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Logo of StandWithUs
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, CA|
StandWithUs (SWU, also known as the Israel Emergency Alliance) is an American right-wing pro-Israel advocacy organization. Known for working closely with the Israeli government, the organization focuses on education and is active on American campuses. SWU supports Israeli settlements and does not believe the West Bank is occupied.
SWU was founded in Los Angeles by Roz Rothstein in 2001 and has since grown to become one of the larger Israel lobbying organizations in the United States. As of 2016, it had 18 offices across the US and branches in Israel, France, the United Kingdom and Canada.
StandWithUs was founded in 2001 by Roz Rothstein, a family therapist in Los Angeles whose parents were Holocaust survivors. According to her, the idea for StandWithUs came during the Second Intifada as she thought that Israel didn't get the backing it deserved so she and her husband set up a group with the mission to educate others about Israel.
The Rothsteins started StandWithUs to arrange a demonstration and secure a meeting with editors at the Los Angeles Times. Over the following decade, StandWithUs grew into a major pro-Israel organization, enjoying close relations with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and growing budget.
Due to her leadership of SWU, Rothstein has twice been named one of the 50 most influential Jews in America by The Forward and the Jerusalem Post named her one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world in 2016.
Rothstein who founded SWU in 2001 remains its Executive Director. In 2015, its Board of Directors were President Esther Renzer, Vice Presidents Steve Emerson[fn 1], Marty Jannol, Esq., Bruce R. Lederman, Esq., Lawrence Post, and Naty Saidoff, Secretary Adrienne P. Wienir and Treasurer Barry Wolfe. Other prominent board members included Adam Milstein, his wife Gila, Arthur Bilger, and Larry J. Hochberg.
SWU has a team of 80 lawyers who provide pro-bono legalservices to students and faculty confronting anti-Semitism or "anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism."
In 2009, nearly 15% of the group's budget went to the Israeli office, which trains 150 Israeli students each year, in conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to develop their advocacy skills.
According to the Electronic Intifada, major donors of SWU include Susan Wexner who has donated more than $850,000 to the group and Larry and Andrew Hochberg who contributed more than $400,000. Sheldon Adelson has also donated to SWU, "but not on an annual basis," according to Rothstein. According to The Intercept, Adam Milstein donated $851,500 to SWU between 2004 and 2016.
In January 2015, the investigative Israeli website The Seventh Eye reported that SWU would receive $254,000 from the Prime Ministers Office, to setup a "Social Media Ambassadors" program to educate young people on how to use social media to propagate for Israel. However, in an interview with Haaretz Rothstein denied receiving funding from the Israeli government.
SWU's educational program, the Emerson Fellowship, is funded by J. Steve and Rita Emerson.
According to tax filings from 2009, over half of SWU's budget goes to fund student activities on U.S. campuses.
While SWU is often categorized as right-wing, Rothstein denies that the organization would be either right or left. In an interview with The Haaretz she claimed that "[w]e [SWU] don't take a position, we inform." However, she acknowledged having a soft spot for the Israeli settlements: "I do have an emotional attachment to Judea and Samaria. It’s where the Jewish people began, and I would be disingenuous if I told you I didn’t care." Judea and Samaria is the name used by proponents of the settlement movement to refer to the West Bank.
In November 2011, Nathan Guttman criticized SWU for towing the line of the right-wing Israeli government. As examples, he mentioned SWU education materials describing the Israeli settlements as legal, and the 1948 Palestinian exodus as not being caused by Israel. Rothstein, in response, wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the attempt to discredit SWU as right wing. According to her, SWU does not advocate specific policy positions and its goal is merely to "to counter the vicious anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda campaign" by educating the public about Israel.
Rothstein is opposed to J Street, a "dovish" pro-Israel lobby that sees itself as an alternative to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In a debate with its President Jeremy Ben-Ami she accused him of thinking that he knows "better than the Israelis" on how to achieve peace with the Palestinians. She also complained that J Street primarily pressures and criticizes Israel and not the Palestinians. Ben-Ami faulted her for taking a black-and-white approach to the conflict and concluded that there were little common ground between them. Rothstein is also opposed to Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israeli soldiers opposed to the occupation of Palestinian lands.
SWU actively opposes the BDS movement, which has enjoyed some success on U.S. campuses. BDS calls for comprehensive boycotts of Israel until it stops its alleged human rights violations against the Palestinians. SWU is a proponent of anti-BDS laws, intended to discourage boycotts of Israel by requiring state contractors to promise that they aren't boycotting Israel. SWU does not believe such laws impinge on the First Amendment-protected freedom of speech.
Pro-Israel advocacy training
SWU offers two one-year programs to train students in Israel advocacy. The Emerson Fellowship program, created in 2007, to train college student leaders, known as "Emerson Fellows," to "act as campus emissaries of the Jewish state [Israel]." As of 2020, the program is offered to North American, British, and Brazilian students. Upon completion of the program, students are awarded a $1,000 stipend, and the chance to continue working for SWU. The number of students enrolled in the program has grown from 38 in 2007 and 2008 to 107 in 2020.
The other program, the StandWithUs High School Internship created in 2012, is directed at North American high school students in 11th and 12th grade and had 125 students enrolled in 2020.
