Big Duck’s feathers were ruffled by the Shalom Hartman Institute’s “significant programming in Israel.”

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

A New York marketing firm has turned down work with a Jewish think tank over its “significant programming in Israel,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

The Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research and education center, approached Big Duck, which has worked with a number of Jewish organizations.

Big Duck’s website describes itself as a “worker-owned cooperative” which has worked with hundreds of non-profits since its founding in 1994.

“As a worker-owned cooperative, Big Duck is owned by our employees. Staff who are member-owners have more power in guiding how Big Duck operates and an equal share in the company’s profits, regardless of their role, seniority, or tenure. We’re proud to be part of a global community of cooperatives working to create fairer and more equitable business structures and practices,” the website says.

It should’ve been a good match. Hartman’s website describes its mission to “strengthen Jewish peoplehood, identity, and pluralism; to enhance the Jewish and democratic character of Israel; and to ensure that Judaism is a compelling force for good in the 21st century.”

Since 2013, the institute has also promoted dialogue between North American Jews and Muslims on issues related to the Mideast conflict through its Muslim Leadership Initiative.

According to the JTA, previous Jewish clients of Big Duck include the Jewish Theological Seminary, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Keshet, a Jewish LGBTQ group.

But Dorit Rabbani, Hartman’s North America communications director, told the JTA that she got an unpleasant surprise when she met with Big Duck co-director Farra Trompeter in early January.

Trompeter told Rabbani that the Big Duck staff had concerns about the Hartman Institute’s activities in Israel.

What happened next is a matter of dispute.

In an email to the JTA, Trompeter said, “Being more vocal and committed to fighting oppression has led us to more active questioning of working with organizations with significant programming in Israel, among other issues, and in those cases, we have mutually agreed that it does not make sense to work together.”

Trompeter added that “Big Duck does not decline work with organizations solely due to their position on BDS or presence in Israel. But we do ask if they are open to working with a team and company that is questioning Israel’s policies and practices among other issues, and consider that in evaluating whether we will be a good fit for creating their communications and fundraising materials.”

But that’s not how Rabbani described the meeting.

According to notes Rabbani took during the meeting, “Trompeter noted that Hartman had a presence in Jerusalem and asked whether Hartman defines itself as Zionist and whether it opposes BDS, the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel,” the JTA wrote.

Those notes also indicated that Trompeter unilaterally turned down the Hartman Institute’s business after Rabbani confirmed that the center is Zionist and opposes BDS.

According to Rabbani, Trompeter said that the Big Duck staff would not feel committed enough to work passionately for the institute.

In a follow-up email with the JTA, Trompeter denied Rabbani’s version description of the meeting.

“Big Duck does not use litmus tests,” she wrote.

Trompeter added that Big Duck is not antisemitic and would continue working with Jewish clients.

“Big Duck is not anti-Semitic and profoundly rejects anti-Semitism,” she wrote. “We have many clients who are fighting for justice, providing much-needed community services, and improving people’s lives with roots in Jewish values, traditions or culture.”

Hartman’s North American director, Yehuda Kurtzer, told the JTA that Big Duck’s distinction between Jews and Zionists was “dangerous.”

“To boycott American Jewish institutions who are Zionist is a really dangerous activity given the fact that it is a predominant idea among American Jews and an essential part of our Judaism,” he said. “It’s especially disappointing given that many of us, including my organization, are working to advance the causes of democracy and human rights and pluralism in Israel.”