Fighting BDS with the Facts

Being a producer, it is natural for me to have great affection for film. But more and more, I find there to be lessons for today in the most surprising places. Who remembers the following verse?

“Let’s start at the very beginning,

A very good place to start.

When you read you begin with A B C

When you sing you begin with Do Re Me…”

Sound familiar? These lyrics are part of the collective memory of anyone who has lived in the United States during the last 56 years. Of course, “Do Re Me” is a song from a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music.” This song has been taught countless times to children starting in pre-school. Though it is carefree and fun, it has left an indelible mark upon us.

So why has this admittedly light-hearted song been playing in my head since attending the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference at the United Nations earlier this month? What is the connection? Yes, Oscar Hammerstein was known for his commitment to fighting injustice, and using his work to express what he thought was important. Who can forget “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific, exposing the truth that prejudice is taught, not something you are born with. That’s just one of so many other songs and musical librettos he wrote dealing with serious social issues.

But “Do Re Me”?

Puzzling, yes. Yet after some thought, I understood.

Underlying all allegations by the BDS movement is the so-called “fact” that Israel is the child of colonization and occupation. After all, the Jews of Europe were given land stolen by the Europeans after the Holocaust in order to assuage European guilt. The Jews therefore are interlopers in the land that belonged to the Arabs and, as such, they oppress the indigenous population. Through BDS we can right this wrong, fight the Jewish oppressors, and give back the land to the rightful, oppressed owners.

Those who know the history of the Jewish people in the land of Israel understand that this is a completely false narrative, and many great organizations have been working hard to stop it from gaining momentum. There is evidence to suggest that the divestment resolutions being presented on college campuses today are not an end in themselves but a strategy to begin to indoctrinate the uninformed, determining their future actions, and eventually United States policy. That’s because those students will become influential in the decades to come.

The people behind the BDS movement are serious and strategic. We know about notorious cases at universities including Rutgers, UC Irvine, Columbia, and Michigan, but what about the propaganda that is being spread more subtly in classes and at campus events with professors who support the BDS movement but do not advertise that fact? Some have affixed their names to divestment petitions, but that is not always the case.

For instance, this year, there was a program at a New Jersey university called “War and Occupation, Broken Promises to Refugees from Palestine to Syria” featuring side-by-side photos. One was captioned “Syrians having been forced to flee their homes” and the other said since the 1948 UN partition of “Palestine and the forced exile, known as the Nakba, Palestinians have been trying to return to their ancestral homeland.” The panelists were to discuss “these tragic histories and explore the themes of betrayal and broken promises in light of these two ongoing humanitarian crises.” One of the panelists, a professor at the university, is a signatory to a BDS petition, although you would have to do a web search to learn this. Another professor was the moderator — but a review of the other panelists made one wonder why a moderator would be needed.

At the same university, another professor has resurrected Edward Said, dead more than a decade, via video, in an introductory International Relations class, no less. The students did not know who Said was, or that his views were, at best, controversial, and he is presented as an expert, with the implication that his teachings should not be questioned. Many students with no prior background, with no alternative views presented, would not even know what questions to ask.

The indoctrination is insidious. As Buddha said, a jug is filled drop by drop.

Most people who do know the history — and this includes the Jewish community — are part of the baby boomer generation and older. But with all the support that comes from the many organizations that fight against BDS, why is the movement still gaining ground with our young people?

And then I understood why this song had been echoing inside my head since the conference. How many people choose not to engage in the fight because the preponderance of information can seem overwhelming? In other words, it seems like they are in the advanced class, when they haven’t taken the first lesson yet.

And thus the brilliance of Do Re Me.

We need to “start at the very beginning.”

By identifying a few basic facts that go directly to the underpinnings of the BDS movement, we can make serious strides in the eradication of this dangerous propaganda.

Let’s ask everyone — rabbis, Jewish leaders, organizations, youth groups, and our families — to commit to communicating these three facts to our Jewish community throughout the upcoming year, 5777 (2016-2017), and then ask them to reach out to their friends, neighbors, teachers, and community leaders of all backgrounds so we can pre-empt the false narrative from taking hold due to ignorance.

The three facts are:

  • Israel was not created in 1948, it was re-established.

The Jewish people crossed into the land after they left Egyptian slavery circa 1250 BCE and established a kingdom, initially led by King Saul circa 1020 BCE. Jewish exile dates back to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

  • Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel.

Jewish communities predate both Christian and Muslim history.

  • The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.

It is the site of Mount Moriah, understood to be the spot where Abraham brought Isaac as a sacrifice. That act — which he was not allowed to complete — was, in essence, the beginning of the Jewish people, and why both Temples were built on this very site.

These three facts are not overwhelming, but they go to the heart of the BDS argument. A key foundation is no longer missing, enabling more elaborate information to be absorbed and shared. A foundation that makes clear that Israel is the home of the Jewish people.

And everyone deserves a home, right?

It’s as simple as Do Re Me.

About the Author
Martha Cohen is an award winning producer and creative executive. She is a Berrie Fellow and currently sits on the JFNNJ JCRC and StandWithUs East Coast Boards. She chaired the JFNNJ Partnership2Gether when the Young Leadership program was developed and executed; and, continues to be closely involved. Martha and her husband David live in Fort Lee with their son, Harry.
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