Over 50 Jewish organizations and pro-Israel groups congregated in Las Vegas for billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s anti-BDS summit last weekend. The Forward reported that the gathering gave itself the moniker, the Campus Maccabees Summit and that those who spoke and pitched their strategies represented “a narrow political spectrum,” predominantly coming from groups supporting right-wing interests.
Not surprisingly, summit organizers and donors pledged to throw a lot of money—their goal is $50 million over the next 2 years—behind the Campus Maccabees’ fight against BDS. Adelson and co-organizer Haim Saban, a Hollywood mogul, also declared that the BDS movement is intrinsically a form of anti-Semitism. In an interview Adelson and Saban gave to Israel’s Channel 2 news last Saturday, Saban described the BDS movement’s presence on American campuses as an “anti-Semitic tsunami that’s coming at us.”
Of the summit, The Forward reported:
Many of the groups attending prepared presentations to donors. After taking into consideration the pitch and additional information included in a book of programs given to participants, these funders will decide who gets funding and at what level. Presentations varied in form and topic, but all included suggestions for taking on anti-Israel expressions on campus.
But concrete details regarding the content of the presentations and the strategies that the organizers have decided to fund remain a mystery. “All proceedings,” read Adelson’s invitation-email to the summit, “shall remain strictly confidential.” I spoke with representatives at StandWithUS, the Zionist Organization of America, and the Middle East Forum—all participating organizations at the summit—and each declined to comment on the proceedings over the weekend.
According to The Forward, the only news organization given access at the summit was Israel Hayom, a daily owned by Adelson himself. On Sunday, the paper’s newsletter described the Campus Maccabees’ threefold approach in combating BDS. The group’s work, as set out by Adelson, will rely on “the philanthropists providing the finances, the activists operating on the ground and the suppliers (i.e., research firms) giving information to the activists.”
Adelson’s outline addresses the concerns of Benjamin Cannon, national board president of the left-leaning J Street U, who voiced concerns last week that the billionaire was unwilling to engage “on the ground” with the reality of progressive American campus life. Adelson apparently wants to silence dissenting voices completely, according to The Forward, which reported that the Campus Maccabees’ researchers will “recommend possible legal avenues” to block the activities of anti-Israel campus organizations. The Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association—both student groups that are highly critical of the Israeli occupation—have been marked as “causing the most damage,” with Adelson bluntly describing them as “BDS and Co.”
Other liberal Zionist groups agree that the casino tycoon is mistaken if he thinks his approach will actually work to diminish the BDS movement. Kenneth Waltzer of Third Narrative, a circle of progressive, anti-BDS Zionist academics, wrote that Adelson’s initiative shows “little respect for academic freedom and fair and appropriate intellectual exchange.” Waltzer argues that the initiatives thus, ironically, play into the hands of BDS proponents who will be able to start “crying ‘foul’ or screaming ‘intimidation’ and ‘McCarthyism,’” garnering support by playing “the victim card.”
On the other hand, in Haaretz, Peter Beinart questioned yesterday whether Adelson’s intent is more about pushing the Jewish world further towards the right than combating BDS at all:
If Palestinians and Muslims (Adelson sometimes conflates the two) are latter-day Amalekites, then BDS, or something like it, will always exist. You don’t fight Amalekites by showing sympathy for their plight. You use the threat they pose to build up Jewish resolve. And for Adelson, building up Jewish resolve means replacing appeasement-minded two-staters, both in Israel and the United States, with people who reject all compromise: Maccabees.