U.S. Jewish Leader: BDS Is '21st Century Form of 20th Century anti-Semitism’

Joe Lieberman to spearhead anti-Iran campaign, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations executive VP Malcolm Hoenlein reveals.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has set at the top of its agenda this year the goals of "educating" the world about the "dangers of Iran" and combating the delegitimization of Israel, long-serving executive vice-chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said Monday.

Former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman will head a special taskforce on Iran set up by the conference, Hoenlein disclosed at a press briefing called to mark the opening of the organization’s annual conference in Jerusalem.

Hoenlein said that the former Democrat-turned-Independent senator from Connecticut would chair a “revised and reorganized” taskforce, whose mission was to “educate people around the world that Iran represents a global danger.” Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.

“We do not believe that things have changed under [Iranian President Hassan] Rohani,” said Hoenlein. “He continues with the same threats, the same rhetoric, there are more executions under him, human rights violations and support for terrorists, and it is outrageous that the world doesn’t challenge this. The idea that we’re entering new era has not been demonstrated.”

Another key item on the organization’s agenda this year, he said, was combating the delegitimization of Israel. To this end, another taskforce representing more than 60 organizations had been created and was now being headed by real estate and media mogul Mort Zuckerman.

“The boycott movement is only one manifestation of this deligitimization,” said Hoenlein, “and perhaps not the most serious. To me, the issue of denigration, demonization and isolation of Israel – whether it’s on college campuses, in church groups, in unions, or in the cultural and entertainment sectors – is to me a greater danger in the long run.”

Hoenlein said he did not believe the boycott movement was having a “great economic impact” at the moment, “but it could, and we have to make sure it doesn’t.”

Evoking the Holocaust, he called the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movent, which campaigns against Israel, the “21st century form of 20th century anti-Semitism.”

“It is the same manifestation except that now they’re attacking the collective Jew – Israel – rather than the individual Jew, as they did 70 years ago,” said Hoenlein. “We recognize that when they say Israel, they mean all of us.”

Addressing the opening of the conference of Jewish American leaders earlier in the day, Habayit Hayehudi Chairman and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs Naftali Bennett echoed these words, calling the boycott movement “a new form of anti-Semitism” not to be mistaken with “friendly criticism.”

The delegation of Jewish American leaders arrived in Israel following a trip to Spain where they met with top government leaders and officials. Referring to the recent decision by Spain to grant citizenship to Jews whose ancestors were expelled from the country hundreds of years ago, Hoenlein said: “We saw a country confronting history, although 500 years late. That fact is that the Spanish government, in this action, is saying they recognize what happened. While they can’t undo it, they can at least acknowledge to those of Spanish descent that they are welcome in Spain. This is a watershed in terms of Spain’s relationship with its Jewish community.”

Hoenlein said it was impossible at this point to assess what “the practical implications” of this new law would be. Asked whether he thought the decision was motivated by Spain’s economic difficulties, he said: “I do not think it’s economically driven. Could there be economic motivations? Maybe. But it’s certainly not inherent in the legislation. That was not the motivating factor. People talked more about mea culpas.”

Avi Hayun