What a controversial panel says about the nature of Jewish discourse about Israel in the Bay Area today
The report ranks San Francisco and London among the "few global hubs of delegitimization." It also warns of the dangers of San Francisco in particular as top-delegitimizing city, noting "the role of the San Francisco Bay Area as a generator and driver of broader trends, or as a hub of social experiments...What won't pass in San Francisco won't pass anywhere else, and what happens in San Francisco doesn't stay in San Francisco.'"
San Francisco gets this attention from Reut because of dissent within its Jewish community, which the institute calls globally unparalleled. "While in London delegitimization is being promoted primarily by groups that are not part of the Jewish community...an increasing number of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area have become 'agnostic' towards Israel, and are fueling the delegitimization campaign."
The report's authors, Reut's "national security team," do not spend much time explaining what "delegitimizing Israel" means. When it does, BDS again stands out as one of the only concrete examples. According to the report, in the Bay Area "the number of individuals who are willing to stand up for Israel is declining while others have been fueling the delegitimization campaign, many times unintentionally, by engaging in acts of delegitimization — namely, actions or campaigns framed by their initiators as a reaction to a specific Israeli policy, which in practice aim to undermine Israel's political and moral foundations. Examples include support for the BDS movement and the 2010 Gaza Flotilla," a protest in which ships full of supporters and cargo tried to make it to Palestinian land in violation of an Israeli embargo.
The report labels those looking to delegitimize Israel "extremists." It warns, however, that those questioning Israel's policies, when rebuked by its "tradition defenders," may be swayed into trusting the extremists. It therefore advocates a "broad tent approach," advising that Jews in the Bay Area initiate a "community-wide deliberation" with an "aim to...drive a wedge between the extremists and those who principally support the legitimacy of Israel's existence regardless of policy agreements."
It's important, according to the report, to make sure that supporters of BDS are seen as "extremists." The "broad tent" is supposed to contain all Jews, with a diversity of opinions -- except those supporting BDS and other acts of "delegitimization." In light of this goal, the report praises the Federation's funding guidelines and the Year of Civil Discourse.
"Through the funding guidelines drafted by a JCRC-JCF Working Group...the San Francisco Bay Area has set the standard nationally as the first American Jewish community to develop guidelines delineating red lines that go hand-in-hand with the broad tent approach," Reut reports. "Additionally, we regard the Year of Civil Discourse...led by the JCRC, as important best practices that could be emulated in other places."
The Bay Area's left-leaning Jewish organizations may be influential, but under such a hot spotlight, they tread carefully. Congregation Sha'ar Zahav is one such organization. Last year, the synagogue surveyed its members to test opinions on Israel.
"In general, the survey shows that we have a liberal left-leaning congregation," said Terry Fletcher, a member of Sha'ar Zahav who now heads a committee created to follow up on the survey results. "People tend to blame, shall we say, both sides of the conflict, both Israelis and Palestinians, somewhat equally."
Fletcher's committee has organized events and discussions in the wake of the survey since January. "One idea was that we would start with something non-controversial," Fletcher told me. "But we couldn't think of anything that everyone on the committee considers non-controversial."