The backdrop to BDS activities in July was the burgeoning anarchist and racialist protests across the US, which also featured anti-Israel and antisemitic demonstrations. Just as being pro-peace and pro-Israel were redefined by the BDS movement as ‘right wing,’ patriotism and free speech are being redefined as ‘racism’ and ‘fascism.’ The mechanisms and logic of the BDS movement also continue to spread in the forms of ‘cancel culture.’ Their mainstreaming in progressive politics, and in parts of corporate and black culture, portend more confrontation.
In contrast to June, when BDS was focused on alleged Israeli culpability for police violence in the US, in July anger was generated over reports that Israel would ‘annex’ portions of the West Bank.
Along with BLM, the BDS movement held a ‘Day of Rage’ over the possibility of ‘annexation’ and targeted Jewish organizations in many cities including Washington, D.C., San Diego, Chicago, and Boston. Organizers of a protest in Washington, D.C. stated that the Palestinian movement is “intrinsically tied to Black Lives Matter” while participants chanted “Israel, we know you, you murder children, too,” flew Palestinian flags, and alternated between cries of “Black lives matter” and “Palestinian lives matter.” A poem read at the protest also accused Israel of being “puppet master of continents.”
In San Diego the ‘Palestinian Youth Movement’ organized a car caravan that drove past the county jail, a Federal courthouse, and then the University of California at San Diego Hillel, offices belonging to AIPAC, Friends of the IDF, ADL, Hadassah, and Birthright, and ending up at the county sheriff’s department. In Boston the local BDS movement protested outside offices belonging to the local ADL branch, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), while in Los Angeles protestors gathered outside the Israeli Consulate.
A street protest in Brooklyn featured cries of ‘Intifada, intifada,” “Death to Israel,” “Death to America” and “From Gaza to Minnesota, globalize the Intifada!” Speakers called for the abolition of Israel, the US, and the reunification of Korea under North Korean rule. In Ontario a rally by high school students in Mississauga featured chants of “Palestine is our country, and the Jews are our dogs!” A few days later the BDS group ‘If Not Now’ also protested ‘annexation’ at the Jewish Federation building in Bloomfield Township, Michigan.
The formal alliance between BLM and the BDS movement that emerged in 2014 has only deepened with the recent unrest. Both now represent Jews and Israel as ‘white oppressors’ and demand Israel’s replacement, along with that of the United States. Support for either is explicitly labeled ‘white supremacy.’
The immense financial support given to BLM and allied organizations by corporations, left wing foundations and philanthropists is thus both shocking and ironic, given that the movement (with specific roots in the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground) is explicitly anti-capitalist and supports the looting of urban areas.
The hijacking of the BLM message represents standard procedure for the BDS movement, which has long exploited black and other indigenous issues despite inherent Islamist racism. Their intersectional synergies and cooperation, however, suggest that both should simply be viewed as part of a conjoined if inherently unstable red-green synthesis, in which all sides manipulate and jockey for revolutionary supremacy and the Palestinian cause has a uniquely privileged position. Arguably, the larger ‘woke’ secular religion, with its shallow division of the world into good and evil, obsession with cancelation, and veneration of the ‘Other,’ originated with fixations regarding Israel.
As has long been the case, American Jews are presented with the choice of joining a prominent left-wing cause that also has BDS and destruction of Israel as a key principle. The explicit support given to ‘canceling’ Israel as a Jewish state by left wing Jewish intellectual such as Peter Beinart, most notably in the pages of the New York Times, is designed further to shift public opinion, including among Jews, by projecting a tiny fringe as both indicative of a major split within the community and a ‘moral imperative. ‘
The unfolding schism between Jews and blacks was also exposed when several celebrities made explicitly antisemitic comments and were then condemned, including football player DeSean Jackson and media personality Nick Cannon. The barrage of criticism and partial apologies that followed was accompanied by both backtracking and defenses of their stances and attacks on ‘Jewish privilege,’ particularly from black celebrities who support Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Repetition of Farrakhan and ‘Palestine’ memes by Madonna were palpable attention seeking but still garnered close to one million views on social media. The BDS movement will expand this pattern of deflection and attack as it searches for ‘intersectional’ allies against Israel, particularly on campus.
The escalating violence and explicit expressions of antisemitism were among the reasons that former New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly advised American Jewish communities to put European-style security measures in place. Kelly, now the head of the Anti-Semitism Accountability Project, warned that Jewish communities spaces such as synagogues had to be secured and that cities such as New York were in particular jeopardy.
In campus news, a new report from the AMCHA Initiative documented the dramatic upswing in antisemitic incidents during 2019, the vast majority coming from SJP and JVP chapters. Anti-Israel and anti-IHRA incidents increased while ‘classic’ antisemitism appeared to decrease.
