Commentary Magazine


With Friends Like These: Jewish Federation’s ‘Anti-Boycott’ Group Says Israel Boycotts Are Acceptable

Yesterday, the Jewish Week ran an article that claimed there was a “consensus” forming in the Jewish community that it’s perfectly fine to boycott the settlements. In the article, Israel Action Network leader Martin Raffel says that boycotts of Israel are acceptable as long as they are targeted at the settlements.

The fact that Jewish leaders are making this argument is bad enough on its own. But here’s the bigger problem: the Israel Action Network is no shabby left-wing gang of activists. It’s a multimillion-dollar project funded by the Jewish Federations of North America, created for the sole purpose of combating the boycott movement. Here’s the description of the group from the Jewish Federation’s press release last October:

UJA-Federation is a lead supporter of the Israel Action Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in cooperation with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). The Israel Action Network is a major initiative to protect Israel against a campaign that seeks to isolate the Jewish state in the international arena, and which uses boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) as its principal tool.

Through the Israel Action Network, JFNA will help prepare communities to both meet urgent situations and develop long-term strategies to promote a fair and balanced understanding of Israel and Middle East issues.

And as the leader of this anti-boycott initiative, Raffel seems to be finding ways to apologize for and excuse delegitimizers instead of combating them.

“If a person believes that Israel ought to do more to achieve peace based on a two-state formula, the question is, will boycotting a settlement advance the day that there will be peace? I’d argue that no, it will only harden positions and be counterproductive,” Raffel told the Jewish Week in December, “but being misguided in one’s policies doesn’t mean one necessarily has become part of the ranks of the delegitimizers.”

This week, Raffel told the paper that the group Meretz USA, which supports a targeted boycott of products made in the settlements, “is fully supportive of the Jewish state and it repudiates the BDS movement.”

How is a targeted boycott of settlement goods not a part of the BDS movement? And what exactly is the point of sinking millions of dollars of Jewish communal money into a task force to fight Israeli boycotts if this task force ends up legitimizing the delegitimizers?

The Israel Action Network was founded on a good premise, but if Raffel’s statements are indicative of the sort of “action” the group will be taking, then it doesn’t seem to be serving the best interests of American Jewry.