For Jay Ruderman, the decision to release a letter of support for Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu was an example of his right to exercise his civil liberties as an American. “In my individual capacity, I’m proud to join members of the Jewish community in support of @wutrain candidacy for Mayor of Boston,” he wrote on Twitter on Oct. 17.
He also attached a letter of support for Wu signed by dozens of Boston-area Jews. The endorsement praises Wu for her inclusiveness. “Our endorsement of Michelle for mayor reflects our view that she embodies the best of Jewish values, among them a devotion to both the ideal and the practical meaning of justice and compassion for the excluded, the newcomer, the ‘other’ and those in need,” the group wrote. The letter did not mention Israel or foreign policy.
In what is becoming a familiar pattern, a group supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, BDS Boston, took to Twitter on Oct. 19 to attack Ruderman – accusing him of donating to Wu’s campaign in order to sway favor for Israel: “This is the latest iteration of a sinister pattern: Zionist leaders throw support and resources behind more progressive candidates in a given race, in an effort to keep those candidates from taking pro-Palestinian positions consistent with their progressive values, once elected.”
Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston called the BDS Boston statement antisemitism. “To say that “Zionists” – i.e., the vast majority of Jews, for whom attachment to homeland is a significant part of our identity – should be excluded from progressive politics because of our ‘sinister’ use of our money to manipulate candidates values is, plain and simple, antisemitism,” said Burton. “Jewish-Americans support candidates for public office for many, many different reasons. Accusing Jews in Boston of a ‘sinister’ plot to brainwash candidates re: Israel, or any issue, is nothing more than a dangerously offensive conspiracy theory.”
The tweets by the BDS Boston group were not the first to attack Ruderman, the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation – which has focused on disability inclusion advocacy, American-Israeli Jewish relations as well as philanthropy. On Sept. 20, the group reposted a Patch article that argued that Ruderman family members’ $3,000 donation to the Wu campaign, along with Jay Ruderman’s background as AIPAC director and having served in the Israel Defense Forces and his donations to other Jewish organizations had given him inside access to Wu – and had also contributed to the death of Palestinian children.
In recent months, BDS Boston has attacked other Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, and has called Israel an apartheid country. Shortly after the posts, ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt called the attacks on Ruderman a smear campaign. “Jay Ruderman is a dedicated philanthropist and activist. Ad hominem attacks on him are despicable, but consistent with a broader antisemitic smear campaign that evokes anti-Jewish tropes of power and influence. In short, ugly, unsurprising antisemitism from the BDS movement,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.
In an interview this week, Ruderman also called the statements by BDS Boston antisemitic. “What I think is going on is a systematic effort to dampen Jewish involvement in the political process. Jewish connection to Israel is based on the fact that it is the historical and religious homeland of the Jewish people, and that is under attack. And I think that it is racism against Israel.”
Ruderman said he first contacted Wu after she wrote an opinion piece in the Globe about her mother’s issues with mental health. “I did not talk to Michelle about Israel when I met her because it’s not on the forefront of the issues someone campaigns for or governs on in the city of Boston,” he said.
Ruderman said the endorsement letter by local Jews was unrelated to Wu’s support of Israel. “Several of us who are on her campaign put out a letter that had nothing to do with Israel, but saying we’re Jews who live and work in the city of Boston and we believe in her and we support her. And many of us signed on. And I put that on my social media on my own account.
“Then, articles came out of nowhere attacking me for my involvement in supporting Israel, the fact that I had worked for AIPAC, which is a pro-Israel lobby, the fact that I lived in Israel and I served in the Israel Defense Forces, insinuating Michelle’s connection to me was contributing to the death of Palestinian children.”
Wu could not be reached for comment. In the past she has stated her opposition to the BDS movement.
“Of course it was shocking for me but let’s look at what was really happening here,” said Ruderman. “What was happening was they were trying to use me not because I brought up an issue but the fact that I’m a Jew and I’m connected to Israel to say to her you’re a progressive, progressives should be involved in opposing Israel and this is your connection to Israel.”
With the increase of antisemitism across the U.S., Ruderman wants public officials to immediately condemn hate against Jews. He also believes that Jew-hatred is becoming more embedded in U.S. politics. “It’s acceptable to use antisemitism as a political tool. And by the way, I think it exists both on the right and left,” he said.
Robert Trestan, executive director of the ADL’s Boston office, also called it an antisemitic attack on Ruderman. “BDS Boston’s tweet demonizes Jews by insinuating that Jewish people are single issue voters who only care about Israel and use their ‘resources’ – aka money – to influence elections and politicians. These are age-old antisemitic tropes that have the result of intimidating and disenfranchising Jewish voters,” he said.