Shagririm (meaning "ambassadors") is an educational program directed at young adult Israeli-Americans in southern California. The intent of the program is to connect such individuals to generate pro-Israeli initiatives. As of 2012, the program included 54 individuals from southern Californian universities. In contrast to Emerson Fellows, Shagririm is only open to Israeli-Americans.
Creative Community for Peace
In 2011, SWU formed the Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), an effort to counter BDS' calls for celebrities to boycott Israel. David Renzer, a founding member of the group, claims that CCFP operates independently, though its detractors disputes that claim. They allege that tax filings show that CCFP is a fictitious business name for SWU. CCFP, just like SWU, does not believe the Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace nor that the West Bank is occupied. The group also strongly opposes the claim that Israel engages in apartheid.
Campaigns and activities
Four Roman Catholic orders of nuns and the pro-Palestinian group Jewish Voice for Peace planned in 2005 to introduce a resolution at a Caterpillar shareholder meeting. The resolution asked for an investigation into whether Israel's use of the company's bulldozer to destroy Palestinian homes conformed with the company's code of business conduct. In response, SWU urged its members to buy Caterpillar stock and to write letters of support to the company. Representatives of SWU also planned to attend the shareholder meeting and speak out against the resolution. SWU and other Jewish organizations believed that Israel was being unfairly singled out.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad protest (2007)
In September 2007, SWU sponsored a protest against Columbia University in New York who had invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak as part of their World Leaders Forum. SWU Campus Director Dani Klein said that inviting Ahmadinejad went "above and beyond the issues of free speech" and that giving him a platform was "honoring him." Universitye President Lee Bollinger defended the decision to invite Ahmadinejad as giving the students a chance to hear an adversary's views.
Transit poster campaign (2007)
In May 2007, the pro-Palestinian U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation placed 20 poster ads in the Washington, D.C. subway system showing a tank with its turret pointing at a child with a schoolbag. Text on the poster read: "Imagine if this were your child's path to school. Palestinians don't have to imagine." SWU in response, launched their own ad campaign with posters showing Palestinian children with military gear. "Teaching children to hate will never lead to peace," one ad read.
Campus Post (2008)
In collaboration with the Jerusalem Post, StandWithUs began publishing a monthly newspaper, Campus Post, in 2008, to be distributed on university campuses. The short-lived paper included articles by Jerusalem Post writers on the topics of Israeli news, society, and culture, while students and others in North America contributed articles about pro-Israel activism.
Durban II protests (2009)
SWU organized protests against the Durban II conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in April 2009, which it claimed were anti-Israel. A small group rallied in New York and SWU sent 15 delegates to the conference itself. Three French students donned clown costumes and heckled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his speech. According to Rothstein, the clown image were supposed to illustrate the absurdity of having countries that violate human rights at the event.
J Street (2009)
SWU campaigned against the inaugural conference of the left-leaning pro-Israel and pro-peace lobby group J Street in October 2009. SWU claimed that many of J Street's funders and advisers have "opposed Israel" or have ties with Arab governments that they regard as "consistently hostile to Israel". The campaign consisted of emails, phone calls, and faxes to members of congress denouncing J Street as "Jewish Stalinists," terrorist sympathizers, and "the surrender lobby." J Street's President, Jeremy Ben-Ami, hit back, claiming SWU engaged in "thuggish smear tactics."
The campaign was not perceived to be effective in discouraging policymakers from attending, given the conference's greater-than-expected turnout. The attendees included many congressmen as well as National Security Advisor General James Jones.
Disrupting Jewish Voice for Peace Meeting (2010)
On November 14, Robin Dubner, Michael Harris, and 8 other SWU activists disrupted a local Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) meeting in Berkeley. They heckled the speakers and prevented the meeting from taking place. One activist pepper sprayed two JVP members but said that she was "physically attacked". JVP members said the pepper spraying was unprovoked. The SWU activists said that the action was in retaliation to JVP members who had heckled Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the week before. According to JVP, SWU activists had previously harassed JVP supporters.
Olympia Food Co-op lawsuit (2011-2018)
In 2011, SWU helped organize the Olympia Food Co-op lawsuit. In 2010, the Board of Directors of the Olympia Food Co-op had decided to institute a boycott of Israeli goods. Five co-op members, aided by SWU, sued, alleging that the board had acted beyond their scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties. SWU denied running the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, while SWU's critics claimed that it indeed were.
The court ruled in 2012 that the lawsuit was an illegal Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). A decision that was upheld by the appeals court. However, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state's anti-SLAPP law was unconstitutional which meant that the case could be reopened. But at that point, the five co-op members had abandoned the case and the litigation was ended in 2018.
According to a report published in October 2009 by Inter Press Service, SWU has received funds from a "web of funders who support organisations that have been accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East." The organization countered by stating, "Radical Islam has impacted the Middle East greatly. All this stuff comes from a very fundamentalist religious position and looking at it does not make you right- or left-wing."
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee
- Christians United for Israel
- Hasbara Fellowships
- The David Project
- AMCHA Initiative
- Israel On Campus Coalition
- Israel lobby in the United States
- Not to be confused with Steven Emerson.
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The brief further argues that the Arizona law is constitutional and does not curtail anyone’s First Amendment rights, according to a StandWithUs press release. “The Act does not constrain... expression of political views; it addresses nonexpressive conduct not entitled to First Amendment protection.”
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