Providing the tools to answer Israel’s BDS foes
Hundreds of thousands of activists in dozens of countries across five continents with one goal: improving Israel's international image. Here’s a peek at the operations being carried out by the Maccabi World Union, the EIPA and IAC organizations who are taking the fight to the boycott movement.
"The situation in western Europe is catastrophic," says Rabbi Carlos Tapiero, who is at the forefront of the battle against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
"And that is also the situation in prestigious educational institutions in the US, Canada and at a certain level in Australia. Even in South Africa the situation is difficult. The BDS organizations are making determined efforts to make everyone believe that the State of Israel has no right to exist," he laments.
BDS groups in the Netherlands are proud of a severe blow they recently delivered in their latest campaign against Israel, which prevented one of its major public transport companies - Egged - from winning a tender worth 190 million Euros that would have enabled it to operate in the Netherlands’ northern locality, including the country’s capital, Amsterdam.
As part of this wide scale anti-Israel campaign conducted by the same groups, Egged was portrayed as a collaborator in the violation of international law since its bus routes include transport to settlements. Moreover, Egged was accused of implementing “apartheid policies” as BDS activists charged it prevents Palestinian passengers from travelling on some of its lines.
In Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs (MSA), which over the past few years has led the struggle against the BDS Movement, it has become clear that counter measures from inside Israel are not sufficient, and that there is a need to strike the movement on its own home turf.
It is this line of thinking that marked the inception of cooperative efforts between the ministry and a host of international organizations, which together constitute the long arm of the state in the battle to salvage Israel’s image and status on the world stage.
One of those organizations is the Maccabi World Union for which Rabbi Tapiero, 54, serves as the deputy executive director and educational director. The organization operates in 70 countries worldwide and includes some 500,000 members.
"In the last decade, anti-Israeli propaganda activities have even penetrated into the communities of the Jewish Diaspora and have caused some confusion," Tapiero explains. "That is why in the last year we started a joint PR campaign with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. We are taking advantage of the size and reach of our organization in order to fight against the delegitimization that is being done to the State of Israel."
The overarching goal of the project is to shift the negative narrative permeating international institutions to a more friendly line.
“We hold seminars and training sessions for community leaders, educators, professionals and managers in every community we operate in across the globe, and we give them the tools to respond to allegations by BDS groups,” Tapiero continued. “These people go back to their communities and they know how to handle those who slander Israel,” he proudly states.
With the massive challenge before him of shaping public opinion, Tapiero finds himself going from event to event. “Last month I held a seminar for 300 religious evangelical leaders in Guatemala,” he said. “In April, we held a similar seminar in Warsaw for leaders from 25 countries, and more seminars in South Africa, South America and Australia. We have large Jewish centers around the world, which thousands of people of all ages go to every day. In every center, the managers and trainers are graduates of our seminars, and they convey our message to their students. This way, we further widen the circle of people who are able to respond in the war against BDS activists.”
During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) was established in the US. Today it also works in close cooperation with the MSA in a project against BDS. Ehud Danoch, who today acts as the CEO of 'Shikun & Binui,' was then Israel’s General Consul in Los Angeles when he organized a support event for Israel that was attended by, among others, the then-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Much to my surprise, the people who were almost entirely absent from the event were Israeli Americans,” recalled Shoham Nicolet, 40, the director of the IAC.
“This was a red light for Danoch, which is why it was decided to establish an organization that would connect Israelis and strengthen Jewish-Israeli identity for the younger generation (in the US),” he added.
Since its founding, the new organization has already registered remarkable success. “Today we reach a quarter of a million people annually across the US,” Nicolet boasts. “We have thousands of volunteers and hundreds of community leaders. In every single incident since the Second Lebanon War—such as the Mavi Marmara, Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge—people have gotten out onto the streets to support Israel. About three years ago, we realized it wasn’t enough and that the real battleground was not on the streets but rather social media. This is when the relationship began between us and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and we decided together to create Act.il – an online community that fights against the dissemination of lies about Israel.”
At the beginning of last month, Act.il also launched a mobile app that encourages its users to take joint action on the internet to counter the negative narrative about Israel.
But the activities and efforts of IAC don’t end there. “Just over a year ago, we established IAC4action which, in practice, is a lobby for Israel designed to promote legislation against the BDS,” Nicolet said, reflecting on past successes of the initiative. “We succeeded in doing it in California and Nevada and we advanced legislation that imposes penalties on companies that boycott Israel. Now we are helping to enforce these laws.”
At the same time, the European arena is not being overlooked or neglected. Five years ago, the Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) was created – an independent organization with no political or party affiliation - which operates voluntarily as a lobby to promote Israel in European Union institutions and in pan-European media.
The organization was founded by Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the Director General of the European Jewish Association (EJA). Margolin founded the group in response to anti-Israeli sentiment that was becoming increasingly prevalent in European countries, much of which is in fact manifested as what is known as the new anti-Semitism.
In the EIPA - whose head offices are located in Brussels and which also has offices in Paris, Berlin and Rome – activists operate through spheres of influence. In the last few years, the organization has brought hundreds of high-ranking friends from the European parliament to Israel, as well as respected journalists, editors, commentators, writers and bloggers from all over the world who are given the opportunity to see innovation in Israel across a broad spectrum of fields including hi-tech, science, agriculture, environment and more.
During their tours, the visitors are able to view first-hand the significant contribution Israel makes to the Middle East, Europe and the entire world. Simultaneously, they witness some of the challenges with which Israel is compelled to contend.
“We don’t educate them and we don’t preach to them,” says EIPA media advisor Tal Rabina, who accompanies the dignitaries and writers on their trip.
“We have a frank dialogue with them and try and make them understand that the things you see from here cannot always be seen from afar,” Rabina said, adding that their efforts have already borne fruit. “We have already succeeded in having hundreds of positive articles published about Israel, even in media outlets that are known for their harsh criticism against government policies.”
The organization, which also operates in cooperation with the MSA, carried out extensive activities last week in the European parliament in Brussels with the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage.
One of the main highlights of the event was a huge fair held in the European Parliament plaza in Brussels resembling a hi-tech Mahane Yehuda market, which left thousands of young workers in the parliament impressed as they jumped from stand to stand to view presentations and developments by Jerusalem companies.
“Members of parliament and dignitaries in the EU participated in the event. And there is no doubt it will contribute to the improvement of Israel’s image in Europe, and especially Jerusalem’s,” Margolin concludes optimistically.
In cooperation with the Strategic Affairs and Information Ministry