Who Asked You To Boycott?

“Who asked you to boycott Israeli companies?” questions Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist. It may be surprising to those unfamiliar with the on-the-ground economic conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank to hear him say, “We Palestinians are not boycotting them, so what do we need you to boycott them for?”

Bassem Eid was born in the Jordanian controlled part of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, and grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp. He became a journalist, and worked for B’Tselem, an Israeli non-profit organization whose goal was to document Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank. In 1996, he founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, whose mission is to monitor human rights violations by both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Bassem Eid has spent twenty-six years studying the United Nations organization that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. He told me that his family’s experience was “of Arab leaders promising Palestinians short-term suffering for long-term benefit, since 1948. All we saw was long-term suffering. Everybody is using the Palestinians for their own gain. The United Nations, the Palestinian Authority, and others all make money by keeping us poor and dependent. For them, we are a business.” Mr. Eid is a vocal critic of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. About the BDS activists he observed, “They are trying to survive on the conflict, attaching themselves to it in order to remain relevant. Most of them have no idea what the conflict is about, how Palestinians live with Israelis, or about coexistence.” He has come to believe that economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, even where it involves Israeli-owned enterprises in the West bank, is a key to improving the economic situation of Palestinians and of forging the bonds of economic inter-dependence and trust required the create peace.

Eid’s emphasis on improving the economic conditions of Palestinians, and his willingness to see Palestinians partner with Israelis to achieve this, is exemplified by his current speaking tour. Eid is on a tour of the United States, sponsored by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel solidarity group, with Erez Zadok. Zadok, the Israeli CEO of Aviv Fund Management, invests in Israeli factories that employ Palestinians. Like Mr. Eid, he wonders why the BDS movement would want to deprive Palestinians of their livelihoods.

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok invested in SodaStream three years ago. The company’s mission, through its location in the West Bank, was “to make peace, and to also make soda.” Israeli companies located in the West Bank must comply with Israeli law. “Palestinians working for Israeli companies in this region earn five times more than the Palestinians who work for Palestinians’ factories,” he explained. “This money enters the Palestinian economy and goes to private consumption, to buy food, clothes, shoes and other needs. These Palestinians support their families and other circles of Palestinians working to provide them with the goods and services they need,” he added.

Last September, SodaStream shut down its West Bank factory due to pressure from the BDS movement. It relocated to a new factory in the Negev, next to the Bedouin city of Rahat. Three hundred Bedouins now work for SodaStream. The Palestinians who lost those jobs will have a hard time finding a new source of livelihood in a region with 23% unemployment.

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

The new SodaStream factory is within Israel’s 1948 borders. The BDS movement is still promoting a boycott of its products. When SodaStream was in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis worked together under the same conditions, receiving the same benefits, and the same opportunities. Some of them befriended each other, trusted each other, and respected each other. According to Mr. Zadok, “SodaStream manufactured peace, co-existence and normalization between the peoples.”

Bassem Eid and Erez Zadok are working together to achieve peace. They don’t believe that boycotting Israel is the way to get there. Bassem Eid is finding a very receptive audience in the United States. “People are thirsty for first hand information,” he said. “My message is probably upsetting and provoking to many of them.” From his perspective, it’s time to stop blaming Israel for the problems of the Palestinians. “Refugees from every other country have rebuilt their lives after one generation. It’s time for the Palestinians to also pull themselves up and develop,” he concluded.

StandWithUs Pro-Israel Billboard in Harrisburg

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads "Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism."

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads “Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism.”

StandWithUs is placing a billboard on I-83 south between Harrisburg and York beginning January 7, 2016 for four weeks.  The billboard alerts commuters of the foreign aid America sends to the Palestinian Authority with the message, “Not With Our Tax Dollars. Stop U.S. Aid for Palestinian Terrorism,” and directs viewers to learn more and sign a petition.

The StandWithUs billboard counters an anti-Israel one also on the I-83 initiated by StopTheBlankCheck and paid for by IfAmericansKnew that asks, “$10 Million a Day to Israel? Our Money is Needed in America.”  The StandWithUs billboard will appear concurrently with the anti-Israel one.

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

“The anti-Israel billboard campaign is misinforming people, as usual.  The agreement between America and Israel stipulates that 75 percent of the military aid Israel receives from the US has to be spent in America,  The U.S. spends $250 billion a year to keep American troops protecting allies around the world, from Germany to Japan and South Korea. In contrast, the $3 billion a year America sends to Israel boosts the US economy, protects our interests and does not include any American troops on the ground in Israel, which protects itself,” explains Joseph Puder, director StandWithUs Philadelphia.

