Anti-Israel college students will trek to a scenic campsite in upstate New York this summer to learn how to launch campus boycotts against the Jewish state at a program subsidized and run by one of America’s largest Quaker faith groups.
The American Friends Service Committee "We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute" describes itself as a "five (5) day intensive program for campus [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] organizers—those with campaigns already running and those hoping to get one launched in the 2013-2014 school year."
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.
Students attending the AFSC’s Summer Training Institute, which is also sponsored by the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, will participate in "anti-oppression analysis workshops," "non-violent direct action planning," and "strategy sessions with BDS movement leaders," according to the AFSC website.
The program runs from July 28 to Aug. 1 and promises "fun in a summer camp-like environment!" The cost of room and board is subsidized by the AFSC and the JVP, according to the website.
An AFSC official said the number of attendees for this year is not yet finalized and said the 2013 program will focus on "call[ing] attention to what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories while supporting a just and lasting peace that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis."
Pro-Israel groups have vehemently opposed the BDS movement, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report that said the campaign was driven by anti-Jewish sentiment in March.
"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. "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."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center report said the BDS program 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.
Cooper said students attend these events "thinking their actions are doing the equivalent of the folks that [participated in] the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or following the route of Martin Luther King Jr.—complete and utter nonsense."
"What a shame, for young people, who are highly motivated that want to do something good in the world," he added.
The AFSC’s Michael Merryman-Lotze, who helped organize the summer program, objected to the argument that the BDS campaign is anti-Semitic.
"We see nothing inherently anti-Semitic in the use of these proven nonviolent tactics nor in the BDS movement as a whole," said Merryman-Lotze. "Are BDS opponents next going to argue that these same tactics were anti-White in the Jim Crow south and apartheid era South Africa?"
Merryman-Lotze also disputed claims from critics that the campaign has been ineffective.
"Why, if BDS is ineffective and largely a failure, have the Israeli government and groups like the ADL, the Wiesenthal Center, and AIPAC invested millions of dollars in developing campaigns to counter minimally funded grassroots BDS activism?" said Merryman-Lotze. "If our efforts are ineffective, why write a story about our planned training program? The answer is that BDS is effective and successful."
While the BDS campaign has gained traction on college campuses and won support from some high-profile names such as Elvis Costello and Stephen Hawking, it has failed to have an impact on the Israeli economy or influence policy.
Israel’s tech industry in particular continues to boom, with Google purchasing Israeli company Waze for $1 billion on Tuesday.
"Culturally—just this week—two enormous, international sporting events were held in Israel," one D.C. Jewish organization official told the Free Beacon. "Economically, the world's largest tech companies are rushing to invest there. Politically, Israel stands out more than ever as the only stable Western ally left in the entire Middle East."
The BDS movement’s failure to meet its objectives suggests that efforts to fund and support the campaign are aimed at opposing the Jewish state rather than achieving any legitimate policy goal, according to pro-Israel advocates.
"You've really got to ask yourself where boycott advocates keep getting the energy, given that efforts to economically and culturally isolate Israel have been an utter failure," said the D.C. Jewish organization official. "Let's pretend that boycotters succeed in getting everyone to stop buying Israeli hummus, which is something they actually think is important. If they keep that up for a few thousand years, it will almost offset this week's billion-dollar acquisition of Waze by Google. No company in its right mind is ever going to boycott a country that's been nicknamed ‘Start-Up Nation.’"