Israel and America: Numbers 23 & 24 – Balaam continued

Numbers 23&24 Balaam continued: Israel and America


Howard Adelman

It is virtually impossible to binge watch six hours a day for four days in a row, first the Republican Party Convention in Cleveland last week and then the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia this week, go to the cottage in between, fulfill one’s day-to-day obligations and appointments as well as write a daily blog. The biggest temptation is to drop the line you have been following and switch to the rich source of material in each of the conventions. I will write about them in more detail, but initially only through a biblical lens.

In my last blog, we were near the end of Chapter 22 of Numbers. The angel of the Lord had just told Balaam: “Go with these men, but the word I will speak to you-that you shall speak.” Balaam went with the messengers of Balak. When Balak greeted Balaam, he also rose up on his high kingly horse and remonstrated Balaam for not coming in response to the previous two summons. Not something likely to endear Balaam to Balak! Balaam then replied: “Behold I have come to you, do I have any power to say anything? The word God puts into my mouth-that I will speak.” I am merely the vehicle for God’s voice, he insists.

After making a sacrifice together, the next morning they went to overlook the encampment of the Israelites, or, at least, part of it. Balaam asks Balak to obtain seven bulls and seven rams to sacrifice on each of seven separate altars. Was this the voice of God instructing Balak through Balaam? After the burnt offerings are made, Balaam insists he has to go off alone so that God might perhaps reveal Himself to him. Then, of course, the details of the sacrifices could not have come from God. And who does Balaam run into by chance? God. So Balaam tells God about the sacrifices he made on the seven altars. Rashi writes that this chance meeting by day meant that, “God appeared to him with reluctance and with contempt.” Meetings between man and God are deliberate events, not chance encounters. God decides when and where to reveal Himself, usually on a mountain top. Further, Balaam was clearly competing with the three patriarchs of the Israelites in building seven altars, as many as Abraham (4), Isaac (1) and Jacob (2) altogether.

When Balaam returned to Balak, he noted that he, Balak, had asked him to curse (מֵהַרְרֵי) the Israelites. (This is the weak sense of curse, the verbal exercise in damning another and not the strong sense, pronouncing that the Israelites were already damned.) Jacob was to be cursed and then the wrath against Israel was to be invoked. Jacob was the old name of the Israelites. They had been reborn as Israel. Why would one be asked to lay a curse on a people that no longer went by that name? And how would cursing the house of Jacob result in invoking God’s wrath against the Israelites? Did Balaam recognize the paradox that God had put into his own mouth? What he uttered was like the trick utterance of a Delphic oracle? Balaam most likely did not understand, but certainly, Balak would not have had a clue.

Then Balaam asks Balak a question. How could I do it? Not how could I lay a curse upon a people that no longer goes by that name. But how can I curse the house of Jacob when God has not cursed them? And if they are not cursed and God is not angry with them, who am I to invoke God’s wrath? Rashi has another fascinating interpretation.

Even when they deserved to be cursed, they were not cursed, [namely,] when their father [Jacob] recalled their iniquity, [by saying,] “for in their wrath they killed a man” (Gen. 49:6), he cursed only their wrath, as it says, “Cursed be their wrath” (ibid. 7). When their father [Jacob] came in deceit to his father [Isaac], he deserved to be cursed. But what does it say there? “He, too, shall be blessed” (ibid. 27:33). Regarding those who blessed, it says, “These shall stand to bless the people” (Deut. 27:12). However, regarding those who cursed, it does not say, “These shall stand to curse the people” but, “These shall stand for the curse” (ibid. 13), for He [God] did not want to mention the word ‘curse’ in reference to them [the people]. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 12, Num. Rabbah 20:19]

Rather than invoking God’s wrath, it was the wrath of Isaac that should have been directed towards Jacob, his deceiving son, but, instead, it was the wrath itself that was cursed and the house of Jacob had been blessed. Just as Isaac had been saved from Abraham by offering an animal as a sacrifice, so Jacob had been saved from being cursed because God cursed Isaac’s wrath and thus turned it into a blessing. The turning of something into its opposite had been adumbrated. In other words, though, I have been summoned by you, Balak, to curse the Israelites, they have already been blessed by God, so any curse I utter will be transformed into a blessing. Israeli exceptionalism is being invoked. “God bless America” is the rite that usually comes at the end of every speaker’s invocation after they spoke at the Democratic Convention.

As virtually every commentator has noted, the choice over the last two weeks has been between an America that had been cursed (Donald Trump’s portrait), a nation that lived in fear and terror, weak and torn apart, threatened from without and from within, to repeat, a nation cursed, versus the Democratic vision of a nation blessed and not cursed, the home of the free and the brave and not of cowering, fearful and frightened citizens. Will America, will Israel, be a nation that dwells alone, that remains an exceptional witness to a divine aspiration for humanity, or will it be like other nations that succumb to their fears? Or is the only thing really to fear, fear itself? When listening and watching the Democratic Convention, you cannot help but feel that you are at a very ritualistic mass Bible meeting, one conducted to try to lift a curse that has befallen America, versus the portrait being conveyed by an itinerant snake oil salesman that the nation is indeed cursed and only he can save it, versus a religious revival movement of counting one’s blessings and playing those blessings forward to raise everyone up in a tide of hope.

Balaam too has been sought out to curse a nation, but all his utterances are belied by the reality, that the nation is blessed. And so, though he would spread his curses, his curses would only reveal how blessed is that nation, mostly by being free of demagogues and megalomaniacs like him. You cannot govern a nation or sow a field with an ox looking only at the black soil yoked to a donkey braying into the wind. It is only from the mouth of the donkey, not the bellowing of a bull, that we will hear the words of the Lord. Yoking the two together will mean that the field will not be plowed and the braying and the bellowing will drown out the voices of one another.

Well, as you can imagine, Balak did not respond favourably to what he had been told by Balaam, that the Israelites were indeed blessed. “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them!” (23:11) Balaam responded: “What the Lord puts into my mouth that I must take care to say.” (23:12) In other words, the bully of an ox had been made to speak like the braying of a donkey that spent its life in loyal service to another.

Balak did not give up. Three times he had summoned Balaam to come to him. Now he would summon Balaam a second and a third time to curse the Israelites.
וקבנו לי: לשון צווי, קללהו לי:
But Balaam continued to bray like a donkey, revealing, in spite of himself, what a blessed nation the Israelites were and Americans are. The Israelites bred prophets. The Midianites bred a famous soothsayer, Balaam. “For there is no divination in Jacob and no soothsaying in Israel.” (3:23) Soothsayers are oracles who read the equivalent of tea leaves and claim to see the future and curse the present. Diviners and fortune tellers, they are false prophets for they do not point to failures in the present that will result in tragedy in the future, but rather claim that the present is a tragedy. A soothsayer may claim that only he can transform a disaster into a rosy future. A soothsayer is a mountebank, a con artist, a reader of crystal balls, but in this satire worthy of Jonah, this soothsayer reveals himself as a he-ass, a teller of truths while intending to utter curses, but, and this is the irony, the truth told by a soothsayer will turn into a curse. People will believe they are so blessed that they become arrogant and insensitive to their failures.

Balaam praises and describes the Israelites as rising (from their impoverished state) “like a lioness (See Malbim) and raises itself like a lion. It does not lie down until it eats its prey and drinks the blood of the slain.” (23:24) The nation does not just destroy its enemies; it cannibalizes them. It does not just defeat the enemy; it commits atrocities against them. Balak asks Balaam rhetorically: “You shall neither curse them nor shall you bless them?” (23:24) Balaam now rebukes Balak: “’Everything the Lord speaks that I shall do” (23:25) without recognizing what an unwitting, what a witless, diviner he really is.

Well Balaam, in braying like an ass and blessing rather than cursing, saw himself as being favoured by God. He even gave up divination convinced that he had become a true prophet. But you had to know he was not. Because he turned “his face toward the desert,” (24:1), not the promised land, toward a past of idol worship rather than a future as a self-governing nation. Just as his face turned toward the desert, he raised his eyes from staring at the dirty soil beneath his feet. What did he see? The Israelites were blessed as a people and as a nation. Rashi describes the malevolence in his heart as follows: “an evil eye, a haughty spirit, and greed mentioned above (22:13,18). – [Avoth 5:19, Mid. Tanchuma Balak 6, Num. Rabbah 20:10]”

Margaret Atwood in Morning in the Burned House (“In the Secular Night”) wrote:

There is so much silence between the words,
you say. You say, The sensed absence
of God and the sensed presence
amount to much the same thing,
only in reverse.

Balaam said, “The word of Balaam the son of Beor [the beast] and the word of a man with an open eye.” (24:3) What is the word of the man with an open eye compared to the word of a man who prays with his eyes closed? Balaam is like the man who stands in the synagogue and, while everyone is praying with their eyes closed, he has one eye open looking around. Instead of participating in prayer, he looks sceptically upon the others or, not very differently, looks to see and use what he sees rather than presenting himself naked before God. You say. You say. Balaam says. And Balaam says. His words belie any possibility of embracing silence and hearing, and not just mouthing, the words of God. Words cannot bridge that silence. What Balaam utters is meaningless to himself. His words ring hollow because they are hollow, because there is no narrative behind them. They will mean the reverse of what they say. And what we heard over the last four days were stories and not just words, stories of individual Americans and a story of America itself. And the principal story of Hillary herself.

She began with expressing thanks to her daughter, Chelsea, for an introduction that conveyed how Hillary’s words as a mother had served as an anchor for Chelsea’s whole life, providing a grounding for her own understanding of life and its challenges. Hillary gave thanks to her own mother for insisting at the age of four that she not wallow in self pity but go out to face the mob with their harsh words and insults. L’dor va’dor. From generation to generation.

And with Bill? In different words from Margaret Atwood:

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye.

A hook into an open eye. Balaam uttered “the word of the man with an open eye,” not the words of a many with both eyes open, as one who hears God and sees the vision, as one who may be stricken, but one who gazes at the world and sees its faults and does not focus his other eye on himself in a continuous series of selfies. Hillary and Bill had been linked together with language, sometimes false language that treated her as a fish caught by Bill with a hook in her eye. They had been through great troubles and tribulations. But they rose above it, helped by the waves of love so apparent in that convention, the waves of love that rise like the ocean tides and can never be mistaken for false sentiment. “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” (24:5) “Water will flow from his wells, and his seed shall have abundant water; his king shall be raised over Agag, and his kingship exalted.” (24:7)

Balak was incensed with Balaam’s words. Balaam protested: “I was just uttering God’s words. I was not responsible for my actions. I was just a conduit. And Balaam prophesizes what the Israelites will do to the Moabites. But it is a false prophecy for from the Moabites will emerge Ruth, one of the great, if not the greatest, prophet in all of Israel. Verses 15 and 16 repeat:

He took up his parable and said, “The word of Balaam, son of Beor, the word of a man with an open eye.
The word of the one who hears God’s sayings and perceives the thoughts of the Most High; who sees the vision of the Almighty, fallen yet with open eyes.
So Balaam hears God’s words with one eye open and later will understand them when he is cast down and finally both eyes will be opened and he will be able to see the world freed up from his own mindblindness. A ruler shall come out of Jacob, but that ruler will descend from the loins of Ruth, a Moabite. Balaam envisions war throughout the Middle East as each nation is ravaged in turn by Israel. It is an apocalyptic vision, not a vision of Israel serving as a light unto the nations.

With the help of Alex Zisman


Balaam as a He-Ass – Numbers 22

Balaam as a He-Ass – Numbers 22


Howard Adelman

Understanding Balaam can be a very valuable clue to understanding Donald Trump and the danger he poses. If you are uninterested in biblical exegesis, skip the rest of this week’s blogs. They simply justify the interpretation and the character of Balaam that I use to draw the analogy with Donald Trump.

Rashi, the great mediaeval interpreter of Torah, wrote the following:

“Why did God bestow His Shechinah on a wicked gentile?” [The answer is] so the nations should not have an excuse to say, “Had we had prophets we would have repented.” So He assigned them prophets, but they breached the [morally] accepted barrier, for at first they had refrained from immorality, but he [Balaam] advised them to offer themselves freely for prostitution. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 1, Num. Rabbah 20:1]

In Rashi’s analysis, Balaam indeed received God’s shechinah. Why does God reveal Himself in all His glory to a wicked, indeed evil, gentile soothsayer? What is Balaam’s function in God’s plan? Rashi provides a rationale. To the legitimate question of why would God ever choose such a wicked man to be the voice of prophecy for other nations, his only answer is that they could not say we have become wicked because you gave the Israelites prophets but neglected us. Clever! As is usually the case, Rashi is extremely inventive with his interpretations. Making Balaam a prophet removed the excuse of the gentile nations, blaming their desertion of the universal code of morality on God’s failure to give them a prophet. As will be seen, I argue that Balaam was wicked but was not a prophet, except in a very ironic sense.

Look at Rashi’s conclusions on reading the text. Balaam was evil. But Balaam was indeed a prophet. God did choose him. In the only time God provided a gentile nation with a prophet, God deliberately gave them a wicked man. Why? So they could not blame their immorality on the excuse that they lacked a prophet. Sound fishy? Sounds far fetched? Condescending to the gentile nations? But if this is not the case, why would Balaam be chosen to be God’s spokesperson in blessing the Israelites? But did God really choose Balaam? Was Balaam really a prophet? Did Balaam even really bless the Israelites?

Balaam was a vehicle. But for what purpose? Not because God chose him to be a real prophet. But for the sake of the Israelites, not the gentile nations. Because of the stubborn willfulness and failure to acknowledge the true prophets they already had, God instead gave the Israelites a soothsayer who would play on their self-confidence, on their successes and consequent excesses, and verbally lead them further astray by flattering them, by appealing to their sense of superiority. God did not choose Balaam as a real prophet but as a vehicle to demonstrate the Israelite attraction to the misguidance of an evil soothsayer. The role he served was to educate the Israelites, not the gentile nations, to make them skillful in understanding. Balaam in his mouthing the prophesy of Israelite superiority served, in fact, to let them allow their sense of superiority to mislead themselves and believe they could ignore God’s commandments.

Nevertheless, one must admit that Rashi’s interpretation is brilliant. But why might a soothsayer of the enemy, a leader of an enemy nation and an enemy to Israel, have a broad appeal and undermine the morale and strength of the Israelites by pronouncing them strong? That was the direct effect of his blessing the Israelites. They became arrogant. They strayed from the ways of God. The discontented Israelites were susceptible to an appeal that promised their desires would be fulfilled and their own fears stilled if they too fell under the spell of Balaam’s depiction of themselves as all powerful and unbeatable.

