‘Human rights’ organizations lead charge against IHRA definition as Israeli and pro-Israel speakers are harassed on campus. American university programs in and about Israel are protested as ‘dangerous’ to Palestinian students.

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April saw the BDS movement launch multiple assaults on Israel and its supporters, via ‘human rights’ organizations and the United Nations, students and faculty on campus, and DEI bureaucracies. These many fronts are designed to manufacture a narrative and consensus in which Israel is the greatest conceivable evil. BDS/Palestinian protests against studying in Israel, or about Israel in the US, demonstrate a similar need to control the academic narrative in which Israel and its supporters are the supreme villains. Other manufactured consensuses which constrain free speech are breaking down but the malleability of anti-Zionism and antisemitism suggest these causes will endure.


April saw a variety of campus BDS developments. Among the most important was at George Washington University, where a university sponsored investigation by a Washington law firm exonerated psychology professor Lara Sheehi of charges that she harassed Israeli and Jewish students and then retaliated against them when they complained. At the same time, the Department of Education announced that it was continuing its investigation of antisemitic incidents at the institution.

One of the most disturbing revelations from the Sheehi incident was her use of psychoanalysis to further political goals. A detailed analysis of her writings and social media postings demonstrated that her classroom conduct and professional publications are centered in “Liberation Psychology, a body of theory that insists the only ethical way to practice psychoanalysis is for therapists to commit themselves to helping oppressed peoples liberate themselves.” Sheehi’s course was a ‘diversity’ requirement for beginning psychology graduate students, but “Sheehi did not assign readings so as to stage a debate about this politicised version of psychoanalysis; she constructed a syllabus to advocate for it. The syllabus emphasises the need to ‘decolonize’ psychoanalysis by exposing its dominant ideology of privileged ‘whiteness.’”

In an indication how far the field of psychology itself has been affected by ‘liberation’ ideology, which privileges politics over the patient, Sheehi, her therapist husband, and Rutgers professor Jasbir Puar, a noted BDS supporter, were also featured at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association’s “Division 39: Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology,” where they spoke in a session entitled “Our Beautiful Struggle.”

The University of Vermont resolved a Department of Education investigation which had stemmed from 2021 complaints regarding the treatment of Jewish students by a teaching assistant and by two student groups, which deliberately excluded “Zionists.” The university agreed to revise its Title VI policies and training and its overall anti-discrimination policies to include antisemitic harassment.

At the same time, the Department of Education has announced plans to weaken rules that condition Federal aid on campus free speech policies. These rules, which were relevant to the Vermont case, have also helped pressure other institutions to address incidents of discrimination against Jewish students.

American university programs in Israel continue to come under attack by BDS supporting faculty and students. In one case Columbia University’s announcement of a new ‘global center’ in Tel Aviv was attacked by a group of faculty members, who complained that “The state of Israel, through formal and informal law, policy and practice, refuses to abide by international human rights laws and norms both domestically and in its treatment of Palestinians.” The university maintains 10 other ‘global centers’ in cities such as Nairobi and Beijing. In a characteristic move, the New York Times emphasized the number of Columbia faculty who opposed the center while failing to note than a much greater number wrote in favor.

Elsewhere the Pizter College ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ (SJP) branch resumed its campaign against the school’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa. The chapter decried Israel’s existence and claimed that Arab students at Haifa, who comprise over 30% of the student body, are subject to discrimination. The Pitzer SJP later complained that the college had painted over its ‘apartheid wall’ display, which constituted ‘anti-Palestinian racism’ and ‘silencing.’

At Fordham University a study abroad partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was angrily criticized by the school’s SJP chapter as a “blatant endorsement of the apartheid & genocidal state of Israel.” The chapter, which remains an unrecognized club thanks to the administration’s refusal to extend recognition, added “we hope that he [sic] Jewish Studies Department recognizes that this trip to occupied Palestine directly impacts the Palestinians on campus & their families within the diaspora and apartheid.”

Finally, the SJP chapter at American University issued a statement decrying that school’s renaming of the Israel Studies center after a major gift. Among other things, the statement, which was cosigned by other SJP chapters and American University clubs, claimed that “The Center for Israel Studies and AU’s leadership, both of which promote Zionism as a benign ideology, threaten Palestinian students’ right to safely exist on AU’s campus. The role of university leadership is also an obligation to protect Palestinian students on this campus, and to not actively participate in the gaslighting of our brutal realities under Israeli control.”

