Anti-Israel Boycott Training Potentially Illegal

Program could run afoul of New York’s anti-discrimination laws

Coming soon to the streets of Brooklyn / AP
• June 21, 2013 3:00 pm


A pro-Israel legal center is investigating a Quaker-run summer camp that teaches college students how to run boycott campaigns against Israel to determine whether the activity runs afoul of New York state anti-boycott laws.

"We have specific laws in New York and other states forbidding [certain] boycotts," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of Israeli-based civil rights organization Shurat HaDin.

The American Friends Service Committee will host a five-day training program for college students interested in launching anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] campaigns on their campuses, the Washington Free Beacon reported last week. The "We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute" will take place at a campsite in upstate New York and promises "fun in a summer camp-like environment!"

The AFSC, one of the nation’s largest Quaker faith organizations, and the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, run the camp.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was officially launched by a network of pro-Palestinian groups in 2005 and seeks to use economic and cultural boycotts to isolate Israel, force the government’s hand on Palestinian negotiations, and evoke comparisons between the Jewish state and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

New York law prohibits "any person to boycott or blacklist, or to refuse to buy from, sell to or trade with, or otherwise discriminate against any person, because of the race, creed, color, national origin, sex, or disability of such person." It also prohibits "any person willfully to do any act or refrain from doing any act which enables any such person to take such action."

Shurat HaDin is investigating whether this law would be applicable to boycott training programs.

The AFSC’s Michael Merryman-Lotze, who helped organize the summer program, said any legal action against the camp would be "spurious."

"[I]f [Shurat HaDin] really think[s] that providing general training on organizing and advocacy skills to student activists is anything other than a legally protected action and principled human rights advocacy merely because the involved students support a political position and the use of tactics with which they disagree, then Shurat HaDin have completely lost perspective," said Merryman-Lotze.

Groups that track anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities have criticized the boycott training program. The Anti-Defamation League’s national director Abraham Foxman blasted the camp in a statement Thursday.

"Efforts to isolate Israel on campus do not cease with the end of the school year," said Foxman. "These organized summer camps serve to indoctrinate the next generation of activists with biased messages intended to single out Israel. Organizers of the college-level programs seek to provide students with tools to steer public opinion away from the Jewish state."

The ADL also took issue with a summer camp for 8- to 12-year-old children run by American Muslims for Palestine, which the ADL describes as "the leading organization providing anti-Zionist training and education to students and Muslim community organizations in the country."

"If the past is any indication, AMP will likely provide these kids the most misleading and distorted narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Foxman. "By AMP's cynical calculation, there is no such thing as being too young to start learning how to hate Israel."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report in March that said the BDS campaign meets Natan Sharansky’s "three D’s" test for anti-Semitism: It follows "double-standards" by criticizing Israel while overlooking human rights abuses across the Arab world; "demonizes" Israel by comparing its actions to those of Apartheid regimes; and attempts to "delegitimize" the Jewish state by targeting its existence.

"It doesn’t help a single Palestinian. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for Palestinians. It is simply anti-Israel," the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Abraham Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon last week. "Unfortunately, the community of the people associated with this particular church have embraced [the BDS campaign] completely, so much so that they are using up whatever moral capital they have to do training for an immoral, hypocritical, and anti-Semitic undertaking."

Published under: Israel, Progressive Movement