That is the overarching thrust of the story. Balaam serves God’s purpose as a lesson to and for the Israelites. But that, of course, is not why Balak chose Balaam even if the outcome might be more beneficial to him than he ever intended or thought. Balak asked, “please come and curse this people for me, for they are too powerful for me. Only then will there be a possibility that they can be driven from the land.” And Balak goes on to flatter Balaam: “for I know that whomever you blessed is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.” (Numbers 21:6) What an irony! For in his blessing lies a curse. And the curse would really have been the blessing for the Israelites.

How did the Moabite and Midian aristocracy approach this son of a beast to lead them “With magic charms in their hands.” Rashi suggests two possible interpretations. In the first, they did it so Balaam could not refuse them with the excuse that he lacked the magical tools to take up the leadership. In a second interpretation, it was a test. If Balaam accepted the use of the magic they offered, then he would be worthy of becoming their leader and prove that he has bought into their program. But if he refused, then he would be unworthy of the request of those aristocrats anyway. Pretty good. But Rashi was evidently dissatisfied with both interpretations because he never came down on one side or the other.

Let me suggest a third option. The magic tokens offered were not just an enticement and a means of preventing Balaam from offering an excuse to cop out, and not just a test, for they were both. Not just both. For it is hard to believe that the Moabite and Midianite establishment would really understand why offering the magical tools to Balaam would really be so appealing. Excusing himself was no more than a guise, a misleader in the effort to make the best deal. Balaam signaled that he did not need their magic. He did not need their help. He could do it on his own. He was a lone wolf who needed no trinkets that did not belong to him. Sound familiar. It should. Balak needed Balaam. Balak needed a personality that would unite the two normally mutually antagonistic enemies. How else could they defeat a force that seemed supernaturally powerful. They needed a joint leader whose “strength was solely in his mouth,” in his power to use words to rouse the wrath of both peoples and thereby get them to be willing to take on the Israelites.

Balak sent a message to Balaam. “So now, please come and curse this people for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will be able to wage war against them and drive them out of the land, for I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.” The reality will be the opposite. Whomever Balaam blesses is cursed. And whomever he curses is blessed.

What was Balaam’s answer? Let me think about it. Stay the night and I will give you my answer tomorrow. Then the story goes, “God came to Balaam.” Why is it written, “And God came to Balaam,” (טוַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים) and not “The Lord spoke…” (וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָֹה)? See, for example, Number V:11. The latter is the usual expression. Or “the word of the Lord was revealed…” ()הָיֹה הָיָה דְבַר יְהֹוָה (Ezekiel 1:3) or Exodus 19:19, “The Lord said…” (וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה). In this portion, God came. But the text does not say, “And the spirit of God was upon…” (וַעֲזַרְיָהוּ בֶּן עוֹדֵד הָיְתָה) (2 Chronicles 15:1) In Exodus 16:20, it is written, “God came down…” “God descended…” Here it is simply written, “God came…”

As a contrast, turn to the prophet, Daniel, Book 9. God does not call, or call on, Daniel. Daniel beseeches the Lord. “And I turned my face to the Lord God. (גוָאֶתְּנָה אֶת פָּנַי אֶל אֲדֹנָי הָאֱלֹהִים) to beg with prayer, sackcloth and ashes.” (verse 3) Daniel prays, confesses his sins and praises God for all his wondrous gifts – the covenant and His loving-kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments. Daniel humbles himself. The angel, Gabriel, approaches. What for? He says to Daniel, “to make you skillful in understanding.”

Compare this with Balaam. Balaam does not pray to God. Balaam does not beseech God. Balaam does not confess his sins. Balak’s messengers arrive. And the bargaining starts. “I couldn’t do what you want for all the money in the world,” that is, if what you wanted “transgressed the word of the Lord” whom Balaam calls, “my God.” This last should be a clear clue that Balaam is bullshitting in insisting that he cannot act unless he ensures that he has God on his side. For God is definitely not his God. “But stay overnight as my guests. I will take the request under advisement.”

And God came to Balaam. No prayer. No confession. No beseeching. God then spoke and asked a question. “Who are those men with you?” “Balak’s messengers,” Balaam replies. The people who have arrived from Egypt “covered the ‘eye’ of the earth.” Balak wanted me, Balaam, to curse the Israelites. Balak had asked Balaam arhali (22:6), to curse, but Balaam reports to God that he was asked to curse, kbali, the Israelites. Rashi notes the use of two different terms for “curse,” but merely adds that Balaam used the stronger, kbali, rather than the weaker term, arhali, for curse. Why would he use a stronger term if the latter and stronger simply implied more detail as Rashi suggested?

The difference resides in the word “strength,” but stronger does not mean “more detail.” There is a difference between saying, “a curse resided in the land,” or requesting that a curse be put upon the Israelites. The latter presumes that the Israelites are not yet cursed (that is why the term is weaker), but something must be done to make them cursed. The former suggests that Balaam was being asked by Balak to take the initiative and put a curse on the Israelites, a curse that was not there, while Balaam shifts the meaning. There is a difference between asking Balaam to actively ensure that the Israelites become cursed, that Balaam take responsibility for driving them out of the land. Counter-intuitively, kbali is stronger than arhali in that the curse is already completed and only needs to be recognized by a soothsayer. Then Balak would know he would be strong enough to drive them out.

arhali weaker Israel not yet cursed action required by a prophet Balak
kbali stronger Israel already cursed recognition needed by a seer Balaam

God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them! You shall not curse (active but weaker sense) (תָאֹר) the people because they are blessed.” (22:12) In other words, God said that you, Balaam, cannot make them cursed when they are already blessed. So Balaam rejected the entreaties of Balak’s messengers. The messengers return, but come again and requested that Balaam pronounce that the Israelites are already cursed.

God authorized Balaam to go with his guests, but tells him to only speak the words that God will give him. In the morning, just like Abraham, Balaam saddled his own she-donkey, not any donkey, but specifically a female one. Then God became angry at Balaam for going. But did God not just instruct him to go? Was he not simply obeying God’s will? Yes. But Balaam did not go only after he had reciprocated and entered a covenant to speak only the words God gave him. Balaam had accepted the instruction to go but not the condition that he would go but only to speak God’s words. God said he could go. Balaam did go, but on his own terms.

So God’s angel blocked his way. The angel was not there to instruct Balaam in the way of true understanding but to reveal that Balaam was incapable of such understanding. The donkey saw the angel, but Balaam, the seer, did not. The donkey then left the road to flee into the fields. Balaam beat his donkey to get her to return to the road. But the way was blocked again in the vineyards. Caught between the angel in front and a wall behind, the donkey pressed against the wall and, in the process, crushed Balaam’s leg.

Balaam’s crushed leg was a sign that he would never be able to walk in the footsteps of the Lord. Unlike Jacob who wrestled with the angel and lasted until morning and became Israel (Genesis 32:22-31), Balaam did no wrestling. Balaam never struggled. He simply believed that he had a direct transmission line to God. Jacob who actually wrestled with the angel suffered a twisted hip so that it would always be painful to walk in the path of the Lord. And Jacob would not release the angel even then, but insisted on being blessed. Balaam was simply determined to go forth and do his cursing.

Balaam beat his she-donkey again. Finally, fleeing down a narrow alley, the donkey crouched down. For a third time, Balaam beat his donkey, this time with a stick. And lo and behold, the donkey spoke. And she, not Balaam, uttered the words of the Lord. “What did I do to deserve this?” Balaam replies, “You have humiliated me. If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The Lord spoke through the donkey. “Have I not served you loyally? Have I ever resisted going forward and cringed and crouched in fear?” Balaam agreed that she had not and with that acknowledgement, his eyes were open and Balaam saw what the donkey had seen all along, the angel blocking the road. Only then did Balaam bow and prostrate himself. God remonstrated Balaam, first for beating the donkey three times when the donkey was thwarting Balaam from going against God’s will and not entering a covenant with God to only utter His words. So God had a she-donkey do so. And that she-donkey, which Balaam had beaten three times, actually deserved Balaam’s thanks for the donkey had saved Balaam from God’s wrath for going ahead without committing to speaking only the words God gave him. Even a she-ass could do that.

So Balaam finally confessed. But did he admit to sinning? Did he admit to mindblindness? No, he just said that if I knew the angel with a sword was standing in my way, I would not have preceded. I recognize a greater power. I do not recognize the blindness within myself. If you are so upset, Balaam tells God, I will go home. I will return home, not because I realize I failed to obey you, that I failed to enter the agreement on offer. I returned home only because an angel stood in the way and physically prevented me from proceeding.

According to one of my readers, there is a saying in Hungarian that she had heard since early childhood: “’He just stood there and stared like Balaam’s donkey’ – which means a really dumbfounded, gobsmacked stupid reaction by a person.” Balaam is shown to be an ass, but a male one.

Let me conclude the analysis of Chapter 22 by comparing the following three passages:

12God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed.” יבוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם לֹא תָאֹר אֶת הָעָם כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא:
20God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them, but the word I speak to you-that you shall do.” כוַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים | אֶל בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תַעֲשֶׂה
35The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with these men, but the word I will speak to you-that you shall speak.” So Balaam went with Balak’s dignitaries. להוַיֹּאמֶר מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה אֶל בִּלְעָם לֵךְ עִם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְאֶפֶס אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תְדַבֵּר וַיֵּלֶךְ בִּלְעָם עִם שָׂרֵי בָלָק:

Verse 12: Don’t go. Don’t curse. Because the people are blessed.
Verse 20: Go with them; But the words I speak, that you do.
Verse 35: Go with them. But the words I speak, you speak.

Don’t go, then go but do what I say, then go but say what I say. Each time the command is more restricted, first about non-movement, then permitting going but only if Balaam does what he is told, and then, finally, go but Balaam can only repeat what God says. The soothsayer has been restricted to being a he-ass, uttering only what God tells him. Balaam tells Balak (verse 38) “Behold I have come to you, do I have any power to say anything? The word God puts into my mouth-that I will speak.”

Next blog: Chapters 23 and 24

Thanks to Alex Zisman for his help.

Balak Numbers 22:2-25:9 Soothsayer

Balak Numbers 22:2-25:9 Soothsayer


Howard Adelman

Is it serendipity that last night I listened to Donald Trump address the Republican Convention in Cleveland and this morning I write on Parshat Balak? Is it serendipity that Balak starts out on his journey to confront and curse the Israelites in a plagiarized passage from Genesis? “Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey,” rather than allow his servant to do so. (Genesis 22:3) “Balaam rose up in the morning and saddled his donkey,” rather than allow his servant to do so. (Numbers 22:21) Donald Trump has stolen the party of Abraham Lincoln and made it his own.

Donald Trump started his four-day journey to accept the nomination of the Republican Party as its candidate for president of the U.S. with a speech by his wife, Melania, which she insisted to a reporter just before she delivered her talk that she had written it “with as little help as possible.” The speech plagiarized, of all people, Michele Obama, the wife of the current president of the U.S., Barak Obama, whom Donald Trump curses at every opportunity.

Melania: “From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.”
Michele: (2008 Democratic Convention) “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values — like you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect.”
Melania insisted: believe me, I know my husband.

This is reality TV, a story of ghosts, and ghostwriters in this case. Unlike when Donald himself plagiarized an op-ed of his rival Ben Carson just after the latter left the campaign in March, in this case the item was not written by the same ghostwriter but by an employee of the Trump organization. In March, the large chunks of overlapping text promised to treat Americans living in territories and commonwealths with greater equality and fairness. It was about policy and performance. Melania’s plagiarized text was about the formation of character and deeply held values – hard work, that your word is your bond and the obligation to treat others with dignity and respect when throughout the campaign for the nomination, Donald Trump demonstrated that he could and did treat his rivals with anything but dignity and respect, including Ted Cruz’s father and wife, an instance which came back to haunt Donald on Wednesday night when Ted Cruz made his non-endorsement speech.

There is no expectation that politicians write their speeches or their own op-eds, or that their wives do. There is some expectation that what is said, however, reflects reality, that the policies articulated and that the character attributed are to some degree valid. But when the plagiarizer claims to have written her own speech and it is subsequently revealed that the writer belonged to the Trump organization and not even the campaign, an illegal contribution, when the content of the speech, and that of all his children’s speeches, was about a capacity for hard work, that your word is your bond and that you treat everyone with dignity and respect jut at the time when Donald Trump’s own ghost writer of his best- selling book, The Art of the Deal, was revealing that Donald was not an example of a hard worker, was not an example of a man whose word was his bond, was not a man who treated everyone with dignity and respect in the way that the video collage of testimonials about Donald tried to present him at the beginning of last evening.

Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal:
The New Yorker, 25 July 2016, Jane Mayer, “Trump’s Boswell Speaks.”

The efficient hard worker “a fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling”
a man with “no attention span”
Your word is your bond “Trump has the ability to convince himself that
whatever he is saying at any given moment is true,
or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”
“He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of
conscience about it.”
“I play to people’s fantasies…People want to believe
that something is the biggest and the greatest and
the most spectacular.”
“I call it truthful hyperbole,” an innocent form of
exaggeration. – and it’s a very effective form of
The man who repeatedly questioned Barak Obama’s
birth in the United States in the face of all the
evidence, lied by claiming his father was born in
New Jersey, a child of Swedish parents; he was born
in the Bronx to German parents.
A man who treats others with “a ham-fisted thug who had unsuccessfully tried to
dignity and respect evict rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants
from a building that he had bought”
known for “his willingness to run over people,
a man who would “like people when they were
helpful,” when they were loyal, and then “turn on
them when they weren’t. (Read Roy Cohn, the old
tiger of the Un-American Activities Committee who
served as Trump’s lawyer and confidante.) It wasn’t
personal. He’s a transactional man – it was all
about what you could do for him.”
I know; believe me, I know a man with “a stunning level of superficial
knowledge and plain ignorance”
nobody knows how corrupt and crooked the system is
better than me”
Trump, of course, made his fortune using donations
to politicians
A generous man As for all the testimonials of his anonymous
donations to individuals, which seem to be so widely
known, “in the past seven years, Trump has promised
to give millions of dollars to charity, but
reporters for the Washington Post found that they
could document only ten thousand dollars in
donations.” Perhaps this is the deepest reason he
does not want to release his tax returns.