A BDS resolution was unanimously adopted by the student government at California State University at Fullerton. In a classic example of entryism, whereby activists use official positions to promote partisan agendas, the vice president of Cal State Fullerton’s SJP chapter is also the student government’s ‘inclusion and diversity’ officer and will be the next student government president. Another BDS resolution was passed in the student government at the University of Texas at Dallas during a session that took place over Passover.

Efforts to shut down and protest ‘Zionist’ speakers, and to bully institutions with allegations that the presence of ‘Zionists’ is ‘anti-Palestinian’ continued in April. A talk at Columbia Law School given by centrist Israeli politician and lawyer Michal Cotler-Wunsh on the topic of Zionism was protested by BDS activists who accused the school of being “actively complicit in the dehumanization and repression of Palestinians.” The protestors claimed that Zionism could not be a “protected identity” but rather a “genocidal activity” and that “defenses of settler colonialism have no place on Columbia’s campus.”

Cotler-Wunsh was greeted by similar protests at New York University (NYU) which included chants of “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” An NYU spokesman condemned the protests and noted the university “also flatly rejects the sentiment chalked outside the event’s venue that asserted that ‘Zionists are not welcome.’ It is untrue, wrong as a matter of principle, and at odds with NYU’s academic and community commitments.” A report also indicated that the Jewish student group at Yale Law School was pressured to drop its sponsorship of her talk.

At the University of Chicago the SJP chapter has objected to the selection of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens as Class Day speaker. Stephens, a Chicago graduate is accused of having used “heavily racialized language to devalue Palestinian life in particular and Arab life more generally” and “constant victim-blaming of Palestinians.” The invitation was “once again an example of the fact that this campus has always been hostile to Palestinians—there’s a strong Zionist presence and Palestinians are constantly harassed and persecuted for any statement of support for Palestine. Bringing Bret Stephens in is a reaffirmation that this place is not for us.”

The BDS movement also attempted to prevent an event from taking place in a think tank setting. Reports indicate that BDS activists registered some 150 false names for a joint National Association of Scholars event presenting a new report on BDS in order to ‘sell-out’ the event and prevent in-person attendance. The tactic was discovered after the event organizers followed up with registrants who then stated they had not in fact registered.

As pro-Israel students and faculty are harassed on campus, support for BDS and for terrorism continues to be expressed unfettered, often with university backing. At Yale University an invited speaker, Houria Bouteldja, spoke on “France and Whiteness.” In the past Bouteldja has sympathized with an Islamist murderer, claimed European Jews had “cultivated the Nazis” and were passively responsible for their own genocide, opposed LGBTQ rights, and has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. Jewish students had not called for the lecture to be canceled but objected to the timing of the lecture during Passover which would limit their attendance. The university responded that the free speech policies would not permit the lecture to be rescheduled.

A number of campus protests demonizing Israel were held in late March and April including at Purdue University, where protestors shouted “Al-Aqsa don’t you cry, Palestine will never die,” and “There’s no both sides to genocide,” and at Cornell University, where protestors shouted “Israel is the enemy of all humanity,” and “Zionism is the enemy of all humanity,” and “Israel off the earth.” A number of Israel Independence Day events were also opposed and disrupted, including at Rice University.

In another example, at the University of California at Irvine, the local SJP chapter’s social media celebrated several Palestinian terrorists as ‘martyrs.’ This continues a trend of embedding Islamic religious concepts within the BDS movement as a means to motivate Muslim students. The background to this was seen at an ‘Al Quds Day’ rally in Houston where a local Muslim religious leader spoke to the crowd saying “We will not forget the Palestinian martyrs, and we will continue to resist until this Zionist cancer is uprooted from the face of the Earth. We would rather die, as the Palestinians have been dying, since the last 75 years, and die with pride and honor.”

Academic institutions continue to demonstrate that much repeated ‘antiracist’ ideals do not apply to Jews and antisemitism. At the City University of New York (CUNY), where a variety of antisemitic incidents have been reported over the past few years, an ongoing lawsuit now has produced a recording in which the president of Kingsborough Community College, himself Jewish, stated there were “too many Jews” on the faculty. The recording came as other reports have detailed how Jews have been systematically removed from the CUNY administration, BDS has been pushed by faculty members within their union, recruiting of Jewish students has dminished, and active recruitment of administrators hostile to Jews, especially within the burgeoning ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) bureaucracy, has increased.

