You have heard of the BDS movement -- boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.
American Jews have their own BDS movement.
- Jews boycotting synagogues – out of apathy, or because they simply cannot afford to join, or to maintain their memberships.
- Jews divesting -- emotionally, spiritually, and financially -- from Jewish life and from Israel itself.
- Jews have placed sanctions on the amount of time, energy, and resources that they will devote to the Jewish community, and to Jewish life.
So, back to Israel.
The state of Israel recently made a decision to spend $72 million on fighting BDS -- the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against the Jewish state.
The plan calls for setting up a not-for-profit organization whose board will be made up of government officials and donors from abroad.
The anti-BDS programs would include public campaigns, lobbying, arranging for solidarity visits to Israel by opinion shapers, establishing new and social media presence and interacting with pro-Israel organization worldwide for coordinated action, with a focus on Europe.
You read that right.
On the one hand, it’s a good idea – and long overdue.
For years, I have been musing to myself and to others: How is it possible that a people that invented the advertising and public relations industry could create a state with such underwhelming public relations?
There should be a school of public relations at Hebrew University. Perhaps that would have been the better investment of the $72 million – create a new kind of literate class for Israel, and hope that the message spreads.
And, yes, on the one hand – I am very much in favor of bringing people to Israel – to expose them to the greatness, and yes, even and especially to the frustrations.
I would focus such efforts on people on the center-left of the American and European political spectrum, especially journalists and celebrities.
But, on the other hand, to focus this campaign so narrowly on the BDS movement seems like taking a sledgehammer to crush a mosquito.
That is what the BDS movement has been. It is has been a mosquito movement – annoying, persistent, but ultimately, less than stellar (thankfully) in its results.
While the conversations about BDS have polluted the air of American and European academic institutions, the movement itself really does not have that much to show for itself.
BDS measures on college campuses rarely succeed. And yes, while there have been rock musicians who have boycotted Israel, like the execrable Roger Waters and recently Lorde, the list of A list rock stars who have played in Israel is far longer, and far better.
In fact, several years ago I wanted to start a campaign – taking out full page ads in Rolling Stone, thanking rock performers who have played in Israel.
That list would include Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Nick Cave, Boy George, Bon Jovi, Chrissie Hynde, Radiohead, Guns N Roses – and many others.
The BDS movement is morally bankrupt. It seems to want nothing less than the erasure of Israel. Some of its supporters are willing to extend the war – from Israel, to the Hebrew language itself – such as when author Doug Henwood refused to allow his book on Hillary Clinton to be translated into Hebrew for an Israeli publishing company.
Think of that. Imagine a German author who refused to have his book translated into English -- because the Brits had been oppressing northern Ireland.
But, that said, the expenditure of $72 million seems like overkill.
It also seems wrong. Doesn't Israel have enough domestic and social problems that would merit the investment of $72 million?
But even if Israel and Jewish philanthropists need to give away such a huge sum of money (and I can't wait to hear who is going to be on the board of this enterprise; maybe that news should wait for Purim) -- there are ways to get a much bigger Jewish bang for your buck.
Let's just focus on American Jewry.
Israel should give the $72 million directly to synagogues for supplemental and continuing education.
You want to meet Jews where they really are?
They’re in the synagogues – perhaps not in the numbers that they used to be (which also could be a good investment of Jewish funds – making synagogues affordable for all).
But, since the overwhelming majority of Jewish kids still have enough education to get them through bar and bat mitzvah, that is the effective place to start.
Can money cure apathy, which is the eleventh plague of so much of contemporary Jewish life?
But can money raise the level of Jewish education? Can it pay Jewish teachers, and make Jewish education into a career that more will aspire to? Can it create better use of technology in synagogues? Can it subsidize even more trips to Israel and the Jewish sites of Europe?
The unequivocal answer is: Yes.
$72 million to fight BDS? Meh.
$72 million to create a competent, connected, and committed world Jewry?
If, as Isaiah said, the Torah will go forth from Zion, a Torah of money could certainly help do the trick.