From the man who repeatedly urges his listeners to “believe me,” from the man who has systematically cultivated a reputation for plain speaking , for transparency, for a man touted as running and managing everything with textbook efficiency when the Trump Convention put on display a mixture of clever and creative endorsement, of self-advertisement, especially when his own clones, that is, children, spoke, combined with a totally clumsy lack of professionalism and behaviour that seemed to belie the claims even more than the revelations of Donald’s ghostwriter.

Of course, when Trump insists he wrote his own autobiography, we can all recognize that this is simply part of his lifelong self aggrandizement, the puffing of a “one-dimensional blowhard” with “an insatiable hunger for ‘money, praise and celebrity.’” Trump presents himself as a man of truth when he is revealed to tell a half dozen lies a day on average. In fact, the whole Convention has about it the sense of the Big Lie, the repetition of slandering an opponent as a crook, a liar and a felon in spite of the investigations that showed otherwise. This is the same way he treated his competitors for the nomination, many of whom turned 180 degrees and then lined up behind him when he won. Such allegations seem relatively threadbare, relatively vapid, like the wisp of smoke representing the ghost in the machine, Gilbert Ryle’s euphemism for René Descartes’ philosophical concept of the mind, for a body in which there actually, in this case, has no mind, only an insatiable appetite.

When there is neither accuracy nor authorship, we know we are dealing with a soothsayer rather than a prophet. This is why Donald Trump is relevant to understanding the story of Balaam. As Anthon St. Maarten, the psychic celebrity, wrote, “Being a soothsayer of a tribe is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.” A soothsayer is known for appearing to be blunt, brutally honest, a diviner who exposes other’s lies, a man of frankness, honesty and integrity, an oracle and pseudo-prophet, but is, in fact, a man full of self-deceit and self-delusion, a man who offers panaceas and supposedly rejects political correctness, who professes to tell the truth, but would not recognize the difference between a true statement and an outright lie. A soothsayer is a person whose true intentions are revealed in the repeated words and actions of the people who follow him like a herd.

The Amorites had been defeated, literally wiped out. Their lands have been laid waste, the very meaning of Balak. The Moabites feared they would be subjected to the same result, ignoring the fact that the Amorites were only eliminated when they committed aggression against the Israelites. So Balak, son of Zippor, the King of the Moabites, ran to the Midianites for assistance, in particular, to Balaam, son of Beor, the Aramaic word for beast. The story is not about the Moabites, for they were afraid, irrationally so, and from the Moabites would arise the prophet Ruth, just as Naaman would arise from the Ammonites. The real problem was the Midianites. God ordered the Israelites to vex and “smite them.” (Numbers 25:17) They were led by a soothsayer, a man, as the Mishnah teaches, with “an evil eye,” “a haughty spirit and an over-ambitious soul.”

If Balaam is allowed to become the leader of the American nation, allowed to be the leader of both the blue and the red states, if Balaam is allowed to lead the union of the Moabites and the Midianites, will the prophecy of Psalm 55:24 come true, that God will bring them down “to the nethermost pit, men of blood and deceit who shall not live out half their days?” What happened to Balaam when the Moabites called on this Midianite to curse the Israelites? What happened when the toadies in the Republican Party ran to Donald Trump and asked him to run and build on his popularity as a soothsayer to lead a movement and take over the control of the Republican Party? God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people [Israelites] because they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12) So Balaam rejects the entreaties of the elders of the Moabites and the Midianites. But Balak and the elders would not take no for an answer. They sent delegation after delegation, each one more noble than the last, to entice Balaam to come forth and lead a war to deal with their allegedly ferocious enemies that they believed were out to crush them. Purportedly, Balaam could not resist the will of the people and eventually agreed to go forth and curse the Israelites.

The angel of the Lord tried to block Balaam as he proceeded on his way riding his she-donkey. Upon encountering the angel, the donkey bolted into the field. Balaam beat the she-donkey to get it to return to the road. Caught between a fence and pressed against the wall, Balaam’s leg was caught and squeezed. Balaam hit the donkey harder. Blocked a third time in a narrow lane, the donkey crouched down and for a third time, Balaam beat it with a stick.

Then the donkey spoke. “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?” Balaam replied: “You have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” (22:29) But, protested the donkey, “have I not always been loyal and done precisely what you wanted?” Suddenly God supposedly ended Balaam’s mindblindness, opened his eyes and he saw God’s angel. The angel had drawn a sword. Balaam bent down and prostrated himself before the angel. Balaam was remonstrated for beating the donkey. The donkey had served him loyally and, by veering off the road, had saved Balaam’s life. For if the donkey had gone forth, the angel would have slain Balaam and spared the donkey. But a bully never listens to the bullied, only to a bigger and more powerful bully.

Balaam backed off but went with the Moabite dignitaries to the border with the Ammonites. The message seemed clear. Balaam could not defeat the Israelites with only his Moabite and Midianite troops. Balaam was really not retreating. He needed the Ammonites to join his troops. The retreat was a ruse. He had altars built and got Balak to contribute more to sacrifice on those altars. Then once more he went forth. And once more God purportedly stopped him. And once more he returned to Balak mouthing what he said were God’s words.

“How can I curse whom God has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the Lord has not been angered? For from their beginning (my italics), I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations. Who counted the dust of Jacob or the number of a fourth of [or, of the seed of] Israel? May my soul die the death of the upright and let my end be like his.” (22:8-10) Balak understandably felt betrayed. You agreed to curse our enemies and you praised them.

So a third time, Balak got Balaam to reverse himself by peering over at only a part of the Israelite army and from a distance. He offered Balaam even more rewards. And Balaam betrayed Balak a third time. “God is not a man that He should lie, nor is He a mortal that He should relent. Would He say and not do, speak and not fulfill?… He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the Lord, his God, is with him, and he has the King’s friendship…There is no divination in Jacob and no soothsaying in Israel. (22:19; 21;23) Balak offered Balaam even more. And took him to an even greater height.

For the third time, Balaam blessed Israel. “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! They extend like streams, like gardens by the river, like aloes which the Lord planted, like cedars by the water. Water will flow from his wells, and his seed shall have abundant water; his king shall be raised over Agag, and his kingship exalted. God, Who has brought them out of Egypt with the strength of His loftiness, He shall consume the nations which are his adversaries, bare their bones and dip His arrows [into their blood]. He crouches and lies like a lion and like a lioness; who will dare rouse him? Those who bless you shall be blessed, and those who curse you shall be cursed.” (23:5-9)

Balak, was in a corner. He had committed himself to fight the Israelites, but lacked the troop strength. He was in real trouble. Balaam fished Balak in. “If Balak gives me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of the Lord to do either good or evil on my own; only what the Lord speaks can I speak.’” (23:13) Read one way, it says since God is not on my side, even for all your money, I cannot go to war. But Balaam was just upping the ante once again. Pay me more money and possibly I can get God on my (not our) side. It is all Me, Me, Me. “Believe me,” he said. “I know.” I have an open eye that sees. Everything is transparent to me. Moab will be crushed by the Israelites – unless of course you can induce me with more incentives to lead you.

Balak panicked. Each went their own way. But the Israelites did not attack the Moabites. In fact, the Israelites began to intermarry with the Moabites. And participate in prostrating themselves before their gods, especially Baal Peor. There was now no limit to God’s wrath. “Moses, hang all the leaders of your tribes,” God raged. But one Israelite was not afraid and walked openly with his Moabite partner. Pinehas, son of Eleazar, Aron’s son, took a spear and stabbed both the young brash Israelite and his “shiksa” with the one thrust of that spear. And the plague that had been inflicted on the Israelites, killing 24,000, purportedly ceased.

XI Combatting BDS: Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

XI Combatting BDS: Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism


Howard Adelman

This blog, and the one I plan to write tomorrow morning on anti-Judaism, will be the most difficult ones both to write and to read. That is because they are both conceptual blogs, blogs that try to clarify concepts and ways of looking at and understanding the world. They are not directly about the world, but about how we make sense of the world, how we name what we experience in it. The concepts are informed by experience but are not defined by that experience. Quite the reverse. They define how we categorize that experience. We may call a whale a fish because it swims and lives in the sea. But it is not a fish, not a big fish, not a gad gadol, but a mammal. And there are good reasons why the latter is a far more accurate categorization for a whale than a fish.

The question this morning is whether BDS is anti-Zionism. Is that anti-Zionism anti-Semitism? Are they one and the same or two different ways for understanding experience? And if they are distinctive forms of comprehending the world, can something be both a fish and a mammal at one and the same time just as a meal can be both delicious and healthy at one and the same time and just as a body can be both repulsive and unhealthy at one and the same time. In other words, are they categories that can apply to a third entity in mutually exclusive ways, as mammal and fish do, where a thing is either one or the other, or can they apply to the same item in complementary ways by simply looking at something from a different perspective – its state of being versus its appeal to our sensibilities.

Note the different sense of health when applied to food and when applied to bodies. When calling food healthy, we say it is healthy because it contributes to the health of another. When it does not, when food actually contributes to making a body unhealthy, such as supposedly eating trans fats, it is unhealthy. But a body is unhealthy because it is somehow disabled in how it functions. In this meaning, the attribution of healthy or unhealthy has nothing to do with contributing to another entities’ health or state of being.

The last is a primary sense of health. It is a state of being. Healthy applied to food is about whether something contributes to that state of being. Rosy cheeks are said to be healthy because they are a sign of that state of being but are not usually depictions of the state of being itself. So the issue is not only whether anti-Zionism is properly applicable to depicting some entity or activity and whether anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism can or cannot be applicable to the same entity, but whether the terms anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are intended to depict a state of being, a contributing factor to a state of being or a sign, like rosy cheeks of a state of being. As will be seen, I will characterize both as attempts at essential and not superficial characterizing.

This very primitive lesson in categorization is important in how we comprehend and use terms like anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is defined as hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group, but not as a political group, not because Jews are Zionists or believers in self-determination for the Jewish people. Anti-Zionism opposes the ideology that Jews need and should have a state of their own, that Jews have the right to self-determination in a territory where they are a clear majority. But can these two approaches to Jews overlap? Can they overlap to such an extent that they become virtually indistinguishable? If you do not oppose the self-determination of any other group, if you use your energies and intellect and passion to devote that energy and passion virtually exclusively to the failures and shortcomings of the Jewish body politic, does not that mean that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have become indistinguishable?

A rotten apple describes its state of being. But rottenness is also about signs and not just about an essential state. That apple could be described as rotten, being in an unhealthy state, and rotten in that it shows signs of being in an unhealthy state. But we usually mean that a rotten apple is unhealthy in a third sense, because it is not good for us though we can also mean that the apple shows none of the signs that is healthy – firmness, unblemished, good colour. So an apple can be healthy or unhealthy in all three senses. Can an organization or a person be anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic at one and the same time?

There is a different way to deal with these categories. They are not static but dynamic. They are not either mutually exclusive or complementary. One category can evolve into the other. In the May meeting in Buenos Aires of the Global Forum for Combatting anti-Semitism where non-Jews, largely evangelical Christians, were recruited to join the battle against anti-Semitism, the formula iterated at the founding Forum in 2003 by Natan Sharansky adopted Robert Wistrich’s 3-D test for merging the two forms of hatred, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. [] (The basic argument appeared in Jewish Political Studies Review 16:3-4, Fall 2004.) Anti-Semitism had mutated into a new form as expressed in anti-Zionism.

Anti-Zionism has become the most dangerous and effective form of anti-Semitism in our time, through its systematic delegitimization, defamation, and demonization of Israel. Although not a priori anti-Semitic, the calls to dismantle the Jewish state, whether they come from Muslims, the Left, or the radical Right, increasingly rely on an anti-Semitic stereotypization of classic themes, such as the manipulative “Jewish lobby,” the Jewish/Zionist “world conspiracy,” and Jewish/Israeli “warmongers.” One major driving force of this anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism is the transformation of the Palestinian cause into a “holy war”; another source is anti-Americanism linked with fundamentalist Islamism. In the current context, classic conspiracy theories, such as the b, are enjoying a spectacular revival. The common denominator of the new anti-Zionism has been the systematic effort to criminalize Israeli and Jewish behavior, so as to place it beyond the pale of civilized and acceptable conduct.

There once existed two separate ideologies. Anti-Semitism is racism directed against Jewish individual bodies as distinct from opposing the body politic of Jews, Zionism as its ideology and Israel as the realization of that ideology. Anti-Zionism emerged at the end of the nineteenth century and grew enormously, especially towards the end of the twentieth century. Anti-Semitism, at least in its racist version,
characterized negative beliefs about Jews in the nineteenth century and reached the apex of destructive behaviour in the first half of the twentieth century culminating in the Holocaust. There is a visceral fear that anti-Zionism has merged with anti-Semitism in the twenty-first century to create a new virus that is of the utmost danger to the Jewish people, more specifically the vast majority of Jews who have become active or at least passive Zionists.

In this view of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, two categories that were once distinct have now merged. “Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two distinct ideologies that over time (especially since 1948) have tended to converge, generally without undergoing a full merger.” Wistrich applied the 3-D test for that merger:

• Delegimization
• Defamation
• Demonization

Sharansky substituted the criterion of double standards for defamation rather than simply adding double standards as a fourth indicator of the merger, presumably because he liked the 3-D appellation, but perhaps because both defamation and the use of double standards are ways of dealing with Zionism and Jews as a collectivity rather than going to the heart of the matter which delegitimization and demonization both do. Let me elaborate.

Demonization is an activity characteristic of anti-Semitism. In the racist expression of anti-Semitism, Jews were characterized both as individuals and as a group as inherently evil. That evil was written into their genes, their genetic make-up. Demonization is the use of unbalanced, unverified, unqualified allegations against the character of another to suggest, as in the medieval witch hunts, that the devil resides in their very being. In racist anti-Semitism, it resides in their genes. When demonization is also applied to the political ideology of the Jewish people, the belief in a right to national self-determination, Zionism is depicted as inherently evil. This is a sign of the merger of the two concepts. Defamation may just be a way of expressing that demonization.