The hostility of DEI bureaucrats towards Jews and their support for BDS is increasingly widespread. In an especially problematic and ironic incident, an African American woman, Tabia Lee, the faculty director for the ‘Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education’ at De Anza Community College, was fired from her position after faculty complaints regarding her insufficiently accusatory approach. Lee reported that the angry dogmatism of faculty and administrators led to accusations she was “whitesplaining” and inattentive to the supreme goal of “decentering whiteness.”

Predictably, Lee noted that “When I brought Jewish speakers to campus to address anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, some of my critics branded me a “dirty Zionist” and a “right-wing extremist.”” The school has a long history of anti-Israel activism from students and faculty.

The IHRA antisemitism definition continues to be a point of controversy on campuses. The University of Adelaide declined to endorse the definition stating that “The right to express lawful views about controversial matters is at the heart of a robust democracy. It is also the essence of academic freedom.” In the US, however, the IHRA definition was adopted by the state of North Dakota, while the Texas Senate Committee on Education approved a bill that would bar universities from boycotting Israel and other nations with the exception of those designated by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism. A Federal court also rejected a challenge to Texas’s anti-BDS law.

April was also notable for high profile incidents where campus speakers were shouted down and even assaulted, practices pioneered by the BDS movement. At San Francisco State University swimmer Riley Gaines, an advocate for women’s rights in sports, was shouted down, barricaded in a room, and assaulted by protestors demanding ‘trans rights.’ The provost and president of the institution later bizarrely lauded the protestors. A second ‘controversial’ talk, this time from a male speaker, was relocated off campus at the last minute.

This incident came after a Federal judge was shouted down by students at Stanford Law School. A Stanford Law student commented that “Expressing nuance about certain matters — whether on Israel or policing — is essentially taboo for anyone who doesn’t want to invite social ostracizing.” Apparently in response to growing student unprofessionalism, the state of Texas has will now question applicants to the bar about their participation in incidents of “incivility and violations of school policies.”

But a few developments suggest that realization is spreading among faculty and administrators that student hostility towards free speech threatens the viability of institutions and has negative impacts on society as a whole. At Harvard, regarded by some as a bellwether institution, more than 70 faculty members have formed a Council on Academic Freedom to offer formal support for “viewpoint diversity” and to resist hecklers’ vetoes. The president of Cornell University similarly declared that the school would not follow a student government recommendation to make trigger warnings mandatory on course materials and that free expression would be the theme for 2023-2024.

Elsewhere, in an interview University of California Law School dean Edwin Chemerinsky, who had previously defended the right of student groups to exclude “Zionist speakers” while simultaneously chastising students and rebuking their critics, offered a strong defense of free speech. He also warned that students now have greater skepticism of free speech than previously.

Internationally, BDS continues to dominate politics in educational institutions. In Brazil BDS activists forced the cancellation of a national ‘Israel Universities Festival,’ while in Ireland the national student organization formally adopted BDS. In Great Britain, Daniel Kebede, a far left supporter of ousted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, with a long history of supporting anti-Israel causes, calling Britain “brutally racist,” and supporting calls to “globalize the intifada,” was elected as the new leader of the National Education Union.

The BDS movement remained active in the political sphere. A speech by Florida Governor and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis was disrupted by protestors from the BDS group ‘IfNotNow’ who rushed the stage proclaiming they were ‘Jews against the occupation’ while accusing him of being an “ally” of AIPAC and ‘Christian nationalists.’ Mainstream press coverage of the event did not describe ‘IfNotNow’ as a far left BDS group.

Progressive opposition to Israel was also reflected in a letter from 14 members of Congress including Sen. Bernie Sanders and the ‘Squad’ of Representatives Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and others, demanding the Biden administration “undertake a shift in U.S. policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights” and calling for US arms sales to be investigated.

The Congressional letter was endorsed by a large number of BDS, Muslim and far left groups, and by some 70 “progressive Jewish leaders.” A House resolution expressing support for the Abraham Accords and Israel was also approved overwhelmingly but was opposed by 18 Democrats, most of whom support BDS, and one Republican.

BDS also continues to dominate the ‘human rights’ industry. In April over 100 ‘human rights’ organizations signed a statement urging the United Nations not to adopt the IHRA definition, claiming it “has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe.” The letter instead advocated either of the alternative statements, the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ and the ‘Nexus Declaration,’ both of which deliberately exclude defamation of Israel and the problem of double standards.

