Israeli opposition leader MK Herzog: Organized Jewish efforts essential to combating BDS

NEW YORK - The World Jewish Congress hosted Israeli opposition leader MK Isaac “Bougie” Herzog at its headquarters in New York on Thursday to celebrate the launch of “The Anti-Israel Agenda - Inside the political war on the Jewish state,” an anthology produced by Australian Jewish leader and member of the WJC-Jewish Diplomatic Corps Alex Ryvchin.

The discussion focused in large part on the history of the anti-Israel movement and its current forms, with MK Herzog telling the forum of mostly young Jewish leaders that organized Jewish efforts are critical to combating the delegitimization of Israel and the BDS movement.

The discussion opened with a screening of the MK’s father, former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, delivering his unforgettable address at the UN following the resolution equating Zionism with racism, a pivoting moment for Israel on the international stage. Former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and MK Isaac Herzog, center, with JDCorps policy analyst Yfat Barak-Cheney and WJC Chief Programs Officer Sonia Gomes de Mesquita on left, and WJC JDCorps members Alex Ryvchin in and Itai Abelski on right.

In his address to the WJC forum, MK Herzog said, “you have to differentiate between objecting to the just cause of the creation of the state of Israel and legitimate political debate. You can have legitimate political debate in the international community, but you cannot disagree with the mere existence of the state of the Jewish people.”

“We can combat this first of all by having a very strong organized Jewish effort,” Herzog added, citing former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s praise of how Jewish communities are able to coordinate. “This is the role of the Jewish people. To unite, and work together, to combat outside threats”

“This is an outside threat that has worn a new suit, or a new cover, when it comes to BDS. In the 70s it was Zionism is racism, before that it was the fight against the creation of the state of Israel. But it’s all the same throughout history.”

The ripple effect of the Zionism is racism resolution was enormous, Herzog said, and served as an awakening call through Jewish communities around the world. The current debate on the BDS has to have the same effect on the young generation of Jewish leaders, he said.

“The case for Israel is so clear, so fair,” Herzog said, and yet it has been “cast as a racist state.”

Herzog concluded his remarks saying, “the only way to combat this delegitimization, and the BDS movement, is by organized efforts,” much of which is already in place by both the Israeli government and by major organizations worldwide and “by telling the truth, by confronting the rivals or the enemies for that matter, with the weapon of truth, and presenting the real case for Israel, and explaining the root cause of the conflict and the solutions of the conflict, can we win.”

Hatred against Jews and Israel will always be there, Herzog said, and young people will continue to be brainwashed by the lies they are told. Nonetheless, he said, the story of Israel can be told in a focused way, and “we are here to work together to tell that story.”

Ryvchin: Jews won't be treated as equal until the Jewish state is accepted as equal 

Rychin opened his remarks explaining the premise of his book, The Anti-Israel Agenda, and describing the process of narrowing down the origins of the global anti-Israel movement.

 “This book, for the very first time, explores the full-depth and breadth of the latest phase in the campaign against Israel, that seeks to do through political means what terror could not – that is, to isolate and cripple the state until it can no longer defend its interests or its people,” Ryvchin said.

“The political campaign to eradicate any autonomous Jewish presence in the Middle East, is a matter of the gravest injustice and an assault on human rights,” Ryvchin said, before delving into the question of “how is this political war being waged? Who is behind it? What are its aims?” The answer, he said, can be drawn from two seminal moments in Israeli history: The 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, and the 2001 UN World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa.

“The passing of the [Zionism is racism] resolution and the events that both preceded and followed it provided the blueprint for the political war on Israel that has been waged ever since… herein we see a key tactic in the political war on Israel,” he said. “It relies on momentum. It is small creeping, incremental victories, often in seemingly unimportant and peripheral bodies, that constantly create new forums through which to demonize Israel and maintain endless focus on the anti-Israel agenda.”

Twenty-six years later, the conference in Durban “codified the battle plans,” said Ryvchin, “revealing the racist origins and motives of the anti-Israel movement, as evidenced by sheer anti-Semitic fervor present there, including banners glorifying Hitler and the circulating copies of the Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The legacy of Durban, Ryvchin said, is the BDS movement making its rounds globally. “This is the political war on Israel and unlike conventional warfare, it is unending, it is difficult to discern a victory from a defeat, and it doesn’t occur on a distant battlefield, but in every aspect of our lives.”

The bond between Israel and the Diaspora is critical, Ryvchin added, as is increased engagement and dialogue. “It is my belief that the acceptance of the Jew as equal will not be complete until the national home of the Jewish people is treated as equal among the nations.”

MK Herzog is the current opposition leader in the Knesset, who served as the chairman of the Labor Party when it received 24 seats in the 2015 election. Herzog has served as a Member of Knesset since 2003, as well as in several ministerial positions, including Minister of Welfare and Social Services and Minister of the Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism.

Alex Ryvchin is an Australian member of the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps and a prominent speaker, writer and media contributor on the Arab-Israeli conflict, foreign and national affairs, religion and identity. He previously practiced law in Sydney and London, wrote for a Jerusalem-based think-tank and served as a spokesman for the Zionist Federation UK. He is the Director of Public Affairs at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. 

“The Anti-Israel Agenda – Inside the political war on the Jewish state” brings together the finest minds devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including Alan Dershowitz, Alan Johnson, Col. Richard Kemp, and Hillel Neuer. The book reveals how the conflict with Israel has shifted from the battlefield to become both a global and local war, fought in the corridors of power, in the media, on campuses, and in every forum that touches our lives. Review copies are available upon request.

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