pro-Israel staff called racist supporters of apartheid, and referred to as “problems that had to be gotten rid of”; 5) a Jewish staffer facing disciplinary action for being so bold as to put up posters to counter Israel Apartheid Week.

Steven Friedman, a Professor at Rhodes and BDS campaigner, would have to show that he did something to stop this tyranny. If he did not, he supported a clampdown on fellow Jews who dissented with his views. The odds that he did do something would be very slim.

“Much of what we are told about South Africa is not really true,” he told the audience at the Union of Jewish Women. And he spoke of a tyranny which sought to silence any opinion not critical of the South African government.

Here is the same man who would not allow me to speak at a BDS event, after he and a panel had spent the afternoon telling a pack of lies about Israel.

That is the great principle. His address at the Union of Jewish Women is a gross abuse of Jewish liberality.