“The anti-Israel billboard also omits the fact that the U.S. has given the Palestinians billions of dollars in aid since 1993, which is obviously not spent in the U.S.  The U.S. has been the primary financial supporter of the Palestinian refugees since 1949, and has donated over $6.5 billion to the UN agency, UNRWA (United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency), an agency set up to address their specific needs, while the needs of other refugees worldwide have no such specific agency.  Indeed, the Palestinians have received more foreign aid per capita than any other group of people in the world.  It is unfortunate that this money is spent on promoting hate and violence against Israelis by the Palestinian leadership, rather than on the betterment of its own people,” he continues.

StandWithUs has countered anti-Israel messages on public transit and highways wherever they appeared throughout the United States and Canada since 2007.

Jewish Community Set to Welcome Pope Francis

StandWithUsAdforPope'sVisit-9-14-10-11-15. 001-Pope Francis will arrive in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26. The previous day, at 3:00 p.m., Jewish and Catholic Philadelphians will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-christian religions, in which antisemitism was condemned, at Saint Joseph’s University. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend of Pope Francis, will be the featured speaker.

StandWithUs will welcome the Pope with seven billboards highlighting the shared Judeo-Christian values of the Jewish and Catholic communities. These posters will have images depicting the historic meeting between the Pope and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu during the Pope’s visit to Jerusalem in 2014. They will be displayed until October 11, in high-traffic areas and various locations where the Pope is scheduled to speak.

“The photos chosen for the posters capture the respect and affection between the Pope and the Prime Minister, and remind viewers of the values we share including freedom and the protection of religious and human rights,” said Joseph Puder, director of StandWithUs/Philadelphia. 
Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, is the only place where Christians can safely practice their faith.
“Israel recognizes 15 distinct religious groups and allows each to practice as they wish,” added Ferne Hassan, the associate director of StandWithUs/Philadelphia.
The Christian population in Israel increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 163,000 in 2014.  Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown in the last half century.

Bret Stephens and the Jewish Instinct For Danger

Pictured left to right, are: Bret Stephens;  Jack Yampolsky, Chairman of the Institute for Mediterranean Affairs; Joseph Zuritsky, Chairman and CEO of Parkway Corporation and Joseph Puder, executive director, StandWithUs-Philadelphia.

(Left to right) Bret Stephens; Jack Yampolsky; Joseph Zuritsky; Joseph Puder

What can the 1930s teach us about our world today? Is isolationism a good idea for the United States? Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bret Stephens discusses this in his new book, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder. I got to meet Mr. Stephens, who writes Global View, the foreign affairs column of the Wall Street Journal, when he analyzed the situation at an evening organized by StandWithUs.

He started his lecture by discussing a fascinating book he had just read by Joachim Fest, a German historian. Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood, describes Mr. Fest’s father, an intellectual, who had many Jewish friends in Germany before the Second World War. Mr. Fest senior had encouraged his Jewish friends to leave Germany in the early 1930s, as he became alarmed by the events surrounding them. To his surprise, they insisted on staying where they were. They told him that Germany was a state of law, and that they would be fine. As he discussed the war with his son, Mr. Fest observed that his Jewish friends had lost their instinct for danger. This instinct for danger had been their secret to survival throughout their history. Mr. Stephens told the audience that we must not lose our instinct for danger. As world events unfold around us, we must not delude ourselves into believing that we are invulnerable.

I have admired Bret Stephens since he was the youngest editor in the history of The Jerusalem Post. He is as brilliant in person as he is in his writing. America in Retreat is a very important book for anyone who is perturbed by world events. It reviews the United States’ foreign policy from 1947 to the present. Mr. Stephens warns about the dangers of American isolationism, and the potential for global disorder as a result. He suggests a way forward for America and the world. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, it was very interesting for me to read his analysis of the thinking of American leaders during and after the Second World War. As horrible is it all was, his “what if someone like President Obama led the United States at that time?” supposition was, if possible, even more terrifying. I am paying very close attention to all the people who tell me that they see parallels between the present and the 1930s. For anyone who is passionate about democracy, Zionism, and protecting the world from going up in flames, I highly recommend this book.

Fighting BDS With Billboards

Billboard-Wars-2[1]— by Ferne Hassan

The pro-Israel billboard visible on I-95 at Lehigh Road since March 5 is a part of a much bigger campaign.

StandWithUs (SWU) has countered anti-Israel messages on mass transit and highways across the U.S. since they first appeared in 2007. For the first time, SWU is running a billboard in Philadelphia. Reinforcing the U.S.-Israel relationship, the billboard’s run will last four weeks. It tells commuters, “Now Is the Time to Stand With Israel. Join Us.” [Read more…]