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IAC Antisemitism Sessions Roundup: Elan Carr Address, ‘The Kanye Effect,’ Anti-BDS Laws

The Israeli American Council’s (IAC) National Summit had several hours’ worth of breakout sessions dedicated to antisemitism on January 20 and 21 at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin, TX. Here are some of the highlights covered by the Journal.

Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Elan Carr provided a state of the address of sorts on the topic, expressing optimism that the fight against antisemitism could be won. One of the ways to fight antisemitism is being able to define it properly, Carr said. Enter IHRA, the commonly used acronym for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, stating that forms of antisemitism include the demonization and delegitimization of Israel. Carr recalled how the Trump administration, in which he served, adopted IHRA for the entire interagency and that the Biden administration has doubled down on using IHRA despite taking “heat from the left-wing of the Democrat Party on that issue.” “IHRA is here to stay,” Carr declared.

Carr also warned of economic boycotts against Israel that were conducted by Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, as well as the dangers of woke antisemitism, which he defined as a “Marxist agenda” that brands Jews as evil. Carr’s solution involves fighting antisemitism with philo-semitism touting the contributions that Jews have made to the world. “Rather than letting Jew-hatred define us … let’s define them as standing against ethical monotheism as standing against tikkun olam,” he said. 

Additionally, Carr called for forced training programs against any convicted criminals that show even the slightest signs of radicalization, saying that he has personally seen such programs “change lives” from his days as a prosecutor in Los Angeles.

A panel later in the day featured StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein and Stop Antisemitism Executive Director Liora Rez discussing “The Kanye Effect,” which Rez said involved “a trickle effect” of rapper Kanye West’s antisemitism permeating through his millions of social media followers. Rez said that West’s antisemitic rhetoric essentially gives a “green light” to “those that seek to do the Jewish people harm,” citing the white supremacist group Goyim Defense League (GDL) as an example. 

Rothstein similarly said that West’s antisemitism has resulted in “copycatting” but proclaimed that “we are not a defenseless people anymore.” She highlighted StandWithUs’ work in fighting antisemitism in schools, including a recent complaint they filed against George Washington University, as well as StandWithUs’ recent involvement in getting the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. “We will stand tall, we will teach pride, we will stand up to this antisemitism in all our different ways, but we must engage,” Rothstein said.

Rez later said that the Jewish community needs to get creative in fighting against antisemitism, pointing to the fact that they successfully lobbied for police to fine the GDL for dropping antisemitic flyers throughout various neighborhoods in the country. She also touted Stop Antisemite’s strategy of using “freedom of speech to throw [antisemites’] hatred back in their face and expose it.” “We let employers, spouses, parents, know when someone espouses hatred against the Jewish people,” Rez said, as she said her organization is “responsible for a lot of firings, suspensions,” and even divorce. She predicted that antisemitism is “going to get worse.”

The conference featured two separate panels on anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws, explaining how these laws essentially serve as Israel’s “economic Iron Dome.”

The first session on January 20, with IAC for Action Executive Director Joseph Sabag making the “economic Iron Dome” comparison and that there are currently 36 states with anti-BDS laws in place and a 37th on the way soon and “several others currently in the works.” “This is something our community should celebrate as a great success,” Sabag said.

Sabag appeared on this panel alongside former Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee, who enforced the state’s anti-BDS law against Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s. Yee said she gave Unilever an “ultimatum” to either stop Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott or divest from Ben & Jerry’s. They did neither, so on September 2021 during Rosh Hashanah, Yee informed them that the state would no longer be doing business with Unilever. “I did not realize in this decision that we would become the first state to divest from Unilever on this action,” Yee said. 

Several other states followed suit. “It was an immediate national movement to divest from companies that were being antisemitic and discriminatory and their actions were wrong,” she said. She noticed that various local municipalities and universities weren’t divesting from Unilever, which Sabag said prompted the law to expanded to ensure that municipalities and universities would comply with the law.

Yee called Israel “a bright light in the Middle East” and said that BDS attacks Israel’s legitimacy; therefore, anti-BDS laws “support our friends” economically. “When their economy thrives, our economies thrive because of our great trade partnerships,” Yee said.

A separate session on anti-BDS laws the next day featured Sabag alongside George Mason University Professor Eugene Kontorovich and Arkansas Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni. Kontorovich explained that anti-BDS laws were predicated on laws from the Obama administration barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, as the professor argued that it is a “form of discrimination” to not conduct business with someone because they are Israeli or based in Israel. “None of them prevent anyone from criticizing Israel,” Kontorovich said, adding that “a company can hang a Palestinian flag on its headquarters … what it can’t do is say we’re not gonna do business with an Israeli company.” Essentially, such laws mean that taxpayer dollars don’t go to those who boycott Israel, he said.

Bronni explained the legal case that Arkansas’ anti-BDS law faced from The Arkansas Times, as the Times had initially agreed to sign a pledge saying they wouldn’t do business with Israel boycotters but when their contract expired a year and a half later, they refused to resign the contract, thus leading to the lawsuit. Bronni claimed that the Times had been looking for someone to attempt to run an anti-Israel ad in their paper so the would-be client could file the lawsuit instead, but they were unsuccessful in finding someone who wanted to run such an ad. Ultimately, the law was upheld in court, thus setting the precedent that such anti-BDS laws are constitutional.