Delegitimization is an activity characteristic of anti-Zionism. It is an argument that since Jews have not lived as a collectivity continuously as the predominant population in a particular territory for hundreds of years, Jewish self-determination is an illegitimate enterprise. When Jews try to establish themselves as a majority population in a particular territory, this is colonization at the expense of the existing population. Such an activity is illegitimate. Americans, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, excepting their indigenous populations, may have gotten away with it because it has been underway for several hundred years, but Zionism is a Johnny-come-lately, an upstart in the enterprise of building a new nation.

Further, Zionism sought to establish itself in a territory that may once have been used to express the national aspirations of the Jewish people, but in the twentieth century, just when the age of colonialism was on the way out, Zionism tried to establish Jewish national self-expression in a territory where the existing population had its own aspirations for self-determination whether as Arabs or subsequently and more predominantly as Palestinians. Further, Zionism did so on the coattails of modern imperialism that was already being challenged around the globe and within fifty years would mostly have disintegrated.

The treatment of Zionism as an illegitimate operation and ideology when it is applied in the present when Jews do constitute a majority in a particular territory is then viewed as anti-Semitism. And here is where the double standard comes into play. What other people have been denied a right to self-determination just because a large part of that population came from elsewhere? Many Palestinians were not among the indigenous population of Palestine but came to the land from elsewhere as the territory became an attractive economic magnet. That does not delegitimize Palestinian nationalism which is more a Johnny-come-lately than Jewish nationalism.

The double standard criterion is a political standard. It insists that one is entitled to hold Jews or Zionism up to a standard that no other body politic must meet. It goes further. It not only makes the standards higher, but imaginatively multiplies and mischaracterizes the facts on the ground to show the behaviour to be not simply a shortcoming but the obverse of living according to that standard. And this is done when the use of a common standard would show that the Jewish polity falls nowhere near the middle let alone the bottom of polities that fail to meet that standard.

Demonization, defamation, double standards and de-legitimization are all used with a gross disregard of empirical facts and the need to have a falsification test. It is true because I claim it to be so. You devalue and discredit the other, not because you have valid evidence, and, in fact, do so, in the face of massive evidence that would falsify the claim.

So what are the facts? With respect to Zionism, it is the effort to provide a secure place on earth for Jews under the control of Jews who for millennia have been used as vehicles for projecting the fantasies of others. Anti-Zionism is an ideology dedicated to denying Jews such a place. Most people are non-Zionists, indifferent to the idea of self-determination for the Jewish people but often pro-Israel in defence of the self-determination of the majority of Jews who occupy that segment of the earth.

Anti-Zionism did not begin among Arabs in Palestine when the Jews became a significant presence, or when the Jews fought their war of independence in 1948, or when they engaged in a defensive battle and conquered the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Arab leaders in Palestine were bent on denying Palestine as a place to which Jews could immigrate in the 1920’s. They opposed Jews finding a home in Palestine and not just founding a state. Look at this list of atrocities in the 1920s.

Jews Arabs Jews Arabs Oth.
Tel Hai 1.03.1920 Arabs 8 5
Nebi Musa Riots 4-7.04.1920 Arabs 5 4 216 18 7
Jaffa Riots 1-7.05.1921 Arabs 47 48 140 73
Jerusalem 2.11.1921 Arabs 5
General 23-26.08.1929 Arabs 133 116 339 232
Hebron 24.08.1929 Arabs 67 58
Safed 29.08.1929 Arabs 20 80

In examining the BDS literature, I find in the core group enormous evidence of anti-Zionism. The anti-Zionist hates the Jewish body politic. The anti-Zionist denies Jews the right to self-determination and the right to have a state of their own and even the right to use Palestine as a home and refuge from persecution. I certainly find the use of double standards and exceptional focus on one polity, Israel. There is some evidence of demonization, but not much. There is certainly an effort to de-legitimize Israel, to insist that the Balfour Declaration was a position taken by an imperial power in contravention to the rights to self-determination of the people already resident in that territory, but these same advocates see no need to push for a Kurdish state in the face of the boundary lines for Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey set up by the victorious powers. Hence, a double standard! They also believe that the recognition of a Jewish state in November of 1947 by the United Nations was carried out by a rump group of states still dominated by Western imperial interests.

BDS is anti-Zionist because it opposes not only Jewish self-determination, but Jewish settlement on Arab lands and presumes the land is the inherent possession of the Arab population which Jews cannot share. Many, if not most advocates of the boycott, sanctions and strategy of combatting the current expression and policies of Israel as the expression of the Zionist enterprise are not anti-Zionists. But the founders and the core proponents of BDS are unequivocally anti-Zionist. When those who are not anti-Zionist join in a common front with anti-Zionists and support parts of the BDS program, without distancing themselves from and criticizing the larger BDS program, end up legitimizing that program. Unlike the Palestinian Authority, they become fellow travelers rather than independent critics of both BDS and the settlement policies of the Israeli government.

Is BDS anti-Semitic? Does it demonize Jews as proponents of Zionism? Some advocates and partisans of BDS do and even deny the Holocaust. But this does not seem to characterize the core of BDS as an anti-Zionist enterprise. More significantly, when Danny Danon and Ronald Lauder characterize, not only BDS and its supporters and advocates, but those who want to sanction the settlements in the West Bank because those settlements make the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel more difficult, and even apply the label anti-Semitism to those who simply want to permit individuals to boycott goods made in those settlements by designating the place of origin of those goods on labels, then those proponents and defenders of Zionism are engaging in precisely the defamation and delegitimization of their opponents. I wonder if we should call it a blessing that they do not engage in demonization!

Certainly a good case can be made that anti-Zionism, not the legitimate criticism of Israel, is an effort at delegitimization and, in doing so, misuses standards and defames, and, even in a very few cases, demonizes so that anti-Zionism becomes a new form of anti-Semitism There is a merger. But extreme caution is required in such labeling and in such a merger. Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two different activities. The attempt to merge them, the effort to claim that current anti-Zionism is the new form of anti-Semitism ends up disfiguring both. At its extreme, it ends up branding all political moves against Israel as exercises in anti-Semitism. Such an exercise imitates its enemies in the use of demonization, delegitimization and double standards.

X: Combating BDS: International Diplomacy

X: Combating BDS: International Diplomacy


Howard Adelman

Let’s begin by recognizing that while BDS advocates boycotts, sanctions and divestments, Israel actually appears to enforce boycotts and implement sanctions against both the PA and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. The latter is well known, the former less so. As a case in point, Israel refused in the first four months of last year to transfer tax revenues collected as customs duties on goods transiting Israeli ports destined for territory controlled by the PA. These are legally Palestinian funds. As a result of the 1994 agreement between the PA and Israel, Israel generally transfers tens of millions per month for these custom duties levied on goods transiting the Israeli port destined for the Palestinian market. On several occasions in the past, the transfers were stopped for a month or two. Last year, the boycott lasted four months and the PA had to reduce the pay of civil servants (200,000) to 60% of normal salaries.

There were two reasons offered to rationalize the sanction. The first was political, punishing the PA for using the international legal and diplomatic system against Israel. The cessation in the transfer of funds was allegedly because the Palestinians sought to join the International Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israel. A second reason was economic – a claim for non-payment of long-outstanding electrical and gas bills owed to those respective Israeli utility authorities. The PA sued the Israeli government in an Israeli court. Justice Menahem Mazuz ruled that the Israel government had breached the terms of a contract between the two parties. The duties collected could not be used to pay other debts owing. The ruling also undermined the legality of withholding the funds for political reasons.

After the court ruling, Israel made a large first installment payment towards the past debt by transferring the duties withheld in March and April 2015. Monies withheld from duties collected from December to February were transferred as soon as both parties agreed on the debt owed to the utilities and deducted those monies from the monies owed to the PA. In addition, a joint committee was set up to resolve other claims between the PA and Israel. The above and other issues must be understood within the terms of the Oslo Accords, more specifically, the 1994 Paris Protocol on Economic Relations. It established an effective customs union between Israel and the PA. In contrast, municipal, income and corporate taxes from Israelis and Israeli entities in the settlements were, in accordance with the agreement, collected by Israel and not transferred to the PA, but used to benefit those settlements.

Whereas Israel periodically for short periods sanctions the PA, it boycotts the Hamas government that is not a party to the agreement. Because of the Paris Protocol, most BDF information and efforts have focused on Gaza where the effects of the Israeli boycott are so harsh in reprisal for Hamas rocketing Israel and to prevent Hamas with being resupplied with materials that could be used in its offensive attacks against Israel. Hamas has an ideological determination not simply to tear up the Paris Protocol, but to eliminate Israel as a state.
From the other direction, the PA boycotts the import of settler-made goods primarily through an educational and witness campaign by government leaders. There is no legally sanctioned economic penalty on Palestinians importing, selling and using such goods. Nor are Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements (36,000) penalized. They earn three time what they would earn working in the West Bank but receive no health or pension benefits or unemployment insurance. Many of the 1,000 businesses established in the West Bank are partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis.

BDS has been mostly silent about the work force, but strongly critical of the “educational” and witness campaign of the PA, characterizing it as a meaningless publicity stunt – such as the Karama or Dignity Pledge to boycott settler goods. BDS objects to any normalization of arrangements with Israel and implementation of the Paris Protocol. As a result, the PA denounces the much broader BDS campaign. Abbas has said, “We are not boycotting Israel, because we have agreements and imports from it” and openly endorses the principle of “adherence to signed agreements.”

At the instigation of the PA, in March the United Nations Human Rights Council approved the creation of a database of companies that do business in areas under Israeli occupation by a vote of 32 in favor with 15 countries abstaining. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, slammed the initiative claiming that, “The Human Rights Council has turned into an accomplice of the BDS movement, and its conduct is both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.” BDS joined in the criticism, but for very different reasons. Such an action was not extensive and was not a boycott, just an information offering procedure. In November of last year, the EU itself passed a regulation that required an indication of origin label on goods from the occupied territories with enforcement left to the individual states. That regulation required labeling merchandise or food products originating in West Bank or Golan Heights settlements as: “product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)” or “product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement).”

BDS, on the other hand, pushes its boycott, sanctions and divestment strategy “on companies to cease doing business within Israel, to stop selling Israeli products, for international performers not to perform in Israel, for academics to refuse cooperation with Israeli institutions and for cultural institutions to boycott Israeli government-sponsored events aimed at prettifying Israel’s apartheid practices.” The BDS movement insists that it will continue its campaign until Israel ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab land [not just land in the West Bank], recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. This would mean the effective dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state. The return of refugees has never been imposed on any government in the world. The BDS campaign is clearly not just about settlements in the West Bank, but about the very nature and even existence of Israel.

This is not widely recognized as Palestinian sympathizers pick from the smorgasbord of moderate to extreme methods of confronting Israel through sanctions, boycotts and divestments. Israel, in turn, tries to brand BDS as an anti-Zionist movement and not just a critic of Israeli policies. Further, efforts are made to equate that anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and, most recently, with anti-Judaism. I will turn to this topic in my next blog.

I want to finish this blog by documenting the efforts of each side to either confront BDS (Israel) or to bypass BDS (PA) through diplomacy in the global arena, primarily in the United Nations. Like Russia and the U.S. engaged in a renewed lukewarm non-military war, Israel and the PA, whatever their differences on the international stage – and they are at loggerheads on many issues – are both opponents of BDS.

Recently, at the end of May, Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress joined together with a plethora of Jewish organizations in the diaspora in hosting a one day anti-BDS “summit” at the United Nations entitled, “Building Bridges, Not Boycotts.” A strong motivation for organizing the meeting was not just the efforts of BDS. Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, placed the UN Human Rights Commission in bed with BDS because the former, he declared, decided to blacklist anyone who does business in Judea and Samaria. And that is the Achilles heel of the anti-BDS camp. Instead of dividing those who criticize the settlements from those who would boycott Israeli goods, academic institutions and institute a cultural boycott against Israel, unsurprisingly he put relative moderates, including, in part, the PA, in bed with its enemy, the BDS movement. And he called them both anti-Semitic.

Yesterday evening, I watched the opening of the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The speech of Melania Trump, Donald’s wife, though lacking a few needed intimate anecdotes, and, as revealed quickly afterwards, in part plagiarized Michele Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech, was otherwise superbly crafted and extremely well delivered. Other speeches simply demonized Hillary in a world aflame with mostly extremist Islamicist violence. Speaker after speaker reiterated the theme of making America great and safe again. In contrast, Hillary was portrayed as the devil incarnate, pilloried for her alleged failures and reiterating Donald’s claims that she is a crook. “Lock her up,” they shouted.

“Building Bridges, not Boycotts” (BBnB) was like a Trump rally, a gathering of the converted, of anti-BDS forces of which the vast majority were Jews, 1,500 students, but without the advantage of a single star performer. Jewish reggae singer, Matisyahu, did perform in the morning in the General Assembly Hall. Matisyahu had been targeted himself by BDS and, for a short period in 2015, a Spanish organization cancelled his scheduled appearance before the cancellation was reversed under pressure from the Spanish government. What made BBnB most akin to the first night of the Republican Convention was the effort to totally demonize BDS and all boycotts against Israel as anti-Semitic. The principle of these exercises in a collective harangue seemed to be, keep it simple, paint only in black and white colours and, through repetition after repetition, drive home a single atrocious association with whatever and whoever is being targeted. Of course, it is ironic to compare BBnB to a Trump rally since Trump is bent on building walls not bridges.

Several months earlier, when Danny Danon denounced the UN effort at labelling goods originating in West Bank settlements, he did not differentiate between such efforts and the BDS much wider goals. Further, even these UN efforts were labelled as anti-Semitic. In his speech at the end of May at the BBnB, conference, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN and the main force behind the rally, gave the opening speech and characterized BDS as anti-Semitic. He recalled the passage of the Zionism is Racism motion at the UN forty years earlier and the victory in getting the UN to revoke that motion in 1991. He depicted BDS as a new threat to Israel and the Jewish people based on lies and distortions and hiding behind the mask of human rights and peace activism when it was just a global effort to delegitimize Israel. BDS’s campaign of hatred was the face of modern anti-Semitism, he declared.
Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, elaborated on the reasoning for this. He made the following points:

1. The United Nations was created 70 years ago out of the carnage of World War II. It was created on the broken bones of the Jewish people, with the pledge that the world would never see again the kind of human destruction that the Nazis forced on our people.
2. Today, the UN has singled out the only Jewish State in the world – Israel – with lie, after lie, after lie.
3. We chose to look at an equally dishonest campaign against the Jews – the BDS movement – right here at the United Nations.
4. Those who chose are no longer victims and no longer have to rely on others to protect us; we are no longer ghetto Jews, no longer willing to be quiescent, no longer timid, but new Jews. “And we are absolutely done being quiet! Enough is enough!!!”
5. Enticed by the seduction of fighting for rights, of fighting for justice, those who support BDS do not listen to the BDS chant: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!”
6. Expanding on the theme of BDS as not only anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic, he insisted that the current boycott against the State of Israel is no different from Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism of the 1920s or the Soviet bloc’s anti-Zionism of the 1950s and 60s.
7. BDS is not concerned about the rights of Palestinians, but denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination in the exclusive focus on Israel as distinct from all the other vicious states that abuse of human rights.

