With the midterms concluded the outlook for BDS remains mixed. Several BDS supporters were elected to the House of Representatives but the Democratic leadership remains opposed to this form of antisemitism. At the same time, BDS on campus remains steady, with student newspapers publicly expressing support that spreads into the social environment. The impacts are seen not only in politics but in the economic and cultural spheres, with antisemitism crises surrounding leading African American figures such as Kanye West and Kyrie Irving. The larger effect is to create a zero sum competition between groups in which Jews are to be excluded because of ‘success’ and ‘whiteness.’
November’s BDS news was shaped by the results of the midterm elections that saw the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives while Democrats retained the Senate. As expected, key BDS supporters easily reelected included Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The ‘Squad’ was also strengthened by the addition of Greg Casar, Maxwell Frost, Summer Lee, and Delia Ramirez. A few BDS supporting challengers, such as Nina Turner, were defeated. Despite the overall gains an arm of the leading BDS group American Muslims for Palestine complained of ‘rightwing Zionist interference’ in the midterm elections, referring specifically to support for moderate Democrats.
The announcement that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer would step down from Democratic leadership roles raises the problem of centrists ceding power to extremists, on Israel and other issues. The probable appointment of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as Minority Leader allays some of those fears. Jeffries had previous characterized the BDS movement as “inherently antisemitic.” The announcement that Rep. Ritchie Torres would lead a delegation of Bronx community leaders to Israel may also be seen as pushback against the BDS caucus.
The impact of pro-BDS forces on or within the US Government was also reflected in the announcement that the Department of Justice was launching an investigation into the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akhleh. An analysis by the US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority concluded in July that Abu Akhleh may have been killed unintentionally by Israeli fire but reached no definitive conclusion in part because the Palestinian Authority refused to cooperate.
Pro-BDS members of Congress had previously introduced the ‘Justice for Shireen Act’ demanding a report on her death. Israeli officials were indignant over the investigation and stated no cooperation would be forthcoming. The timing of the announcement, after the US election and as Benjamin Netanyahu was forming a coalition, suggests the move is a US pressure tactic. The White House, however, denied any knowledge of the FBI’s decision.
Locally BDS will also be shaped by the results of state elections. The New York State gubernatorial race was unexpectedly close, with incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul elected over Rep. Lee Zeldin by a small margin. Crime and quality of life issues were key but Zeldin had made antisemitism including street assaults on Jews and BDS at state universities a campaign issue. Republicans increased their representation in the New York State Assembly but the progressive ‘Working Families Party’ (which is closely aligned with the pro-BDS ‘Democratic Socialists of America’) took credit for Hochul’s victory.
BDS was also in the background of politics completely unconnected to Israel or foreign affairs, such as the Los Angeles City Attorney race where progressive Democrat Faisal Gill, former spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood associated American Muslim Council, was defeated by fellow Democrat Hydee Feldstein-Soto. Philadelphia’s second official celebration of ‘International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’ on 29 November was also an endorsement of Palestinian rejectionism and a reflection of extremism now embedded in local politics.
Elsewhere at the local level, in Boston the ‘Mapping Project’ of the local BDS movement undertook a series of protests against the Jewish National Fund. These included protests at area universities as well as calls for ‘intifada’ and to support the ‘Lion’s Den’ terrorist faction.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism remains a contentious issue. A group of 120 Jewish studies faculty issued a statement calling on the United Nations not to adopt the definition, which was characterized as a “vague and weaponized trap” due to its discussion of Israel. The statement also lamented the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel and implied the event undermined global democracy.
The faculty statement followed that of the United Nations “special rapporteur on contemporary racism” who complained the definition was ineffective and had an “an impact on the human rights of minorities and vulnerable groups, including Jews.” The opposition came as other bodies including the US Department of State, Los Angeles City Council, and the province of New Brunswick adopted the definition.
On campus November was marked by a series of events and provocations. At Case Western Reserve University a BDS resolution passed by a large margin. The resolution was condemned by the university president, who called it “profoundly anti-Israel and antisemitic.” The student newspaper then declared the response was “unbecoming of a university president.”
The domination of student media by individuals from or sympathetic to the BDS movement was also displayed at Ohio State University, where a Jewish student alleged that the newspaper had rejected all pieces which protested spring SJP events that vilified Israel.
At McGill University the student newspaper was forced to retract a BDS activist’s op-ed that alleged that Canadian Jewish philanthropist Charles Bronfman’s gift to the university was part of a conspiracy to suppress academic freedom. An SJP authored op-ed calling for the boycott of Sabra hummus ran several weeks later. The University of Connecticut student newspaper also editorialized against an Israel trip being sponsored through the local Hillel, while a Harvard student newspaper editorial endorsed the Wellesley newspaper’s support of BDS and the ‘Mapping Project.’ For its part the Princeton student newspaper appended a note to an op-ed on rising anisemitism which stated it “could not independently verify” the statistics included.