The statement was signed by, among others, B’Tselem and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as numerous organizations involved directly with BDS including Al Haq, Adameer, Defense for Children International – Palestine, Al Mezan, American Muslims for Palestine, IfNotNow, Friends of Sabeel North America, and ‘Jewish Voice for Peace.’ ‘Amnesty International’ and ‘Human Rights Watch’ have emerged as leaders in opposing the IHRA definition worldwide.

The controversy also continued over Francesca Albanese, the United Nations ‘Special Rapporteur on the “situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.’ Albanese’s history of antisemitic and anti-Israel remarks, including comments regarding the “Jewish lobby” controlling the US, support for BDS, comparisons of Israelis and Nazis, false claims regarding ‘dozens’ of journalists killed by Israel, and touting Palestinian “self-defense,” was cited as disqualifying when she was appointed to the position in 2022. But she has come under increasing criticism in the aftermath of the murder of Israeli civilians for remarks that claimed Israelis have no right to self-defense “when it comes to the people it oppresses/whose lands it colonizes.”

Finally, also in the international sphere, the Moody’s rating agency downgraded Israel’s economic outlook from positive to stable, while retaining its A1 credit rating, citing “deterioration of Israel’s governance” as a result of the proposed reforms that would “materially weaken the strength of the judiciary and as such be credit negative.” The firm also warned of “weakening of institutional strength and policy predictability” for investors,” echoing warnings made over the past months by Israeli economists and corporate leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich dismissed the Moody’s report as not being reflective of Israel’s strengths, stating “The fear raised by the Moody’s analysts concerning the controversy among the public and its effect on Israel’s political and economic stability is natural for anyone who is not familiar with the resilience of Israeli society.”

Unlike the rating giant Morningstar, now the subject of a new pressure campaign over its anti-Israel stances and potential violations of state laws, Moody’s has not been shown to manipulate ratings using ‘environmental, social, and governance’ metrics explicitly rigged against Israel.

Morningstar recently removed Motorola from its ‘Global Standards Screen’ watchlist. A Morningstar spokesperson stated “We could no longer confirm that Motorola has ongoing contracts with the Israeli military for the delivery of surveillance services used in the West Bank barrier and checkpoints.” Some 28 Israeli companies remain on Morningstar’s watchlist, with some multinationals being added due to acquisition of stakes in Israeli companies, despite the ratings giant’s promise in early 2023 to halt flagging Israeli companies which are involved in the ‘territories.’

This manipulation of the corporate ratings system by NGOs hostile to Israel is fundamental to ‘environmental, social, and governance’ scoring, which has begun to replace fiduciary responsibility as the primary goal for corporate leaders. It is paralleled by pressure from other NGOs such as the ‘LGBTQ+’ pressure group “Human Rights Campaign” to promote “inclusiveness” by focusing on gay and especially transgender issues using their “Corporate Equality Index.”

Overall, various scoring methods reflect the removal of merit as the governing principle of American society, a process where pressure groups triangulate with corporations for power. As with the systematic removal of Jews from elite universities it reflects the ongoing reengineering of American corporations and ruling class.

‘Human rights’ organizations lead charge against IHRA definition as Israeli and pro-Israel speakers are harassed on campus. American university programs in and about Israel are protested as ‘dangerous’ to Palestinian students.

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Alex Joffe

Editor SPME / BDS Monitor

Alexander H. Joffe is an archaeologist and historian specializing in the Middle East and contemporary international affairs. He received a B.A. in History from Cornell University in 1981 and Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 1991. From 1980 to 2003 he participated in and directed archaeological research in Israel, Jordan, Greece and the United States. Joffe taught at the Pennsylvania State University and Purchase College, and has been Director of Research for Global Policy Exchange, Ltd., and The David Project, Center for Jewish Leadership.

Joffe's work is uniquely broad. Since 1991 he has published dozens of studies on the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and is a leading figure in contentious debates over the relationship between archaeology and politics in the Middle East. He has also authored numerous works on contemporary issues, including Middle Eastern environmental security threats from pollution and weapons of mass destruction. His work on the problem of dismantling intelligence agencies is widely cited by experts and democratic reformers alike.

In the past decade Joffe has written and spoken on topics as varied as the future of American Jews, the Palestinian refugee problem, and nationalism. During that time as well he has been deeply involved with combating the problems of campus antisemitism, the ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions' movement against Israel, and in educating Jews and others about threats to Israel and the West. His current projects include a biography of a British World War II general and several novels. He and his family reside near New York City.

Read all stories by Alex Joffe