It was a rallying speech, not an analytic one. It is not simply a distortion; it is a falsification to say that the UN was created on the broken bones of the Jewish people when the issue for the UN in the aftermath of WWII was not the Holocaust at all but what to do with 250,000 Jewish refugees in Europe that no one wanted. It may be true that the UN has disproportionately, and enormously so, singled out Israel for condemnation, but it is a distortion to suggest – though not actually assert – that Israel is the only state condemned for human rights abuses. Iran and North Korea have both been chastised, and Iran is the only state for Iranians just as Israel is the only Jewish state. Whether true or not – and no documentation was offered to support the thesis – there is the question whether equating UN activities with BDS was diplomatically astute? It would not likely win over strong UN supporters who are not particularly antithetical to Israel and who do not support the wider goals of BDS. The problem was multiplied when Lauder used the old canard that the old Jew was quiet and passive in the face of oppression. BDS may indeed be anti-Zionist as I contend, and possibly anti-Semitic, which I question, but assertion is not the same as argument.

Elyakim Rubinstein, Vice-President of the Israeli Supreme Court Justice and formerly the Attorney General of Israel, took a different path and provided a detailed account of the lawfare fight with BDS in the international legal arena. (See my previous blog.) Further, calling for a boycott of Israel was not protected as a right in the U.S. under the First Amendment. He also characterized BDS as “political terrorism under the guise of freedom of speech.” He came to the same conclusion, that BDS was out to destroy Israel, but did not confuse the labelling issue of goods from the West Bank with the BDS program.

The conference also evidently heard from Mosab Hassan Yousef, now living in the U.S., “The Green Prince” who worked undercover for ten years for Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, from 1997 to 2007. He was the son of Hamas leader, Sheik Hassan, and is credited with hunting down many militants. I could not find his speech on the internet, but in other settings he has excoriated Hamas and claimed BDS was a front for Hamas. On the other hand, a second Palestinian in attendance, Bassam Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, joined the chorus of Jewish speakers who criticized BDS and the Palestinian leadership without distinction.

This theme was echoed in the 30-page guidebook handed out to attendees, but was focused on BDS as a movement of hate accused of being anti-Semitic while characterizing BDS as “all-powerful” with tentacles everywhere in language usually characteristic of anti-Semitic rants against Jews. The booklet stressed the use of state legislatures to boycott entities that boycotted Israel. So if BDS works to delegitimize Israel, this movement headlined in the 31 May 2016 meeting at the UN was focused on delegitimizing BDS. Students were encouraged to contact legislators to make efforts at boycotting academics illegal. And, in contrast to the main thrust of the conference, students were advised to drive a wedge between critics of Israel and BDS delegitimizers of Israel. Label BDS as anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.

With the help of Alex Zisman

IX Combatting BDS: Domestic Politics

IX Combatting BDS: Domestic Politics


Howard Adelman

Domestic Politics in the U.S.

Every country has its weak points where political parties are susceptible to infiltration and the promotion of the BDS agenda. In the United States, it has been the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, in Britain, the left in the Labour Party and the Green Party, in Canada, weakest of all, the party most on the margins, its Green Party has been directly targeted by BDS. But the actual tactics are similar in various countries – promote candidates within the party sympathetic to the BDS cause, promote members on policy platforms and policies that advance the BDS position, and do so by playing down the BDS anti-Zionism and playing up the “illegal” settlements on the West Bank and Palestinian human rights. The counter-attack pushes in precisely the opposite direction.

Bernie Sanders had been given the right to name five of the fifteen members of the Democratic Party Platform Committee, though he still held out from endorsing Clinton. In May, Bernie chose Cornel West to be one of his five nominees on the National Democratic Committee to draft the Democratic political platform in the forthcoming election, in particular, the platform on Israel and Palestine. Cornel West, a philosopher and an eminent academic, has been a strong backer and campaigner both for Bernie Sanders and for BDS. However, on Friday 15 July, Cornel did not follow Bernie’s lead in endorsing Hillary Clinton, the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

Cornel West announced that he would be backing Jill Stein, another Jew, who is the American presidential candidate for the Green Party; Jill Stein is a supporter of BDS. Like many leftist dissidents before him, in a close race, Cornel West was willing to split the left vote that would give an enormous boost to Donald Trump’s chances. “I have a deep love for my brother Bernie Sanders, but I disagree with him on Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she would be an ‘outstanding president’. Her militarism makes the world a less safe place.” I read no announcement that Cornel was resigning from the Policy Platform Committee of the Democratic Party, perhaps because the committee had already completed its work.

Bernie named a second strong BDS supporter, one who was part of the party establishment, James Zogby, the President of the Arab American Institute and a very strong backer of BDS as well. Bernie also appointed Keith Ellison, the Democratic House of Representatives member from Minnesota’s fifth district, the first Muslim elected to Congress. Keith did not have a reputation as a backer, strong or otherwise, of BDS, but had been an outspoken critic of Israel while maintaining close ties to the Jewish community. The two other nominees were environmental activist Bill McKibben and Native American activist Deborah Parker, neither known to have taken a stand on BDS or on Israel for that matter.

DNC’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, one of the most prominent Jewish leaders in the party, named four members of the committee. Three of them were very strong backers of Israel: Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s chairman had for years run a program in conjunction with the organized Jewish community to send a dozen Baltimore black high-schoolers to Israel each year; former Rep. Howard Berman, D-California, in 2010, had been responsible for shepherding the strong Iran sanctions as chair of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; Bonnie Schaefer, a philanthropist, is involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Weizmann Institute of Science. The only member Schultz picked who was not a strong supporter of Israel was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, who had joined Ellison, the Bernie appointee, in opposing the House resolution condemning the 2009 Goldstone Report which had been so flawed and which Goldstone himself subsequently renounced. However, she was not a known backer of BDS.

Hillary Clinton was given the right to name six of the members of the Platform Committee. Among the six Clinton backers was Wendy Sherman, the former deputy secretary of state who was a lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks over which she received a great deal of bric-à-bac from the Jewish establishment, but remained a strong supporter of Israel. Sherman has spoken warmly of her involvement in Jewish life in suburban Maryland. Neera Tanden, a long time Clinton confidante and president of the Center for American Progress, was a second nominee who identified strongly with Israel, even while sometimes critical of Israeli government policies.

In recent years, she took a lead role in trying to establish a dialogue between Israel’s government and the American progressive community. Her main credentials, however, were as a progressive domestic policy wonk. Others included Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois; Carol Browner, a former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Ohio state Rep. Alicia Reece; and Paul Booth of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. All were known to back Hillary Clinton’s strong pro-Israel stance.

The breakdown was as follows: Shultz Clinton Sanders Total
BDS Supporter 0 0 2 2
Israeli Critics but not BDS supporters 1 0 1 2
Neutral 0 0 2 2
Strong Israeli Supporters 3 6 0 9

Total 4 6 5 15

There was no chance of the BDS support or position being endorsed. 60% of the members were strong pro-Israel supporters, though on the progressive end of that support. There were only two strong supporters of BDS and, as stated, one in effect bolted the party. Three of the four Congress members were on record as strong supporters of Israel – Cummings, Lee and Gutiérrez. The only outspoken critic was Ellison who had never endorsed BDS and had strong Jewish support. All four had been endorsed by the political action committee affiliated with J Street, the Jewish liberal Middle East policy group.

Not only was BDS not supported, even efforts calling for Israel to end settlement activity and to label Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an occupation failed. But that could have been anticipated. The real play was to get a minority report. That required 25% support so the Israel-Palestine issue could be debated on the convention floor. Even that failed. It should be noted that Bernie Sanders himself, a strong critic of Israeli settlement policy, has never advocated that established settlements be dismantled – in contrast to Cornel West. He did support naming the Israeli military presence as an occupation, urged recognition of a Palestinian state. But he also refused to condemn Israel for its 2014 Gaza war, insisting it was fought in self-defence, while, at the same time, claiming that the military response was disproportionate. (

So why did Sanders appoint two of his five appointees who were known as BDS supporters when he himself had an infamous debate with BDS supporters in a town hall meeting in Cabot, Vermont in August 2014 in which he told a critical member of the audience to “shut up.” Though he did not co-sponsor a resolution expressing support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas, when it was voted on 17 July of that year, he did not object to the motion which passed by unanimous consent. (For the Cabot confrontation, see I am not sure why. I can only think it was because he wanted to appease the large number of supporters who were far more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than even he was.


Larry Sanders is Bernie’s older brother (by seven years) whom he credits with inducing him to enter politics in the first place. Larry is an American-British academic, social worker, and health spokesperson for the Green Party of England; he ran as a candidate for the party in the Oxford West and Abingdon riding in the last British election. And lost. Badly! Larry, unlike Bernie, supports the BDS movement against Israel. In a tweet on 20 April 2015, he called for Israel to “end occupation of West Bank, siege of Gaza, [and grant] Palestinians in Israel equal rights.” “BDS yes,” he ended.

In Britain, the Green Party is an open supporter of BDS. Natalie Bennett, an Australian rather than an American immigrant to Britain and leader since 2012, endorsed the previous party platform supporting BDS which she depicts as a human rights and international law issue. “We need to get the message across to the Israeli state. It needs to comply with international law and human rights.” The party calls for suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement worth more than nearly $1.5 billion per year. Bennett also supports a boycott on any sale of arms to Israel. One Green Party candidate, Tanya Williams, called Israel “a racist and apartheid state.” Sharer Ali, deputy leader of the party, is a harsh critic of Israel.

However, the battle in Britain is for the soul of the Labour Party. That battle appears to have been lost. The UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, openly supports BDS, though he personally would restrict the boycott only to products produced on the West Bank. He also calls for penalizing Israel, cancelling the EU-Israel trade agreement and even banishing Israeli politicians, though not academics, from entering Britain. He has called Israel’s treatment of the population of East Jerusalem illegal and an abomination. Though he has visited Gaza and called Israel’s politicians criminals, he has never replied to the invitation of the leader of his cousin party led by Isaac Herzog to visit Israel.

Corbyn has called Hezbollah a “friend” and has urged dialogue between Israel and Hamas and insisted that, “You don’t achieve progress by only talking to those who you agree with,” but seems only willing to talk to Palestinian and Arab extremists and not Israeli moderates. Though not an anti-Zionist, and certainly not an anti-Semite, nevertheless he clearly favours the Palestinian position by a wide margin. Further, he is not pro-Zionist for he called the Balfour Declaration “an extremely confused document which did not enjoy universal support in the cabinet of the time, and indeed was opposed by some of the Jewish members of the cabinet because of its confusion.”

It did not have to go this way. Corbyn was the long-shot candidate for the Labour Party leadership. Corbyn’s views were reasonably well-known and were explicitly articulated at an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Jewish Chronicle, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement at the JW3 community centre in north London. All three of his opponents were strong backers of Israel and opponents of BDS – Andy Burnham, the Labour Party MP from Leigh who was widely expected to be elected leader, Yvette Cooper, a former shadow foreign secretary, and Liz Kendall, MP for Leicester West. British Jews had failed to unite behind one candidate and, in part, the establishment had followed the lead of the American Jews, but primarily Bibi Netanyahu, and put their energies into backing the one clearly pro-Israel party, the Conservatives.

Further, in combatting the move of the Labour Party to the more radical left and the supporters of the Palestinians versus Israel – Corbyn was elected leader with an overwhelming majority – the Jewish establishment in Britain tended to support smearing the Labour Party with the anti-Semitic brush instead of stressing the basic anti-Zionist character of BDS. Mind you, the Labour Party itself in good part invited such a tactic as the anti-Semites within the party came out of the woodwork. Vicky Kirby, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, referred to Jews having “big noses,” equated the “Zionist God” with Hitler and accused Jews of “slaughtering” the oppressed. She was forced to resign. But Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford, called for shipping the Jews in Israel to the U.S. and Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, defended Shah and, in that defence, claimed that in the thirties Hitler had conspired with the Zionists. The two were only suspended.

In a subsequent blog, I will explore the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and the propensity among many Jews to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Zionism, and then anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, possibly valid when anti-Zionism is an effort to deny the Jewish people a right of self-determination and to delegitimize Israel. I will also have to explore who really was the first to renege on the Oslo Accords and whether settlements are expressions of colonialist imperialism. In this blog, however, I want to stick to the machinations to get political parties to line up for or against Israel. I will not have the time or space to discuss what has happened in this battle in other European countries, such as the Dutch endorsement of BDS activism as a form of free speech and the Foreign Minister of Ireland, Charles Flanagan’s non-endorsement of BDS while defending its legitimacy and objecting to the demonization of BDS.


On 22 February 2016, Canada’s newly-elected Liberal Government supported a Conservative anti-BDS motion by a vote of 229-51. However, an Ontario Bill co-sponsored by Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak as a private members’ bill, was defeated. Hudak had labelled BDS “the insidious new face of anti-Semitism” and the bill failed to win support from the Liberals. Though Premier Kathleen Wynne openly opposed the BDS movement, she refused to follow the lead of American states because of her defence of free speech. “I support all rights to freely express their views, freely expressed without fear of discrimination or persecution, whether in Ontario or in the Middle East. Freedom of speech is something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend. But, it’s unacceptable for students, or parents, or children to feel unsafe or discriminated against.”

The real focus of attention currently is the Green Party. In Britain, the Green Party is represented by one lone member, Caroline Lucas, who is an ardent opponent of Israel and not only supporter of but active campaigner for BDS, labelling Israel an apartheid state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews the “Zionist lobby.” She even blamed Israel for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack perpetrated by Pakistani Muslim zealots that killed about 200, including the Chabad rabbi and his wife, and supports violent action against Israeli interests.

