January saw the new Trump administration articulate strong opposition to BDS. Subsequent protests against the administration and its new temporary immigration restrictions saw the ‘intersectional’ alliance of mainstream movements with BDS advocates and Islamists. Support for, and opposition to, BDS will now be fully located in the context of US identity politics that are based in competing claims of victimhood.
The stance of the Trump administration regarding BDS is becoming clearer. In his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson criticized United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which characterizes Israeli communities in the West Bank as illegitimate, and warned countries supporting BDS that they “need to understand that it does shape our view of them” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley also made clear at her confirmation hearing that “I will not go to New York and abstain when the UN seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel.”
In response to the new Trump administration ‘Women’s Marches’ were held throughout the United States. Ostensibly focusing on women’s issues and generalized ‘resistance,’ the primary march in Washington, D.C., and others, also saw ‘intersectional’ appearance of ‘Palestine’ from high profile BDS supporters.
These including Washington march co-organizer (on behalf of CAIR), Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, a longtime New York area BDS activist and bitter opponent of reformist Muslims, and well-known 1970s radical Angela Davis. In her speech, Sarsour complained “I’m outraged by our government… We fund military aid that’s being used to basically kill my people right now. That’s like, straight up what’s happening right now.” For her part, Davis directly connected women’s issues to radical causes stating “Women’s rights are human rights all over the planet and that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine.”
Palestinian flags and pro-Palestinian signs were also seen at other rallies. Similar banners were also featured at later protests against new US immigration regulations, many of which were organized by Islamist organizations such as CAIR and pro-BDS organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace which have a long record of co-opting popular movements for their own puposes. The continued mainstreaming of identity politics, featuring Islamists and BDS voices, into Democratic Party and anti administration politics is an ominous sign.
Elsewhere in the political sphere, the Michigan governor signed a bill prohibiting the state from participating in boycotts of individuals or public entities of foreign states. In keeping with a growing trend, the bill did not mention Israel specifically. Similar bills are being debated in Virginia and will be introduced in Maryland.
At the Federal level, bipartisan anti-BDS legislation has been introduced. The bill protects state and local anti-BDS governments that divest from or prohibit investment in companies boycotting Israel. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which used the ‘3-D’ definition of antisemitism that includes demonization of Israel, has also been reintroduced in the US Congress.
In the academic sphere 2017 began with a resounding BDS defeat. The Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association (MLA) voted against a BDS resolution and by a narrower margin adopted a resolution that declared boycotts inconsistent with the organization’s purpose. The resolutions will now go to the organization’s Executive Council for review and distribution to the membership for on-line voting. If the anti-boycott resolution is approved, it will presumably end BDS efforts at the MLA.
This outcome was the result of more than two years of organizing by an anti-BDS group within the MLA membership. Reports suggest that among other things the MLA leadership had responded to legal threats against the organization and had no intention of permitting it to adopt or endorse BDS. BDS supporters voiced shock and disappointment at the outcome.
The American Historical Association (AHA) Council also rejected an anti-Israel proposal and modified another. The first called on the organization to investigate “credible charges of violations of academic freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” The second called for the organization to stand up for “the right of students and faculty to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse points of view on Israel/Palestine issues” and to condemn “all efforts at intimidation of those expressing such views.”
In a statement the organization declared that the first demand was beyond its “scope and mission” and that it opposed intimidation, harassment, and blacklists. BDS supporters, who had brought similar proposals in the past to the AHA’s business meeting rather than governing council, voiced severe disappointment.
Local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters were also in the news in January. At Fordham University the school declined to recognize the SJP chapter on the grounds that the group was too “polarizing” and stating it could not “support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country, when these goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the university.”
The decision was criticized by faculty members, BDS advocates, and groups dedicated to campus free speech issues, who pointed out that there were many political student groups on campus. Fordham clarified the decision, however, by stating that it has “no registered student clubs the sole focus of which is the political agenda of one nation, against another nation.”
SJP chapters and members also expressed support for individual terrorists and terrorist acts. The Temple University chapter tweeted a tribute to George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, on the anniversary of his death. The head of the New York chapter, Nerdeen Kiswani, also applauded the murder of four Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian truck driver in a social media posting. The chapter refused comment to the Algemeiner news site saying it did not talk to “Zionist publications.”
These specific statements are consistent with the outspoken support given by SJP chapters and its supporting organizations to convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, now on trial in Chicago for lying on her US visa application. Support for terrorism is part of the ‘anti-normalization’ agenda aimed at Israel and, more broadly, anti-American sentiment. This was apparent from recordings made at the annual SJP conference in September, where speakers attacked American “imperialism” along with Israel.
Local SJP chapters are supported by umbrella organizations connected to the Muslim Brotherhood network in the United States, including American Muslims for Palestine. It is unclear how these will be affected should there be an Executive Order or Congressional action declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
The danger posed by BDS dominated student governments was on display in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Conditions there have deteriorated dramatically to the point where students have expressed fear of wearing Star of David necklaces or speaking Hebrew.
But an emergency appeal for protection to the SOAS student government was modified, removing a clause reading “Jewish students should be given the right to self-determination and be able to define what constitutes hatred against their group like all other minority groups.”
Debate over a separate motion regarding outside groups that would be permitted to speak on campus quickly degenerated into an attack on Israel, with one student commenting, “We need to be careful with organisations and speakers speaking at our university. For instance, an organisation that has any affiliation or any links to a Zionist or Netanyahu or to a Zionist ideology. There will not be any tolerance of such organisations to host an event or speak on any topic regardless.”
The domination of the SOAS student government by BDS advocates was also documented in reports showing that the school’s Palestine Society had received over 80% of all funding allocated to non-sports clubs. Complaints to the student government regarding an antisemitic speaker sponsored by the Palestine Society were also ‘investigated’ and dismissed by the student government. This is similar to the recent ‘investigation’ and dismissal of antisemitism charges regarding the Oxford University Labour Club by the Labour Party. Reports also indicated that the SOAS Palestine Society had planned an event in which they would define antisemitism.
These incidents reflect a larger pattern by BDS activists labeling all Jewish students as supporters of Israel and targeting them for harassment. This pattern was supported by data presented in Israel by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs showing that students in both Europe and the US hide their Jewish identity out of fear of harassment.
More positively, a BDS resolution at King’s University in Ontario was unanimously struck down on appeal by a student board. The Georgetown University administration also refused to disclose and halt investments in Israel, as demanded by a coalition of BDS and radical groups.
In Germany a series of incidents pointed to that country’s deeply inconsistent response to BDS and antisemitism. In one, a court ruled that an arson attack against a synagogue by three Palestinian was a political act “to clearly draw attention to the blazing conflict between Israel and Palestinians.” Two other court cases have ruled against individuals who have described anti-Zionist agitators, including one schoolteacher, as antisemites.
At the same time, however, one German university suspended a pro-BDS professor while another gave a guest professorship to a South African academic who chairs that country’s BDS movement. Proposed legislation from both the neo-Nazi NPD Party and the Green Party to label Israeli ‘settlement products’ illustrated the problem from another direction.
In the international political sphere there were a number of BDS developments. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni denied reports that she canceled a visit to Belgium over fears that she would be arrested for ‘war crimes.’ A French supermarket chain labeled Israeli products from communities in the West Bank and Golan Heights as ‘settlement produce’ but removed the labels and apologized after complaints.