Brooklyn-based marketing firm backtracks by snubbing potential customer from Israel ties
JTA — A marketing firm facing allegations that it refused to work with a Jewish group with ties to Israel blames the controversy on a misunderstanding.
Brooklyn-based Big Duck Studio says it does not support the boycott Israel movement and will continue to work with organizations with ties to Israel.
He also says his staff, including a Jewish director, faced hateful and anti-Semitic messages in response to what he said was an inaccurate perception that he had refused to work with the Shalom Hartman Institute because of attachments. of the group to Israel.
A conversation last week between Farah Trompeter, co-director of Big Duck, and an official from the Shalom Hartman Institute gave rise to Big Duck’s “erroneous” perception that Hartman would not work with a marketing group that included staffers who question some of Israel’s policies, Big Duck Studio said in a statement posted to its website Thursday evening.
“Big Duck’s decision to refuse to work with the Hartman Institute was due to several reasons, one of which was our perception at the time that they would not be open to working with a company whose employees and customers have a range of views on Israel’s government policies and practices,” Big Duck’s statement read. “We have since learned that our perception of the Hartman Institute’s position was erroneous, and we regret that the way we have approached the subject has caused harm.”
The Hartman Institute meanwhile stood by its version of the conversation, in which it said Big Duck refused to work with Hartman because the think tank is Zionist and opposes the boycott Israel movement.
The controversy comes at a time when many in the pro-Israel community have expressed concern about the tenor of criticism of Israel among progressives, including growing attempts to extend boycott efforts to Jews and groups Jews who support Israel. Big Duck’s most recent statement – insisting it was simply trying to alert a potential client to the Israeli views of some of its employees – appears to reflect another concern, about the tolerance of pro-Jewish groups. Israelis to engage with critics of Israel.
Big Duck’s statement was signed by the marketing company’s co-directors, Farra Trompeter and Elizabeth Ricca. Trompeter made his Twitter account private this week after facing a deluge of what the statement called “hateful and threatening public and private messages”; a prominent account, Stop Antisemitism, posted her photo while tagging her and calling her stance “really disgusting behavior.”
The messages came after the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that Dorit Rabbani, an official at the Hartman Institute, said Trompeter asked her during a conversation last week if Hartman was a Zionist and if he was opposed the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. When Rabbani answered yes to both questions, according to Rabbani’s account, Trompeter declined Hartman’s offer to do business with the marketing firm.
Asked to comment on Big Duck’s latest account of the conversation, Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Hartman Institute, said, “We disagree with this account.”
Big Duck’s version of the exchange, that the marketing agency had a policy of disclosing to potential pro-Israel clients that some of its employees are critical of Israel, matches the recent experience of another Jewish group , Women of Reform Judaism.
Elisa Heisman, marketing manager for Women of Reform Judaism, told JTA that her group approached Big Duck a year ago to handle a rebrand. Heisman said Trompeter told him that “there was a chance that members of [Trompeter’s] the team could publicly express a position in favor of BDS”.
As a result, Heisman said, women in Reform Judaism “chose not to pursue a relationship” with Big Duck. The split was “amicable,” Heisman said, and was her band’s decision.
In his initial statement to JTA, Trompeter said the decision not to work with Hartman was mutual, which Hartman officials denied.
“Being more vocal and engaged in the fight against oppression has led us to more actively consider working with organizations with significant programming in Israel, among other issues, and in these cases we have mutually agreed that ‘it didn’t make sense to work together,’ Trompeter said at the time.
Trompeter told JTA on Friday that to the best of his recollection, Heisman’s account was accurate. She did not mean what she meant by “a more active questioning of working with organizations with significant programming in Israel.”
As for whether Big Duck would work with Hartman, she said, “We wish the conversation with Hartman had gone differently and we remain open to productive dialogue. It’s been an incredibly painful week for me and my colleagues, and many others, and I’m eager to find ways to move forward.
In their statement, Trompeter and Ricca said the original JTA article misinterpreted their views, but added that “the hastily written comments we provided did not accurately represent our policies and practices. and raised concerns. They went on to state, “Big Duck as a business does not endorse BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). We do not apply a litmus test when it comes to Zionism and/or working in Israel. We value our partnerships with Jewish organizations, including those working in Israel. The trumpeter at the time said Big Duck had no litmus tests on Zionism or BDS.
At least one major organization, the Anti-Defamation League, said it would no longer work with Big Duck following the initial story. In an interview, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the ADL’s decision was influenced by the recent intensity of resentment toward American Jews over their ties to Israel.
“This is happening in an environment in which Jews, many Jews feel beleaguered about Israel and their position vis-à-vis Israel,” referring to attacks on American Jews during the Israel-Israel conflict. Gaza last May, and last year called for a chapter of an environmental group report to boycott Jewish organizations with ties to Israel.
Greenblatt, who spoke with JTA before Big Duck released its final statement, said ADL would reconsider depending on how Big Duck explains the exchange with Hartman’s Rabbani.
“I don’t believe in cancel culture,” he said. “We have to give people the opportunity to recognize that they made a mistake.”
JTA asked Greenblatt to review Big Duck’s latest statement and add comment.
Big Duck lists a large number of Jewish organizational clients on its website. At least one of them, Keshet, a Jewish LGBTQ group, indicated earlier this week that it would continue to work with Big Duck. The Reconstructionist Movement said it was not currently working with Big Duck and had no further comment. The Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary said: “We are in conversation with the new owners of Big Duck and are having discussions about next steps.
A number of sources close to the controversy have linked it to a recent change in ownership at the marketing agency, with the company now describing itself as a “worker-owned cooperative”.
Kurtzer told JTA that Hartman was opposed to attempts to stigmatize or isolate Big Duck because of the encounter.
“If Big Duck made a mistake here, if it’s ignorance, if it’s miscommunication, we don’t think organizations should be canceled,” he said. . “Give people the opportunity to grow, change and learn.”
In their statement, Trompeter and Ricca described a trying few days.
“Big Duck has been accused of anti-Semitism and our policies have been publicly misrepresented,” they said. “We are both proud to have worked extensively with many Jewish nonprofit organizations, many of which have a presence in Israel. For Farra, especially as a queer Jewish woman, strategist, trainer, donor and personal friend to so many Jewish organizations, these allegations of anti-Semitism are deeply upsetting.