Photo: Alex Chis

December 31, 2018; The Forward

A recent article by Josh Nathan-Kazis in the Forward examines an advocacy strategy that has existed since 2015, a child of several nonprofit organizations that oppose calls for a boycott of Israel to protest of the lack of progress toward a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. According to the article, in 2010, an Israeli think tank, supported in part by funds raised by an American nonprofit, offered its recommendations for a more effective pro-Israel advocacy strategy.

The Reut Institute put out a series of influential reports that laid out a theory and strategy of an aggressive pro-Israel posture. They called for pro-Israel advocates to “out, name and shame” harsh critics of Israel, and to “frame them…as anti-peace, anti-Semitic, or dishonest purveyors of double standards.” They talked about “establishing a ‘price tag’” for attacks on Israel and “isolating” advocacy groups that attack Israel, while “organizing regular meetings of pro-Israel networks.”

And with that, all that apparently remained was to find a way to implement it in ways that are not only duplicitous but highly unethical and downright abusive, all under the cover of a few nonprofit players. By 2015, things were in full swing.

For the Washington-based nonprofit Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), this strategic guidance translated into a campaign that seems at odds with its stated mission to “inspire American college students to see Israel as a source of pride and empower them to stand up for Israel on campus.” The ICC professes to “unite the many pro-Israel organizations that operate on campuses across the United States by coordinating strategies.” But rather than hold forums and rally supporters of their position, “the ICC secretly ran misleading Facebook ads targeting a Palestinian-American poet. The ads appeared to be run by students at specific campuses where the poet was set to appear, even though they were actually operated by the ICC.”

“With the anti-Israel people, what’s most effective, what we found at least in the last year, is you do the opposition research, put up some anonymous website, and then put up targeted Facebook ads,” the ICC’s executive director, Jacob Baime, said in footage surreptitiously recorded in 2016 and included as part of an unaired documentary produced by Al Jazeera, portions of which were leaked online.

Another advocate for this aggressive advocacy strategy, speaking before the leadership of the American Jewish Congress, explained that the goal of this effort should be that those they opposed should not be able to leave their homes “without being reminded, peacefully, morally, legally, that we know who you are.” The implication is that this shaming should extend to the employers and the children of those against whom they were advocating.

NPQ previously reported on another organization formed to advocate in this manner, Canary Mission. Though “formed to support Israel, its strategy is to ‘document people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel, and Jews on North American college campuses’ and publish a list of students, professors, and organizations it believes are spreading anti-Israel and anti-Semitic ideologies.” According to the Forward, “the vast majority of the people profiled on the website are college students. Some are student government representatives who voted in favor of Israel boycott resolutions. Others are students with loose affiliations to pro-Palestinian campus groups.”

Intimidating college students in a cynically constructed attempt to squelch the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement is old news. That it continues is distressing and disheartening, but unfortunately unsurprising. Nathan-Kazis has done a masterful job of tracking the history and infrastructure for these efforts in this article, which stands as an unfortunate, now fully surfaced, blueprint for other similar attempts to discredit and discomfort those who would dare to disagree with a dominant position.—Martin Levine