In another telling incident at Northwestern University a sign with the words ‘From the river to the Sea Palestine will Be Free’ was painted on pages of the school newspaper containing an op-ed condemning antisemitism. The SJP chapter then all but claimed responsibility, stating incoherently that the slogan did not call for genocide and that “Our work opposes the oppressive reality of Zionism, not the original ideal of a Jewish homeland.” The same slogan was painted on a campus landmark and disingenuously defended in the student newspaper.
The SJP chapter at the University of Chicago renewed its “Boycott Shitty Zionist Classes” campaign calling on students to boycott classes with “Zionist narratives.” Carlton University’s SJP chapter held a panel to demand removal of the name Azrieli from the university’s School of Architecture and Urbanism. Canadian-Israel David Azrieli is a graduate of the school and has been involved with Jewish and Israeli philanthropies. Panelists complained that the university had failed to respond to their demands.
The ongoing antisemitism crisis at the University of California at Berkeley Law School deepened in November with the announcement of a civil rights complaint over the student government’s policy of excluding ‘Zionist’ speakers. The complaint charges that the university administration did nothing to prevent or rescind the discriminatory policy. Reports indicate that 14 of approximately 100 student groups have now pledged to exclude ‘Zionist’ speakers. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) also urged the Department of Education to launch an investigation.
The background of exclusionary policies in student organizations was reflected in a poll of Middle East Studies Association (MESA) members that showed overwhelming support for academic boycotts of Israel. The organization had voted to formally endorse BDS earlier this year. Faculty support also appears to be reflected in continuing efforts by the City of University of New York to promote BDS. This allegedly includes the targeting of a Jewish faculty member who had complained about the appointment of a BDS supporter to investigate incidents of BDS related antisemitism and discrimination at the school.
Overall the cases reflect the increase in campus antisemitism, as documented in a new report that detailed 254 incidents on 63 different campuses. Another new report suggests that the unstated goal of attacks is to denigrate Jewish identity and sever Jews from Israel.
The impacts of this new antisemitism is being felt not simply in politics but increasingly in the economic sphere. A survey of US hiring managers revealed that roughly one quarter already discriminate against Jewish candidates while one third say that antisemitism is acceptable in their company. The top three reasons for discrimination were the beliefs that “Jews have too much power and control,” that Jews “claim to be the chosen people,” and that “Jews have too much wealth.” The poll received almost no media coverage except from Jewish sources.
Far more immediate and serious are growing physical threats to Jews on campus, including faculty. The murder of a University of Arizona professor, Thomas Meixner, has now been shown to be an act of antisemitic violence by a former graduate student who expressed traditional Muslim hostility regarding Jews.
In the cultural sphere the mainstreaming of antisemitism continued, particularly within the African American community, notably through comments from Kanye West (aka “Ye”), Kyrie Irving, and then Dave Chapelle. The problem was compounded by a bizarre dinner between West and former President Trump which was also attended by Holocaust denier and far right agitator Nick Fuentes.
Observers note that Chapelle’s casual normalization of antisemitism and West’s black nationalist antisemitism, inspired by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, and Irving’s belief that ‘blacks are the real Jews’ have and will likely be responsible for acts of violence that will be characterized as legitimate payback for imaginary Jewish wrongdoing. One manifestation of this was the vandalizing of a Chicago Jewish cemetery with the slogan “Kanye was rite.” Support for West and Irving was seen in a wide variety of comments from right wing figures who equivocated on West but also from the left in marches by “Black Hebrew Israelite” groups in Brooklyn in support of Irving.
These incidents, and the heightening far right and neo-Nazi threats, exemplified by the arrest of two individuals in New York en route to an attack, formed the backdrop to the warning from FBI director Christopher Wray that 63% of all hate crimes in the US are aimed at Jews and that “It’s a community that deserves and desperately needs our support because they’re getting hit from all sides.”
Both the campus BDS incidents and those involving figures such as West, Irving, and Chapelle are part of a broader cultural shift that uses Israel and Judaism itself to vilify American Jews. Using critiques of ‘power’ and ‘privilege’ Jews are finding new conditions for acceptance and behavior on and off campus, often ostensibly related to Israel but rooted in an increasingly competitive socio-economic landscape where ethnic minorities jostle for advantage. The dystopian zero sum conception of this scenario is that for other minorities to win, Jews must lose.