Elizabeth May, the leader of the Canadian Green Party and its sole MP here, is not a supporter of BDS, is a supporter of Israel, but has permitted two BDS resolutions to go to the floor of the Convention in August, one denying income tax deductible status to the Jewish National Fund and another endorsing the BDS movement. Further, outspoken anti-Semites have been candidates for the Green party of Canada. For example, Marika Schaefer produced a video denying the Holocaust and calling it “the biggest and most pernicious, persistent lie in all of history,” denied there were death camps and insisted that the showers were used to keep the inmates healthy. She has been denounced by the partly leadership and a process has been set up to expel her from the party.

We await the August Convention to examine the fallout.

With the help of Alex Zisman

VIII: Combatting BDS – Lawfare

VIII: Combatting BDS – Lawfare


Howard Adelman

In addition to individual exposés and very few economic measures, one of the most active frontiers for combatting BDS has been the use of lawfare. Lawfare is the use of legislative bodies (local municipal councils, as well as provinces and states in federal systems of government), as well as courts of law, to either promote an anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist position or to counter-attack and use these legal bodies to close off this option of harassment for BDS promoters. Lawfare is diplomatic warfare by other means.

Though initially authorized as a strategic method in 2005, the methodology really began to take off in 2009 and 2010 with cases against the Dutch company, Riwal, for supplying cranes and aerial platforms for settlement construction, and targeting individuals such as Ami Ayalon also in the Netherlands, Ehud Barak in the UK and, even earlier, Moshe Ya’alon in New Zealand. In late 2006, Ya’alon was in New Zealand to raise funds for the Jewish National Fund, Judge Avinash Deobhakta in Aukland issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged war crimes for his role in the 2002 assassination of Salah Shehade, a Hamas commander. New Zealand’s Attorney-General, Michael Cullen, stayed the proceedings on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. The warrant was cancelled.

The first actual court case was probably in Quebec, Canada in 2008 when Al-Haq went before the Superior Court in Quebec on behalf of Palestinians in the village of Bil’in insisting that Green Park International and Green Mount International, owned by New York real estate developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, were two Quebec-based companies allegedly engaged in illegal activities in constructing and marketing residential units in Modi’in Illit in the West bank along the old Green Line. (For a full and very objective analysis of the case, cf. Anne Herzberg (2010) NGO “Lawfare”: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 68-72.)

Click to access lawfare-monograph.pdf

This is part of the larger fight against settlements in the West Bank allegedly illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention because the population of an occupying power is being transferred into Palestinian Territory. Israel argues that the territory is disputed and that the land has never been recognized as owned and controlled by an independent state of Palestine as part of the more general BDS campaign. The issue here is not who is legally correct, but the use of courts and legislatures to fight such battles. On behalf of local Palestinians, the case sought both a cessation order as well as claims for reparations and punitive damages of CAN$2 million. Canada was chosen to launch the suit rather than the U.S. because in 2000, Canada was the first country to incorporate The Hague’s International Criminal Court occupation statute, the so-called Rome Statute, into Canadian law. Widespread sympathies for the Palestinian cause in Quebec added to reasons favouring the use of this Canadian jurisdiction.

Al-Haq, that fronted the legal battle, openly admitted that it was part of a large public relations campaign in support of BDS in an effort to associate Israel with war crimes. While there was an effort to raise funds to finance the case, sometimes offering receipts for tax deductible purposes, the Canadian Revenue Agency determined such funds were not for a “charitable” purpose.

On 18 September 2009, Judge Louis-Paul Cullen of the Superior Court issued a decision dismissing the lawsuit and awarding the defendants partial costs. The decision was withering, not only about substance, but about the methods used. The judge accused the legal team of inconsistencies and totally unnecessary repetition. As for the case itself, on the issue of whether the plaintiff could argue the case because the municipality held title to the land in question, the court granted that Yassin, the Head of the Village Council, had standing to bring the suit, but that municipal jurisdiction did not confer ownership or even usage rights or even a sufficient interest to launch the action.

As for where the case should be tried, the court noted that the relevant evidence as well as witnesses were located in Israel and the West Bank, that Israeli courts would be more familiar with the issues and the relevant law, and, in any case, to enforce any judgment reliance would have to placed on the Israeli courts. Further, the plaintiffs were totally unable to prove that Israeli courts were unwilling to try the case and, in fact, had themselves introduced evidence that contradicted that claim. Further, cases put forth to support the legal position of the plaintiff did not in fact do so. Evidence had not been offered to support the claim that the land had been “confiscated.”

The plaintiffs had even failed to heed a fundamental tenet of natural justice by not including those whose homes were allegedly demolished as part of the claim. The plaintiffs bypassed sovereign immunity laws in omitting Israel as a party in the suit, and, finally, were accused of “inappropriate forum shopping.” The court determined that Quebec had been chosen as a forum to avoid proving the case and misusing the courts for effectively propaganda purposes. The appeal was also unsuccessful. On 11 August 2010, the Court of Appeal issued a decision affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the case. But you would never know this result from consulting any of the BDS web sites.

In the counter-attacks, the legislative and executive branches of governments have been chosen rather than courts or local municipal councils. As examples of the latter in support of BDS, Socialist mayor Sylvine Thomassin of the municipality of Bondy just outside Paris, France, got her council to support a resolution boycotting goods from Judea and Samaria. The larger city of Leicester in the UK went further and decided to boycott all Israeli products. The small town of Kinvara in Ireland went even further and informed its shops, pharmacies and restaurants that they could not stock or use Israeli products even though no municipality in any Western jurisdiction enjoys such powers.

In contrast, when New Jersey last month passed anti-boycott legislation, it did so on a matter fully within its jurisdiction, the investment of state pension and annuity funds ($71 billion) in corporations that comply with the boycott. It did not rule that companies could not boycott, only that such companies would not be the recipient of state investment funds. The bill was passed by a vote in the state’s General Assembly of 69-3 with 2 abstentions. It is unlikely the vote would have any substantive effect since it is doubtful if any funds that are invested are in companies that have joined the boycott.

Similar legislation has been passed by Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. California is in the process of voting on the California Combating BDS Act of 2016, AB 2844. ( That bill goes further, and is akin to the legislation in Rhode Island for, if passed, it forces the state in most cases to stop doing business with companies that participate in a boycott against Israel, California’s 18th-largest export partner. Governor Cuomo of New York issued an executive order to the same effect.

The Rhode Island legislation states: “A public entity shall not enter into a contract with a business to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, information technology, or construction unless the contract includes a representation that the business is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the business will not during the duration of in the boycott of any person, firm or entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade, and/or the boycott of any public agencies, entities or instrumentalities of the jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade.”

Proponents of BDS, that started the use of lawfare, now claim, in the height of hypocrisy and irrelevance, that “these politically motivated anti-boycott policies constitute an unconstitutional attack on the freedom of speech.” The New York State Assembly passed a resolution that read: “That this Legislative Body is concerned that the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and its agenda are damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy, and human rights for all peoples in the Middle East.” Though Tennessee’s resolution was non-binding, it went furthest in equating the BDS movement with anti-Semitism, depicting the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

Now it is clear that everyone has a right to boycott and invest funds wherever they so choose. But such decisions have consequences. Since they are only pinpricks and this lawfare and boycotting is largely a means to keep the issue on the front pages, in this case it has stimulated an enormous reaction that has led to effectively emasculating BDS efforts in the U.S. and branding the movement as anti-Israeli and possibly anti-Semitic. Boycotts helped in the fight against racial segregation in the U.S. South, the battle for farm workers in California with the grape boycott and against apartheid in South Africa. Boycotts and divestment strategies are currently being advanced against companies perceived to be guilty of despoiling the planet. But the target must be apt, the means related to the cause must be well-established and the program must be advanced with care and consideration.

When it is advanced as part of an ideological program, it should be no surprise that it stimulates a powerful backlash. The whole effort to equate Israeli policies, whatever one thinks of those policies, and Zionism in general with racism and apartheid has resulted in the proponents of BDS being labeled, properly, as anti-Zionists, and for many, that anti-Zionism is equated with anti-Semitism. This is hardly the best position from which to advance the Palestinian cause. But that may simply be because there is less concern with advancing peace between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians than in denying Israel legitimacy.

One of the results may even be legitimizing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and ending the prospect of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. For as one investigates the proponents of the BDS movement, one learns that their agenda is not simply to press Israel to trade land for the settlements as part of the negotiations and to abandon the occupation of the West Bank, to witness the emergence of a Palestinian state on the West Bank that will live in peace beside a majority-Jewish state, but to undercut that state altogether and deny its legitimacy. Clearly, not all followers or even proponents of BDS want this. But any in-depth investigation reveals that this is precisely the agenda of the founders and controllers of the BDS movement. So why would moderates want to associate with a movement that calls for the liberation of “Arab lands,” that labels Israel itself as an imperial colonizing state, and that considers the founding of the state of Israel to be the original sin if not the prior migration of Jews to the Mandate of Palestine.

As I have stated previously, the worst and most counter-productive efforts target the boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions for the effort to promote the economic boycott through lawfare has had such counter-productive results and lawfare is now being used to squash the agenda of BDS. The Judicial Board of the Students’ Society at McGill University (SSMU) unanimously declared the repeated BDS motions at the university to be unconstitutional and in breach of the equity policies of McGill University. The Judicial Board considered the promotion of BDS initiatives, not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of legality by reference to the interpretation of the Constitution, internal regulations and SSMU policies. The ruling of the Judicial Board was as devastating to BDS claims as the findings of Judge Louis-Paul Cullen of the Superior Court of Quebec in the Bil’in Case. Reading the full Judicial statement that can be found on the McGill Student Society site is well worth the effort. (

With the help of Alex Zisman

Obedience and Holiness: Parshat Chukas

Obedience and Holiness: Parshat Chukas


Howard Adelman

In the blog before the last one, I wrote about three young people who did not seem to have a religious bone in their bodies and who also seemed to have no sense of the sacred. In last Friday’s blog I wrote about the competition over defining holiness between Korah, who found holiness in everyone and Moses and Aaron whom God anointed as holy. A commentator wrote me that taking the side of Korah meant that if humans were already holy, they did not need to improve and the whole enterprise of Judaism would have been aborted. I countered by suggesting that seeing holiness in each human was not to be equated with seeing perfection. In today’s blog and a discussion of Parshat Chukas (Numbers 19-21) I want to zero in on the concept of holiness.

In Judaism, the mount where the temple stood by its very designation is viewed as sacred. We know it is sacred more from how that sacred place was profaned that through the sacrifices and God’s presence. We are ending two weeks of the three weeks of mourning that began on Canada Day, I July and the 17th of Tamuz that leads up to Tish B’Av ordained to commemorate the destruction of the first and second temples, each a Beit Ha’Mikdash. The sacred place was made profane in that destruction. But sometimes profanity is smashed as when Moses confronted the Israelites who had built and worshiped the golden calf as if it were holy. So the holy and unholy are regarded as opposites that are complementary. If Moses smashed a golden calf, the Syrian Governor burned a Sefer Torah on the Mount, a destruction also commemorated in this period of mourning. Finally, King Menashe committed the ultimate unholy act and placed an idol right on the Beit Ha’mikdash, an act of destruction also commemorated in this period of mourning.

But what has all of this to do with Parshat Chakas that describes the perfect red heifer, the parah adumah, and the laws applicable thereto? What has all of this fight between the holy and the unholy have to do with the military destruction that runs through Parshat Chakas, beginning with the destruction of the Canaanite army quickly followed by the defeat of the Moabites and the Amorites. And all the time the Israelites kvetched. There was not enough water. Living conditions were terrible. And when God responded by making them really miserable by infesting the camp with poisonous snakes, Moses had to get rid of them with the magic of his copper snake and save those who had been bitten.

The Israelites were (and remain) a recalcitrant lot. They were an unholy people because a holy people obeys because they are commanded to obey, not because they understand why they are obeying or because obeying fits in with how we feel or think or because we want to set off our own will against that of another.

A person is holy because he obeys. That is why Korah is seen as betraying his priestly role, because he went beyond kvetching and challenged instead of obeying. A place is holy because one is willing to sacrifice one’s life for that place, not simply to win it, but to prevent that place from being desecrated, from being used to burn a sefer Torah, from being used to construct an idol, from being destroyed itself. Moses was seen as a uniquely holy one because he was chosen to obey God’s commands without question.

If this is so, why do I sympathize with Korah? Why do I suggest that Moses ran a kangaroo court in dealing with Korah’s protest? Why do I portray Moses, who is a prophet like none other, who is supposedly holy like no other, who is privy to the secret of the red heifer, but not the secret of who God is, why do I portray Moses as a manipulator and a sophist who twists words and meanings?

In Judaism, the prime injunction is neither to Know God nor oneself, but to obey Him in spite of your profound ignorance, not to know oneself, but to understand that the highest degree of wisdom is to enact decrees (chukot), to implement orders that you not only do not question, but have no right to question, to live a life that expresses chukat ha’Torah.. And not only do you obey without question, obey without inquiry, but recognizing that it is a mitzvah, a blessing, a good deed, to do so with the best of one’s ability and, thereby, become a pure being in the doing. And in order to perform that act of eliminating what defiles a place, one must ensure that one is not defiled oneself.

A sign that you have done so? You do not kvetch. You do not complain that there is no water. You do not complain that there is no food. Moses failed his people, not by giving into their complaints and using his rod to bring forth water, but for calling them rebels because they were such kvetches, because he insulted and degraded the people and did not see in them their potential for holiness. Moses was unlike Korah, not because he sinned by giving in to populism, not because he did not sufficiently trust God, but because he did not sufficiently trust the people that God had chosen to be His bride. So Moses, even though he was holy like no other, even though he knew the secret of the red heifer, was not holy enough to enter the land of Israel, not holy enough to stand on the Beit Ha’Mikdash. And he was not holy enough because even Moses did not have enough faith in God to sanctify God in the eyes of his children. (Numbers 20:12)

So what does one do if one loves the study of Torah enough to sacrifice time to earn money, time to be spent on pleasures, but not to fulfill it, not to become holy and not to serve to make Israel a holy place? That is the central question – not to be or not to be. So in Parshat Chukas, God spoke to Moses and Aaron to inform them that the statute of the Torah required them to locate and acquire a perfectly unblemished cow that had never worked a day of its life, that had never pulled a plow, and to have it slaughtered by a Kohen and participate in voodoo by dipping your finger in its blood and sprinkling that blood before, not on, the Holy of Holies, and then burning the entire red heifer until there is absolutely nothing left but ashes, ashes to be used paradoxically with water to make oneself clean,, including the Kohen who must be cleansed from participating in the slaughter of the red heifer.

