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‘We may lose US’ if liberal Jews continue backing BDS, BLM — Diaspora minister

Nachman Shai couples Israel boycott movement with Black Lives Matter, which was criticized for antisemitic remarks made by some of its leaders but won support of many US Jews

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai attends a Knesset committee meeting, on November 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai attends a Knesset committee meeting, on November 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

NEW YORK — Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai warned last week that if liberal American Jews continue supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and Black Lives Matter movements, Jerusalem may lose the support of the United States altogether.

Making a guest appearance on the American Jewish Committee’s People of the Pod podcast, Shai said he recently briefed fellow members of the Israeli government on the status of American Jewry, telling them that “if we see more of the radical left and progressive liberal Jews continuing to support BDS and Black Lives Matter, and similar to the Palestinians… relat[ing] to Israel as a genocide state or an apartheid state, we may lose America.”

Israel has long identified the BDS movement as a significant threat against which millions of dollars have been invested, but the lumping of the boycott movement together with the Black Lives Matter movement is less common.

Some major Jewish organizations in the US have expressed opposition to statements and positions made by some BLM activists. However, the movement has won the support of many US Jews, and the Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against portraying its supporters as “violent extremists.”

Over 600 Jewish organizations, representing the majority of American Jews, signed a letter in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that was published in a full-page New York Times ad in August 2020.

Shai said “there were ideas to rely on other groups in America today” for support, instead of American Jewry, but that he rejects such proposals. He appeared to be referring to recent remarks made by former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer who suggested that Israel should prioritize the “passionate and unequivocal” support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, who he said are “disproportionately among our critics.”

“I have to make sure that hundreds of thousands of you will stay with us,” said Shai. “They may be very critical of what’s going on in Israel. I also have a lot of criticism… it doesn’t matter.”

An ad taken out in the New York Times by over 600 Jewish organizations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Courtesy)

“Basically, we should have the same values, we should believe in the same things, we should get together and help each other… for [a] common future,” Shai said.

The Labor party minister expressed hope that two years from now he will no longer hear voices from the “Democratic Party sidelines of refusing to send arms to Israel or to support Israel internationally.”

During the recent Gaza conflict, several progressive lawmakers unsuccessfully sought to block the Biden administration’s $735 million sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel, as pressure mounted in the Democratic Party for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terror organization.

Shai said he relies on American Jews to influence the “the internal American public discourse” to Israel’s benefit. “We need you for this — not only for your donations and other ways of supporting Israel, which is appreciated very much.”

Asked how he defines success for his position, the Diaspora affairs minister said it would it would be “maintain[ing] bipartisan support for Israel.”

“That any future president, whoever he or she is going to be, will share Israel’s values and interests,” he said. “It doesn’t [come] without [a] huge investment in this arena.”

Illustrative: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders poses with IfNotNow activists in New Hampshire, including University of Michigan student Becca Lubow on the far left, and holds a sign that reads ‘Jews Against Occupation.’ (Courtesy/IfNotNow)

The interview came amid growing gaps between a conservative-leaning electorate in Israel and American Jewry, one of the country’s most liberal minorities.

A July survey of US Jewish voters taken after the Israel-Gaza conflict in May found that a sizable minority believe some of the harshest criticisms of Israel, including that it is committing genocide and apartheid.

Among respondents to the survey commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute, a group led by prominent Jewish Democrats, 34 percent agreed that “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the United States,” 25% agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state” and 22% agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.”

Among younger voters included in the survey, agreement with those statements was higher, though still in the minority. The poll found that 9% of voters agreed with the statement “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.” But among voters under 40, that proportion was 20%. A third of younger voters agreed that Israel is committing genocide, a position that even human rights lawyers who are critical of Israel say is extreme; more than a third said they believe Israel is an apartheid state.

JTA contributed to this report.

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