Israel Engaging With J Street in Bid to Counter BDS on U.S. Campuses

In battle against boycott 'there is no left or right,' says strategic affairs minister in unusual meeting with Israeli representative of leftist group.

Barak Ravid
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A pro-BDS student at an Open Hillel Conference.
Pro-BDS student at U.S. campus. Credit: Gili Getz
Barak Ravid

Israel's minister for strategic affairs, Gilad Erdan, has begun talks with the liberal, pro-Israel advocacy group J Street over the possibility of joining forces to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Erdan, who is in charge of fighting the BDS movement for the Israeli government, revealed that he met with J Street's top representative in Israel, Yael Patir, last week to examine the possibility of working together against the movement on U.S. campuses.

J Street Israel director Yael Patir
J Street Israel director Yael Patir.Credit: Eyal Toueg

"It is important to understand that in this battle there is no right or left, hawks or doves," Erdan told the Herzliya Conference last week. "This battle requires cooperation between the government and civil society, both in Israel and abroad.

"I recently returned from a visit to the U.S., where I met people who predominantly support Israel, but many of whom also have serious questions about Israel's policies – including students and leading university facility, leaders from the African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities," Erdan said during his speech.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan walking into an official event.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, November 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Sources involved in Erdan's meeting with J Street in Israel noted that the strategic affairs minister was the one who initiated it. During the discussion, the sources said, Erdan even voiced a willingness to meet J Street's president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Erdan also reportedly stressed that despite the disagreements between the J Street and the Israeli government over the Palestinian issue, the two share a common denominator in the struggle against BDS, and thus cooperation is warranted.

Such contacts with J Street are quite unusual, and the fact that Erdan made the meeting public, praising the possibility of cooperating with the liberal group, is even more surprising.

Many on the Israeli right and in right-wing Jewish groups in the U.S., such as the Conference of Presidents, believe that J Street is not pro-Israel and they do not maintain ties with it.

In recent years, the Israeli government has avoided any direct official contact with J Street. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never met with any representative of the group, nor has Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer.

Israel's previous U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, even boycotted the group during the beginning of his term, but later opened a dialog with its leaders.

As of late, the Jewish community in America has increasingly come to understand that J Street is strategically positioned in the struggle against the BDS movement, due to its ability to communicate with progressives and liberals – the target audience of the boycott movement.

J Street's student branches are active on many U.S. campuses and its membership numbers are constantly on the rise. On some campuses, the group's members have even succeeded in thwarting boycott efforts.