BDS: To protest or not to protest?


Australian Jewish News
July 29, 2011


THERE is a cryptic Hebrew expression which conveys a great deal in two words – derech eretz.

Translated as “the way of the land”, it derives from Ethics of The Fathers and means one should deal wisely with one’s neighbours and be judicious in the way one conducts one’s business. And there is an English expression, less cryptic but equally compelling: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

Believed to have originated in West Africa, it gained currency after Theodore Roosevelt, as governor of New York, used it in 1900. He believed it important to negotiate foreign policy in a moderate tone while retaining the option of more direct methods of engagement. He used the aphorism as a guiding principle as president of the USA.

Taken separately and together, these twin gems encapsulate the approach of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies when advocating on behalf of the community.

The Board of Deputies handles as core business a vast range of issues. We work with state government and media, we build bridges to faith and ethnic groups, we engage with civil society, we respond to attacks on the community and we strive to generate understanding of Israel. We are also active in combating attacks on Israel, and it is in this arena where opinions differ as to effective responses.

One of the most pressing issues to preoccupy the Jewish world is the global campaign to delegitimise Israel. BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – is the sharp end of a drive to destroy Israel itself.

It is important for the community to be aware that our response to BDS forms part of a coordinated national strategy. Furthermore, this strategy is endorsed by counterparts abroad and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

That response has included, but is not limited to, engagement with civil society and politicians, patronage of boycotted outlets, cooperation with police, shop owners and centre managers, and exposure of the motives behind the BDS movement.

Significantly, no counter-demonstrations.

Police, shop owners and centre managers emphatically oppose counter-demonstrations, and for good reason: they play into the hands of BDS demonstrators and they resonate negatively with the public, which detests the import of foreign conflicts onto the streets of Australia – into “my backyard”.

Taking to the streets with Israeli flags around our shoulders and waving posters might make us feel good about ourselves for a fleeting moment, but it is counterproductive.

No-one absorbs the message on the posters, counter-demonstrators become subsumed in the public eye with demonstrators, the confrontation buys publicity for BDS, and the ultimate response is “a plague on both your houses”.

It comes down to derech eretz and the need to speak softly – with a suggestion of a big stick. We owe it to our neighbours and ourselves to manage our affairs with dignity and respect. We retain the option of more direct methods of engagement, but we invoke them selectively and judiciously. It’s not only about being right, it’s about being smart.

Vic Alhadeff is chief executive officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

Original article here.

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