About Ari Bussel In the series "Postcards from Israel,” Ari
Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to
join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two
sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from
home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two
countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point
- counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part
of our lives.
Stop Blaming the Messenger
September 3, 2009
Ten days ago, the Los Angeles Times published an Op-Ed by an Israeli
Professor from Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The article
called for a boycott of Israel. It was neither on the front page nor
written by a known anti-Semite, but the community is up in arms.
Suddenly, the local Jewish community in Greater Los Angeles finds the
message delivered daily by the Los Angeles Times unpleasant. I say
suddenly, but over the past three decades, there have been repeated
calls to cancel subscriptions and withdraw advertisement dollars, to
very little or no avail. The Los Angeles Times main readership remains
Jewish, as are many of its advertisers.
If most readers were enemies of Israel, they would be dancing in the
streets – like the Palestinians and other Arabs on the morning of
September 11th, 2001. Their wholehearted support of the publication and
general euphoria would have drowned out any opposing views. The uproar
indicates the readership remains predominantly Jewish.
The morning of the article, I received a call from an outraged major
donor to Israeli causes asking what to do. I took it in stride,
suggesting the only effective way to fight is to withhold funding. It
took him just a few minutes to call me back. He is a member of a very
influential circle of friends whose names every person would recognize.
Only one of these is a major BGU donor and half the University is named
for his and his wife’s contributions.
Many were outraged and an Israeli advocacy group on campus called for a
demonstration against the professor who authored the piece. The local
Israeli paper ran full-page interviews with both the local Israeli
Consul General and the President of the University. The Jewish Journal
of Greater Los Angeles financially benefited from the Op-Ed when the
American Associates of BGU bought a full-page ad. The Executive VP of
the American Associates suggested he would "be happy to help [Dr.
Gordon] pack” if he chooses "a home that more closely identifies with
[his] values and beliefs.”
This was just the tip of the iceberg: today, Prof. Rivka Carmi, the
President of BGU was allowed an equal platform and her main argument
was, "like it or not, Gordon cannot be readily dismissed.” What a field
day for the Los Angeles Times. Last week at an Anti-Defamation League
function, I listened to a disgruntled person who had already contacted
the Op-Ed editor four times. But suddenly, I found myself in the
peculiar position of defending the newspaper.
Clearly, Prof. Gordon touched a very raw nerve, and has done so in the
minds of major BGU donors. Money, my friends, is a great catalyst for
change; withholding donor funding, a most effective weapon.
The problem is not an Israeli’s call to boycott Israel. Too many others
in academia share harmful positions against the Jewish Homeland. Closer
to home, UCLA’s David Myers caused a mini-storm with his Op-Ed published
at exactly the same time in the Jewish Journal, a very left-leaning
What is unique about Ben Gurion University of the Negev is the name it
carries and its location in Be’er Sheva, the capital city of the
Southern part of Israel, home to 900,000 Israelis. Across the street is
its associate Soroka Hospital. David Ben Gurion’s vision for the future
of the Jewish Homeland, and his realization very late in life of the
need to support what is right, not what is politically convenient, is
the reason he chose to be buried in the Negev.
At BGU one should see Israeli flags flowing, waving to all passersby and
instilling pride in the student population. Unfortunately, much like the
other leading Israeli educational institutions, the Israeli flag is
absent, lest it offend. I asked a doctor on the faculty about this
policy and received no answer. The only university in Israel where the
Israeli flag flies and the Declaration of Independence is in every
classroom is Ariel University Center in Judea and Samaria.
BGU and teaching hospital are unique for so many reasons. Allow me to
present only one. During Operation Cast Lead, Be’er Sheva was in the
range of Gaza rockets, only 60 seconds away. While visiting the Hospital
with the who’s who of Israel, I noticed four Bedouin women, covered in
black from head to toe, eyes barely visible. As these modest four sat on
the grass having lunch, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, to ensure I was
still in Israel and not Afghanistan. Four Muslim women is a surreal
image knowing sirens may wail at any second. That exactly is the desert,
where heat can create visions of flowing water springs.
I walked with the hospital spokesperson and she was not at all as
astonished as I to see Arabs and Jews co-exist so naturally. All lived
with the threat of death and destruction launched by the Hamas lunatics
in Gaza. Hamas "heroes” clearly did not distinguish between the lives of
the enemy or their own people. Only when equality is thus embedded and
one cannot separate a Jewish doctor or nurse from a Muslim one, does it
become clear to any observer Israel is not an Apartheid state.
But Professor Gordon thinks differently and the LA Times allowed him a
platform, just as the Jerusalem Post provides another Israel basher each
week. Why should this particular diatribe against Israel cause such a
stir? Why complain so bitterly about the LA Times and not the J Post?
I believe both the Jewish and Israeli communities are finally fed up and
have awakened to the realization the enemy is within. We, the Jewish
community at large, should not blame the LA Times for its attitudes when
Jews and Israelis freely spew the same venomous hatred.
True, dirty laundry should be washed at home, but boycotting Israel has
long been heard internationally. Baseless, outrageous,
counter-productive and basically a very valuable weapon, these cries
against Israel stem from innate, deeply embedded hatred. It is purely
and simply anti-Semitism. Professor Gordon’s demand is no different than
Prof. Myers’s position that kidnapping Israeli soldiers is a justifiable
aftermath of the LA Times article teaches two things: First, donor
revolt is a very valuable tool and withholding funding garners
attention. Second, the Israeli and Jewish communities have slowly
accepted the realization they are at war. Now they must focus on the
Israeli Public Diplomacy front, where the battle is raging and they are
mounting incalculable losses.