Why should ashes of such a rare pure and unblemished cow that has been sacrifices serve as “an everlasting statute for the children of Israel”? Why is the central issue and top priority in Israel washing the body of the dead to purify it before burial? Is this not an act of necrophilia? Why is the corpse which dies, if not death itself, considered unclean? Why does Saul in the movie Son of Saul become so obsessed with cleaning the body of the corpse he regards as his own son and insist on a proper burial. Why does he end up washing that body in a fast flowing stream as he tries to bury it, and does so even though it may sabotage the revolt as well as efforts to record the horrible events that occurred in Auschwitz/Birkenau?

And what about the others? What about the non-Israelites? A message was sent to the King of Edom to let the Israelites pass in safety. But the King of Edom refused, did not grant a right of passage and blocked the path of the Israelites towards the promised land. When Edom came forth with a vast force and a strong hand, when he refused a right of passage, Moses was ordered to sacrifice his brother, the High Priest, on top of Mount Hor where Aaron died before he could lead the Israelites to smite the Edomites. This was followed by the destruction of the King of Arad and his Canaanites at Hormah.

In spite of these victories, the Israelites kvetched even more. So the horde of venomous snakes attacked them until Moses once again used the magic of his copper staff to smite the serpents. Even though Moses had more cause this time, he did not put down the bride of God, he did not give in to the propensity to denigrate his people, God’s people, but, in spite of their obvious inadequacies – and his own – to express pride in who they were and not shame at whom they were not. And Moses did so even though he had been found unworthy of entering the land of Israel. Moses saw that he had made the greatest mistake of his life, but owned up to it and carried on with his responsibilities even though he knew it would be without personal reward.

The slaughter of the Edomites and the Canaanites was followed with victories over the Moabites and King Sihon of the Amorites, And the Israelites took possession of all their lands. This happened again in 1967. And the Jewish people were once again divided. Some said hold onto that land because it is sacred and God delivered it to us as our holy land, a land that we must be willing to die for. Others said give it back. We have enough land on which to live and thrive and we can live and thrive best if we live side by side with our neighbours in peace. But those neighbours on that land, or many of them, particularly their leaders, refused to acknowledge the right of the Israelites to live not only on the land captured in 1967, but even on the land they made their own in 1948. Jews might be allowed to live there on sufferance, but not by right and certainly not on the Beit Ha’Mikdash.

So more and more Jews became convinced, not of God’s promise, but that they had been given no choice, that they had to continue living on all of the promised land that had been captured. In the greatest irony, the non-Israelites served that ancient promise even more so than the Israelites and the Jews throughout the world. Only the so-called dedicated few, the zealots, rejected the idea that the Israelites had to live in accordance with the natural laws of force, for they were few in number and did not constitute a huge army that the Israelites had assembled when they first conquered the Holy Land. These Jews rejected both the idea that Jews were destined to live in accordance with natural laws, including the “natural” laws of realpolitik.

They also rejected what was an even more alien principle for them, that Jews were like everyone else entering the modern world, the contemporary world, the world that worshiped existence, that worshiped the greatest idol of all, the belief that the world was made so that the self could experience it and live in the present rather than for the sake of the future, in the belief that everyone had his own personal truth and that being authentic to that truth was the ultimate commandment, a “truth” that rejected the sense of sacrifice, a truth that rejected the sense that one must be willing to die for what is holy, a truth that rejected the duty to become holy in following a commandment that seemed out of this world and not part of it, but a commandment that most of all rejected the idea that the holiness of the command from the other world did not command the killing of others, though it acknowledged the necessity of doing so if the armies of those others rejected one’s holy obligations.

So how do those who are holy or, more accurately, who aspire to holiness, address their fellow Jews who regard such a concept of holiness as crazy, as absolutely nuts, as other worldly, for any address starts with the premise they reject, that there is an authority which you not only do not know or understand, but whom you cannot even question. The irony is that the quester has more in common with the secular existential individual who lives for his or herself in the contemporary world, rejecting any source of authority, even a source in reason and logic, outside his or her own personal sense of what is right and wrong. For those in quest of holiness and those convinced that holiness lies within themselves without any external reference at least both believe in a holiness; those who conform to the rules of realpolitik do not.

In accordance with the lesson of Moses, who failed to live up to that idea of holiness, of obeying a God one did not and could not understand, those in quest of holiness must trust their fellow Jews, both those who reject the sacred altogether and are simply devoted to national survival in accordance with the rules of international force, and those who only see holiness as residing within, without any external reference, who revere diversity and difference because there is no universal holiness, there is no one God. Those in quest of divine holiness must follow the commandment not to “diss” their fellow Jews, not to lose faith in the bride of Israel even when they willingly become servants of the enemies of Israel as in the case of Jewish Voices for Peace. The dictum is not to love thy neighbour as oneself, but to love one’s fellow Jew even though he kvetches all the time and seems to have lost all faith in God. Those in pursuit of holiness must reject the notion that Korah held that there is something of the holy in every one of us, reject the notion put forth by a philosopher/teacher in a Jewish Conservative seminary (the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York) such as Alan Mittleman (Human Nature & Jewish Thought: Judaism’s Case for Why Persons Matter), reject the case of this contemporary Baruch Spinoza who took the belief in the spark of the holy in each individual to its logical conclusion.

But those in quest of holiness must not reject such advocates as simply kvetchers who betray God, for they are all part of God’s people, and the people as a whole are always holy even if the individuals within, including those who openly pursue holiness, are not. And even if those who pursue holiness must contend with what they regard as the sacrilegious belief that holiness is immanent within each one of us, these pursuers of the holy cannot reject these others. They cannot thrust them into a man-made purgatory. For the kvetchers of realpolitik must confront what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik insisted upon, that with the advent of modern science and quantum theory, there were no absolute natural laws to serve as a reference point while those in pursuit of holiness must accept that these blind followers of faith in the absolute laws of nature must not only be tolerated, but must be embraced. So too the kvetchers of existential angst remain part of the Jewish people and their contribution to that people; however alien, they must not be rejected even if their particular beliefs are.

And where do I stand among the kvetchers espousing realpolitik, among the dropouts who seek to realize an ephemeral holiness within themselves and believe that the right to choose is our most sacred blessing, among those who implicitly and explicitly join the enemies of Israel and help foster its possible destruction, and among those who believe that holiness can only be achieved by strict obedience to a God one does not and cannot understand? I stand amongst them all, yet apart from them all, and that is not my pride, but my failing. For in revering detachment and understanding most of all, I sin more than all the others in reverence for the greatest idol of them all – abstraction instead of commitment, in a belief in reason rather than holiness, in a belief in thought rather than an inner sensibility, and the contradictory belief that empathetic understanding and objectivity can be reconciled. My faith in reason and in this fundamental contradiction of reason, is my ultimate failing and why I will never be holy.

The absolute may be with us at the start, and, indeed, at every point along the way when we believe we have located the absolute. But what happens when we accept at one and the same time that each version of the absolute will prove empty and false, that the absolute that is with us from the start in the process of emptying itself for our sake will only carry the promise, not of fulfillment, but of the experience of more and more emptiness? There is an answer for me, and that is the problem with such an answer. It is an answer for me and not for us. I have no answer about how to unify the Jewish world and how that Jewish world can be accepted in the wider world around. I pursue tikkun olam in full recognition that the concept of social justice is merely a ghost of its real meaning, an obligation to correct the defects of the cosmos and not simply the social organization of the world of humanity. My only solace – I live amongst contenders for different concepts of faith even if I cannot live within any one of them.

Combatting BDS: Individual Exposés and Economic Reprisals

VII: Combatting BDS A1 and A2


Howard Adelman

The organized Jewish community has been very active in combatting BDS. Whether BDS required the time and resources devoted to that battle and whether that expenditure of time and effort has been effective will not be the focus of this blog. Rather, I will survey the various techniques used to deal with BDS and, in passing, sometimes assess both the effectiveness and mode of engaging in combat. For obvious reasons, most of my illustrations will be Canadian even though a great deal more effort is being expended in the U.S. Further, although the list appears to make each category a totally separate one, the illustrations will make clear the enormous overlaps between and among the categories. The list of a dozen techniques used can be divided into two broad categories, A) Aggressive and B) Defensive.

A) Aggressive
1. Individual Exposés
2. Economic Pressures
3. Lawfare
4. Political Pressure – The Green Party of Canada
5. International Diplomacy
6. Character Assassination
a) Association with violence
b) Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism
B) Defensive
1. Community Education – a fundamental existential issue
2. Celebrity Endorsements
3. Long term Leadership Development
4. Long term Coalition Building
5. Research on BDS and on Effectiveness of own methods.
In this and following blogs I will describe and to some degree analyze each type of response.

A1. The Individual Exposé

I will explore one recent exposé in depth rather than trying to cover a number of them over the years. B’nai Brith Canada was active in bringing to the attention of both the Catholic School Board in St. Catharines as well as the head of St. Catharine of Siena Separate School the fact that they had in their employ a teacher, Nadia Shoufani, who taught special ed and ESL, but who also glorified terrorists and terrorism both in public rallies (2 July 2016) and on her Facebook page. At the 2 July Al-Quds Rally in Toronto, she was recorded as stating that, “Palestine will be liberated…Glory to the martyrs.” She made very clear that she was not just referring to the occupied territories on the West Bank, but all of Mandatory Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. At that rally, she praised Ghassan Kanafani and Georges Ibrahim Abdallah of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a proscribed terrorist group in Canada. And she asked those in the audience to join the BDS campaign.

In addition, she also celebrated convicted terrorist, Samir Kuntar (the report omitted that Samir had crushed the skull of a four-year old Israeli girl) and characterized him as a hero and martyr. The Jewish agency report on this issue did not include the way the little girl was killed. Samir had killed an Israeli policeman and in the effort to kidnap an Israeli family in Nahariya – not in the West Bank – and killed the father. After he had smashed the child’s head on beach rocks, he totally crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle. Perhaps these details were omitted out of sensitivity to the family or because a recitation of blood and gore is, in the end, counter-productive.

Nadia also accused the Israel security forces of engaging in extrajudicial murder for “neutralizing” (i.e. killing) Muhammad Nasser Tra’ayra (spelled Tarayah in the B’nai Brith communication), a Palestinian from the nearby village of Bani Na’im, the murderer of thirteen-year-old Hallel Yaffe Ariel whom he stabbed in her back as she slept in the “settlement” of Kiryat Arba near Hebron. Kiryat Arba is a re-introduction after 1967 of a pre-1948 Jewish settlement that had been razed by the Jordanians. Muhammad had scaled a security fence to carry out the murder. The B’nai Brith dispatch did not mention that the settlement of Kiryat Arba existed prior to the 1948 war.

The B’nai Brith dispatch did not mention that Hallel Yaffe Ariel was also an American citizen or that Muhammad Tra’ayra was nineteen years old (the IDF originally reported that he was seventeen), only six years older than his victim. Nor did the report mention that the Palestinian governor of Hebron had paid a condolence call to the “martyr” who killed Hallel. The report did not explain whether B’nai Brith had also contacted the Dufferin-Peel District School Board where Nadia Shoufani also taught. Nor did the report mention that Nadia was affiliated with the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, Actions4Palestine and was a director of the Arab Canadian Cultural Association.

Nadia had also praised Muhammad Tra’ayra’s cousin, Sarah Tra’ayra, who tried to revenge Muhammad’s death by trying to stab an Israeli policeman in revenge and was also killed. Nor did it quote one of Nadia’s statements made at the rally: “I urge you not to be silent. I urge you to speak up, to resist this occupation and support the steadfastness of Palestinians. Support the resistance in any form that is possible. (my italics) I urge you to support the BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel.” Nor was a selection of her many statements on her Facebook page re-quoted. “Please join us in activities supporting the [Palestinian] intifada… Humiliate them. They all worth [not more than] the shoe of every fighter and every martyr.” (12 February 2016)

It is not yet clear what the outcome has been of the investigations launched by both the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and the St. Catharines Separate School Board. Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) had also contacted the Dufferin-Peal Board. Nor is it clear why neither BB nor FSWC highlighted Nadia’s connection with BDS. Nor did either organization publicize that Nadia is on public record as being an inferior teacher, except in the category of “easiness.” “Nadia Shoufani is a classical studies teacher at Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board located in Mississauga, Ontario. When comparing Nadia Shoufani’s ratings to other teachers in the province of Ontario, Nadia Shoufani’s ratings are below the average of 3.87 stars. Additionally, the average teacher rating at Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board is 1.0 star.”

I was not able to discern the principles of simplifying and writing the brief public release in the communications of either BB or FSWC. Was it simply the need for brevity in press releases the explanation?

A2. Economic Pressures

My focus has largely been on educational and, to some extent, cultural boycotts of Israel, but the economic boycott of Israeli goods and services has been the backbone of the BDS movement. I will deal with indirect economic pressures under Lawfare in the next section. In reviewing the literature in combatting BDS, it is notable that organized Jewish agencies do not appear to have launched reprisals against commercial establishments that support BDS by refusing to order Israeli-made products. I could find no list equivalent to the BDS list, either because the leadership in the Jewish community have decided that publishing such a list would be counter-productive or because it has not undertaken the research to prepare such a list.

In contrast, BDS has targeted a very wide variety of Israeli goods from kitchen tools such as supplied by what has become one of Israel’s best known products (because of the boycott), SodaStream, cupcake decorating kits made and sold by Amav toys (Tip Top Toys, Taf Toys and Ofrat Baby Toys are also on the list), cosmetics such as those of Ahava but also by Dead Sea, Nevo, Sea Spa and many of the products of The Body Shop, Eden Springs Water, which BDS alleges began in the Golan Heights and which sells bottled water in eighteen different countries, Carmel Wines and Golan Heights Winery (also Tishbi and Psagot Wines to name just a few more), dairy product such as Mahadrin that sells Greek yogurt, textiles used by Victoria Secrets and the Gap, Stanley Black and Decker hardware, pharmaceuticals, fresh produce such as dates also by Mehadrin, Tekoa Mushrooms, Israeli diamonds – a major part of the diamond trade, services like Airbnb because they include places to stay in the settlements, as well as a long list of security services, including Hewlett Packard, commercial products such as construction vehicles made by Caterpillar, and, as might be expected, military products not likely to be purchased by consumers such as Uzi machine guns and the wide variety of military equipment sold by Israel Aerospace Industries and Israel Military Industries, perhaps the best known among a wide variety of Israeli military equipment providers. The list is very long and clearly very varied, but, for some reason, it does not seem to have included banking, financial and insurance services as far as I have been able to find out.

