Considering some of the most recent and nasty publicity surrounding the boycott, divestment and sanctions effort against Israel, facts are scarce and name-calling abounds.
That’s why Israel educator Nevet Basker, founder of a site called Broader View (www.broaderview.org), is big on facts and sources when she leads Temple B’nai Torah’s monthly Israel current events group in Bellevue.
As the founding chair of Israel advocacy group StandWithUs Northwest, Basker is now a public speaker on modern Israel, its politics, government, people, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict runs Broader View — Beyond the Headlines: Context and Perspectives on Israel and the Middle East.
She wants the audience to listen — then make up their own minds after presented with all sides of the complicated issues surrounding Israel.
Taking on heated political topics, like this February’s look at why the BDS movement is really a “delegitimization” campaign against Israel requires well-vetted and well-rounded materials from respected experts.
“My explicit goal is as much community-building as it is education or information,” Basker told JTNews. “The first thing I do is draw a distinction between criticism and delegitimization.”
When actress Scarlett Johansson defended SodaStream and retained her role as the celebrity face of the Israeli company in its high-profile Super Bowl XLVIII ad this year, international BDS activists, who object to the location of SodaStream’s factory in a West Bank Israeli settlement, roundly condemned her.
Johansson said SodaStream fosters peace with its Israeli and Arab blended workforce, but was slammed again by fellow actress Emma Thompson, who supports BDS.
This drew fire from Jewish metal rocker David Draiman, who defended Johansson and accused Thompson of sympathizing with “BDS Nazis.”
Basker said BDS is a big part of the delegitimization movement, but many groups contribute to the agenda.
“The model that I use comes from Natan Sharansky, the 3D model,” Basker said, referring to his definition of anti-Semitism: Demonization, double standards, and delegitimization. “But I also quote the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which has the same language.”
Nationally, the American Studies Association academic boycott campaign against Israel has gained some traction in the U.S.
In Washington State, contentious Israel v. Palestinian ads on the sides of buses and on billboards, and a boycott of Israeli products at the Olympia Food Coop in 2010 received heavy reaction throughout the state.
Basker teaches that the BDS movement is “simply about undermining the right of the Jewish people to political self-determination, and the right of the Jewish State to exist.”
She also said that delegitimization extends to other hot-button conflicts, as well.
“We can have a discussion about the settlements — good, bad, and indifferent,” said Basker, “but when you call it ethnic cleansing, then we’ve gone too far. You can talk about what is an appropriate use of [military] force, but when you talk about war crimes, we’re now in delegitimization language.”
For four years, Basker’s B’nai Torah sessions have attracted groups of 20 to 30 Jews, many of whom are TBT members, who she encourages to join in the discussion.
“There is so much information out there and she condenses it,” said Shelly Goldman, TBT’s director of adult education. “She provides a safe place for people to better understand Israel where people can voice their opinions — respectfully.”
Neither Basker nor Goldman could recall a time when tempers or emotions disrupted the group, and they have never had problems with speech they have found to be outside the boundaries of public decorum.
“There are multiple opinions in the room and she wants to provide a forum for facts and respectful discussion,” said TBT member Laurie Litwack. “Nevet sets the tone for the discussion, requires that we distinguish between facts and opinions, and provides sources for pre-reading on her website.”
Last month, Basker explored the issue of Israeli settlements with her measured and methodical survey-style presentation — laying out the issues from all sides.
“Here is what the settlements are,” explained Basker, “here’s why they’re problematic or controversial, here are the best arguments in favor of the settlements, and here are the best arguments opposed to the settlements. You can find yourself anywhere on the spectrum — all of which is acceptable.”
That’s why language matters, said Basker. Whether the phrases “occupied territories” or “disputed territories” are used, it reflects the ideology of the speaker or writer.
“It’s only for the West Bank,” said Basker, qualifying the right use of the occupied territory label. “Sinai’s been returned, and Gaza Strip’s been returned. Others, like Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, I would call those disputed territories because Israel has annexed them. Others don’t accept that.
“What the right wing in Israel would call Judaea and Samaria, the anti-Israel or even the left wing calls Occupied Palestine,” she said. “You choose the words to reflect your viewpoint.”
Born and raised in Israel, Basker worked in Microsoft’s business development and marketing unit. She holds degrees from Hebrew University and Stanford University, and later earned a second bachelor’s degree in political science and communications from the University of Washington.
“I came to this out of my love of Israel and my connection to the community,” she said.