Demands that Jewish and pro-Israel programs and persons on campus be canceled escalated in July. The graduate student union at New York University demanded the school eliminate its Tel Aviv program. In response, the university administration roundly condemned the demand.
Students at Columbia University also called for the cancelation of a visiting faculty member and former New York Police Department official who has been teaching a course on terrorism, alleging he held “racist, Islamophobic, and violent beliefs.” The students alleged that that the course was “aligned with the NYPD and it is extremely and violently Islamophobic, racist, unconstitutional, and imperialist” and demanded that the faculty member “be fired, his course cancelled forever, and that SIPA thoroughly investigate all courses and professors at SIPA to determine who has engaged in racist actions, perpetual racism in their courses, and are aligned with the NYPD.”
A member of the University of Southern California student government was also forced to resign in part because of criticism that she is a ‘Zionist’ and was critical of Palestinians. Student media characterized her comments as part of a pattern of “Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, xenophobic, fatphobic and classist rhetoric.”
Direct action against Jewish groups on campus also continued, for example when the words “Free Palestine’ were spray painted on the Hillel building at the University of Wisconsin. But at Florida State University the student government passed a resolution condemning antisemitism and adopting the IHRA definition. The resolution was strongly opposed by the local SJP and other BDS groups, as well as by the student government president, who attempted to prevent debate on the measure. In June the student government president narrowly survived a no confidence vote over his antisemitic expressions.
The virulence of threats against Jewish (and conservative) students and faculty suggest the fall semester will be heated and possibly even violent, particularly as patriotism and academic freedom are further anathematized in the same manner as support for Israel.
In the political sphere, the BDS movement continued to make inroads in the Democratic Party. A new focus is the possibility of Israel ‘annexing’ portions of the West Bank by extending sovereignty to communities there. BDS, American Muslim, and terror-linked groups also praised an internal letter circulated by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez calling for aid to Israel to be cut off in the event of ‘annexation.’
A progressive challenger supported by AOC, Jamaal Bowman, defeated long-time and stalwart Israel supporter, Representative Eliot Engel of New York. Among the individuals putting themselves forward to replace Engel as chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee is Representative Joaquin Castro, who has expressed support for ‘leveraging’ US aid to Israel to ‘end the occupation.’
In another development, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed leading BDS supporter Representative Ilhan Omar for reelection rather than her Democratic challenger, an accomplished African-American lawyer. This development indicates either a cynical effort to harness Omar’s enthusiastic base or an overt capitulation to the party’s progressive wing.
Efforts to shape the Democratic Party’s stance also focused directly on the Biden campaign. The senior most members of the party, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, remain explicitly opposed to BDS and any conditions on aid to Israel. The newly released Democratic Party platform mostly adhered to existing language regarding a two state solution and opposition to BDS but strongly advocated restoring the JCPOA agreement with Iran and aid to the Palestinian Authority. But even its general tone of support raised objections from left wing critics and Palestinian-Americans expressed disappointment regarding Biden’s overall positive stance on Israel. Long-term Democratic Party trends continue to tilt away from Israel.
J Street and ‘IfNotNow’ also cosigned a letter to the Biden campaign demanding that it not exclude BDS supporters from a future administration, while at the same time calling on it to exclude opponents of the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. J Street, ‘Jewish Voice for Peace,’ the pro-Iran lobbying group NIAC, and the American Muslim Brotherhood group CAIR, were also among the recipients of coronavirus relief funds. And in a harbinger of grassroots Democratic support, the California Democratic Party Executive Board passed two resolutions, one blaming Israel for police violence in the US and a second condemning ‘annexation’ and advocating for the Palestinian ‘right of return.’
In the cultural space, the expansion of ‘cancel culture’ from campus into politics and beyond continued. The resignation of prominent center-left writers Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan from the New York Times and New York Magazine, respectively, after enduring pressure and harassment from younger ‘woke’ colleagues portents the removal of more voices from public spaces, including universities and media. This process is well underway, with demands at many institutions for current and even emeritus faculty to be removed for thought crimes. A public letter in Harper’s magazine defending free speech and signed by hundreds of intellectuals was immediately met with an angry counter-statement that effectively sought its cancellation. Not surprisingly, Weiss’ departure was strongly applauded by BDS groups such as ‘IfNotNow’ and individuals such as Linda Sarsour that had long resented her pro-Israel stance.
In international news, the antisemitism crisis in the British Labour Party that began with campus groups and BDS was partially resolved when the party’s new leaders offered an apology in court to whistleblowers. The whistleblowers had claimed that under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn that the party had dismissed their allegations and defamed them prior to interviews in a BBC documentary. Corbyn and his ousted leadership group protested the apology. Reports indicate lawsuits that could bankrupt the party are in the offing.