There seems to be no consistent set of criteria for inclusion. The reason can include being produced on the West Bank or simply used on the West Bank, ones that employ Arab workers and ones that do not, ones that obtain its raw products from the Dead Sea even if obtaining such products preceded the 1967 war, products of Blue and White Industries, in part because blue and white are the colours on the Israeli flag, skin products made from Moroccan oil because it is an Israeli company using Morocco oil but which may appear to be a Moroccan company because of its name. However, as a BDS spokesperson has written, “We are here focused on companies based primarily in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Though they have explored boycotting international companies doing business with Israel, they have largely avoided that even more arduous route. But the companies, products and services may also have nothing to do with the West Bank.

While BDS supporters in Canada have been putting stickers on products made in Israel, such as Sabra hummus, Keter and SodaStream products, Glutino biscuits, dates and tangerines at grocers, and at hardware stores in Montreal, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Brampton, and other towns in British Columbia, I was unable to find that anyone had been charged with interfering with retail sales by illegally putting one’s own label on a product sold by a store.

In other words, though there are a wide variety of civil society counter-measures that could be taken which would at the same time win loyalty for Israeli-made products, it is not clear why these strategies have not been pursued. Are they too costly to organize and/or do they enhance the BDS publicity? Or has the counter-BDS movement simply relied on a more centralized campaign discussed in my next blog to make BDS efforts illegal.

With the help of Alex Zisman

VI BDS and the University

Cultural Anthropology, BDS and the University


Howard Adelman

Jonathan David Haidt is a Professor of Ethical Leadership and a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business; he specializes in the psychology of morality. In a dialogue about his concern with how communities bind together and, in that binding, also close their minds, he “began to see the social sciences as tribal moral communities, becoming ever more committed to social justice, and ever less hospitable to dissenting views.” He claimed that universities have developed into a monoculture. “Anthropology and sociology are the worst — those fields seem to be really hostile and rejecting toward people who aren’t devoted to social justice.”
Anthropology is a very activist field. They fight for the rights of oppressed people, as they see it. My field, social psychology, has some activism in it, but it’s not the dominant strain. Most of us, we really are thinking all day long about what control condition wasn’t run. My field really is oriented towards research. Now a lot of us are doing research on racism and prejudice. It’s the biggest single area of the field. But I’ve never felt that social psychology is first and foremost about changing the world, rather than understanding it. So my field is certainly still fixable. I think that if we can just get some more viewpoint diversity in it, it will solve the bias problem.

As Jonathan replied, “They’re so devoted to social justice, and they have accepted the rule that you can never, ever blame victims, so if a group of victims makes demands [however ill-conceived], you cannot argue back. You must accept the demands.” “Anthro is completely lost. I mean, it’s really militant activists. They’ve taken the first step towards censoring Israel. They’re not going to have anything to do with Israeli scholars any more. So it’s now – it’s the seventh victim group.” In addition to African-Americans, women, the LGBT community, as well as Latinos, Native Americans and people with disabilities, the seventh group does not consist of the Israelis ostracized, but Muslims. These seven groups, whatever empathy they deserve – and most deserve a great deal – become immune to criticism and occupy a protected status. Further, under the concept of “intersectionality,” each group is strengthened in the blindmindedness in dealing with it by seeing the oppression of each as a manifestation of a singular larger evil force.

When values other than truth become primary in universities, when truth gets thrown under the bus in favour of perceived social justice, the university has lost its way. “What has happened is the normalization of bad ideas, thanks mostly to identity politics.” I personally first experienced this years ago in a union meeting of our faculty at York University. I was shocked to hear faculty shout abuse and shut up an esteemed colleague who was raising questions about a proposal to give the union authority to call a strike. He was not even disagreeing, just asking a question. And he was shouted down. I felt very ashamed to have been part of organizing a union where members not only behaved in that way, but were allowed to behave that way.

When I appeared on a panel on the Middle East in Osgoode Hall’s Moot Court at the university about fifteen years ago, the situation had become much worse, the language more degrading and the sense of a mob culture much more apparent. Categories of oppression multiply and certain language was placed off limits at the same time as a new callous and rude language became more prevalent. I have been told that over the past thirteen years since my retirement from York University, the situation of creeping censorship combined with enhanced callous language has become even worse. As Haidt said, “Far from embracing free debate of challenging ideas and the free speech necessary to pursue them, university life today is characterized by policies governing every aspect of college life, in the classroom and out, and offices to enforce them.” So one kind of speech, discourse and behaviour that fosters a free exchange of ideas is ruthlessly suppressed while another alternative form of discourse or repression and angry rhetoric displaces it in the name of “social justice’ rather than truth. Bullying of gays, of blacks, of women has correctly been countered only to see bullying for “free space” rather than free speech moved to centre stage.

But there has been a growing backlash. It is coming from students who graduate with a great deal of debt from studies in the humanities and social sciences but lack marketable skills, even of political thinking as they have increasingly been submerged in ideological thinking. The backlash is coming from business leaders who find that many of the students who graduate lack the most basic skills required to work in the corporate world. The backlash is coming from parents who end up supporting their children well into their twenties and then find that the jobs they get are as bell hops and desk clerks, receptionists and waitresses or waiters, chefs and salespersons. They ask why they sent their children to university in the first place and why, after they get a degree, they have to go back to study at a community college in a skills-based program. And the backlash is also coming from government torn between one huge part of a province’s obligations to health versus the increasing costs of higher education. As the electors age, concessions shift to that segment of the population that is getting larger, those who are older.

But worst of all, the students are uneducated. This past weekend I spent three days with three different university graduates who did their undergraduate studies in different parts of the world, one at York University. All three were exceedingly nice and decent. They were pleasant, trustworthy and eager to please. They were hardworking and willing to carry out anything asked of them. But they lacked initiative. They were also cut off in a peculiar way, more attached to communication with their cell phones – with texting and messaging – than with interacting with each other and with me on a deeper level, even as they told stories of their travels and adventures in the world and their love of different kinds of food. Patrick Deneen in his essay, “How a Generation Lost its Common Culture” in Minding the Campus: Reforming Our Universities, called his students who matched the three young people I spent a long weekend with as “know nothings.”

These graduates of universities had only the vaguest sense of politics. They knew little about not simply the Hebrew and Greek classics, but of the development of the enlightenment. They had only the vaguest notion of sociology, though that was the major of one of these young people. But none of the three had gone to an A-grade university. Deneen’s students, by contrast, were from Princeton, Georgetown and Notre Dame. Yet, though they were superb test-takers – which perhaps only one of the three I spent time with probably was – and earned A’s, they were neither passionate nor invested in a specific issue or subject. They were like the three I spent the weekend with – somewhat detached and deeply involved in their own personal search for adventure and a desire to taste and experience the world, but with no depth of historical knowledge evident of that world.

Do not get me wrong. They were a delight to talk to. They were respectful and cordial both to one another and to me. They loved hearing narratives based on experience, but were not interested in narratives rooted in literature or history. One no longer really read. Another had been reading the same book for six months, but was too busy with work and having experiences to spend much time with it. And it was a title and author I did not recognize. A third when asked whether he saw movies and which ones, replied that he saw an excellent children’s cartoon that I think was made by Pixar.

They were extremely tolerant of differences – racial or sexual – and genuinely respected differences, but without a passion for exploring those differences. Tolerance for them meant not judging the other. Not one was religious. They grew up on three different continents, yet seemed to have far more in common with each other than with any of the students with whom I went to school. At the same time, they were terrifically decent. They exhibited a sense of caring for each other and helping one another in work and chores. They were very fair in sharing food and responsibilities. They were liberal and two who met a year ago through me had kept in touch on Facebook. In my contact with them, what each valued most in the world was their personal liberty to explore that world on their own terms.

Though each respected the family that raised them – and each seemed to have devoted parents – not one seemed particularly loyal and attached to their parents or their siblings. Every one of them respected people who requested them to do something, but disliked being told to do something; respect for others did not include respect for authority. Most of all, not one of them seemed to have a religious bone in their bodies in the sense that they thought some place or some person worthy of regarding as sanctified. One loved Dubai of all places; another loved a day flight to Miami; a third found what was most exciting was what was under the sea that she explored through deep diving.

I write this, not because I carefully selected the three as a sample – the choice of these three was somewhat arbitrary. I write about them because, other than the fact that probably not one of them could come close to competing with Patrick Deneen’s A-students from top universities, they otherwise seemed remarkably like his description of his own students. They loved peer gatherings, but not standing and fixed communities. They detested hierarchy and not one of them had any respect for tradition. Mass killings, genocide, wars in Syria all seemed far away, yet each was drawn to treating strangers well. In other words, they were the ideal liberal students that Jonathan Haidt described in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. But they were not ideological liberals who seemed to be very bothered by Donald Trump or very interested in the American race for the presidency.

Most of all, they were filled with trivia, and what they do not know, they look up on their cell phones by the minute. Want to know what the population of Barrie is? Want to know the density of the traffic flow returning to Toronto? Want to know about the life of a tent caterpillar whose nests we were eagerly destroying? All could be learned with great acuity and fluidity by pressing a few buttons and reading what they found.

In one of my very early books, The Holiversity, I described how the university we were attending was evolving from a discipline-based Sanctuary of Method into a Social Service Station focused on solving problems out there in the real world. I anticipated that in 50-60 years that type of university would also morph into something very different again, the Consumer University, the university not so much a market place where great ideas clashed, but the university as a collection of market stalls like those in small town fairs or those at a local market where people bring items to sell. The university was evolving faster than I ever thought possible into a cafeteria university where students come to taste the various wares on offer, and, like those attending Deneen’s great universities, each had studied a different social science only to become ignorant that their civilization had become committed to “civilizational suicide” in Deneen’s words.

Clyde Kluckhohn described five options in structuring time. All three of these young people lived in the fleeting present while updating their skills and trying to improve their positions. Why? To get as much as possible out of life while aging without a past and where the future is a foreign country that lies around the next corner to experience. They were very different than the dominant culture that had constituted America and its devotion to a greater future.

“In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.” And if there is anything they value more it is the negative value of not being limited or handicapped. They are committed to detachment and mutual indifference except to their own tastes and sense of wonder at what the world has on offer.

They are not members of a res publica, but non-members engaged in a race individula. And if a student wants to escape this solipsistic world, where does he or she or it go? Into engaged ideology rather than engaged intellect, whether that ideology be the anti-Zionist pursuit of an ephemeral sense of social justice or a more conservative ideology with far fewer members defensive of family, community, respectful of status and protective of those closest to them in need. Most of all, the latter are very defensive of an older social fabric rather than the happenstance mini-shorts of the present. As Haidt describes it, one ideology – the dominant liberal one – is at war with a minority more cultural communitarianism, even if liberal in a different way. The ideologues each have an heir that tries to lead the rest into battle, but most abhor activism of this sort, though the call for social justice has a greater appeal to their moral tastes.

Are Deneen and Haidt but the intellectual heirs of Alan Bloom decrying like Cassandra the end of the world we once knew? In part. In good part. But they also offer an explanation for why the university is at once an excellent breeding ground, not just for cultural anthropology as an engaged discipline and for BDS, but why that call for engagement and support of BDS falls on essentially instinctively empathetic but also deaf and dumb ears. The students quietly accede to the appeal, but in their passivity ensure BDS falls on dry and sterile ground where only mummies walk. In the vacuum, universities, particularly those with an activist history, habitually drift toward an activist left monoculture according to Richard Vedder attacking from the right as the university drifts into a place where faculty are wards of the state, anyway at least 50% of them who have gained tenure in an average public university, where administrators are now their bosses and where students have become their customers.

The fight becomes one between different ideologies of attachment, an abstract one versus very personal ones and the central issue becomes which group has suffered the greatest victimhood, us in defence of the whole world or us against the whole world, whether that us be Zionists, members of Islam fearing Islamophobia, or evangelical Christians repelled by the solipsism of the new dominant ideology. Even within Israel and Israeli academic institutions, the battleground of identity politics becomes the dominant hegemonic discourse among activists. The ideological uncompromising radical activists disdain dialogue in favour of confrontation while the soft liberal ideologues prefer dialogical interchange between different groups in promoting evaluative rather than engaged scholarship, in promoting an understanding of differences rather than a clash between and among differences, but neither side providing any more general ground for resolving those differences.

One of the results of this radical shift is that, as Leonard Saxe documented at the AIS meeting in Jerusalem from his empirical studies, Jewish students on campuses in North America are subjected to an increase in verbal abuse as a fact of life at the same time as more Jewish students, though still a minority, feel connected with Israel, and more than half of the Jewish students, like the students described above, remain blissfully ignorant of the BDS effort to boycott Israel. Most of those who are aware are, perhaps less blissfully, ignorant of the anti-Zionist foundation of BDS. BDS is not simply a movement opposed to settlements in the West Bank. Further, campuses with the most perceived anti-Semitic and anti-Israel atmosphere were Canadian, with the only close completion coming from Mid-Western state schools and the California state system.

Even more significantly, while Zionism now occupies a central place in collective Jewish life, most Jewish students were dramatically ignorant about Israel. Of the 60% who even check into current events in Israel, the vast majority of these do not follow the policy debates there. So even if they feel a connection, there is very little intellectual connection. As indicated above, this is but a reflection of the state of mind of the majority of students on campus about public affairs more generally. Thus, the students are ill-equipped to deal with comments that Jews have too much power, that Israelis are Nazis and practice apartheid, and even that the Holocaust is a myth. Most Jewish students, surprisingly, often know little more about the Holocaust than they do about Israel. They are certainly unable to review the different sides of the argument claiming anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. Ironically, the more liberal they were, the less capable they were of defending Israel from many extant criticisms of Israel.

Thus, Saxe concluded that countering Jewish ignorance was the great problem, not engaging in conflict with BDS. But how does one conduct an educational program on campuses that revere historical ignorance and where community leaders see the strife on campus only in ideological defensive terms?

With the help of Alex Zisman