‘Apartheid Week’ programs promote Israel hatred as BDS supporters claim they are ‘silenced.’ IHRA definition is adopted as BDS advocates complain it “victimizes Palestinian advocacy.”

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March was characterized by repeated accusations from the BDS movement that it was being ‘silenced.’ These came as campuses were subjected to ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ and an onslaught of anti-Israel programming. The incongruence of these claims point to the victim narrative at the heart of the BDS and Palestinian movements. When all criticism is regarded as ‘victimization,’ and refusal to indulge the narrative is ‘silencing,’ the method becomes irrefutable.


March was marked by ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ activities held at campuses across North America. These included Arizona State University, MIT, Georgetown, the University of California at Berkeley, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and others. As usual these featured events, protests, and ‘apartheid walls.’ These activities were complemented by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) ‘vigils’ for Palestinian killed in Israeli military operations, most of whom were claimed as members of terrorist organizations, at Harvard and Cornell. At the University of Minnesota the SJP planned an event to support the ‘Holy Land 5,’ referring to the Holy Land Foundation case which saw the Federal government shut down a US-based Hamas funding source.

Student governments continue to be focal points for anti-Israel hostility. In one incident a student at Brandeis University was pressured into resigning his position in student government after it was revealed that during a protest in high school he had waved an Israeli flag while chanting the word “nakba” during a protest. This was taken as proof that he had praised the ‘catastrophe.’ It would appear to be payback for criticism of Brandeis’s pro-BDS students who have routinely called for the destruction of Israel with the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” At the University of Michigan a leader of the campus BDS group was one of the two candidates endorsed by the campus newspaper to become president of the student government.

In contrast, the student governments at Boston University and the University of Illinois adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. However, the student government at George Washington University passed an “Ending Antisemitism Order” which will launch a “task force” designed to “speak assertively, collaborate instructively, and remedy conflicts compassionately.”

The IHRA definition was also subjected to a direct challenge at George Washington University, where an outside investigation exonerated a psychology professor, Lara Sheehi,who had been the subject of complaint regarding harassment of and retaliation against Jewish and Israel students. The review, which the university declined to release, found “the allegations in the complaint about the lecture are largely inconsistent with the recording of the event or significantly decontextualized,” and alleged that the “expansive view of the definition of antisemitism, which, if accepted in the university environment, could infringe on free speech principles and academic freedom.” A complaint with the US Department of Education is still pending.

At the same time BDS supporters continued to claim they were being ‘silenced.’ In at least two cases local SJP chapters complained at length in student media of having been ‘silenced’ by university administrations. At the University of Chicago the SJP chapter reiterated its complaints that the school had used campus police to prevent its members from holding a protest inside an administration building. The 2000 word diatribe remained on the home page of the student newspaper for a month.

At Northwestern University the student newspaper presented a long report detailing the purported ‘silencing’ of Palestinian and pro-BDS students on campus. In a comment that revealed the demand for validation behind the BDS movement, a former student complained that “I don’t even care what they say, I just want to hear that Northwestern is literally just considering that we exist as human beings and deserve like, I don’t know, some support in any capacity.” Pro-Israel organizations were also accused of promoting both administrative ‘silence’ and a hostile atmosphere for pro-BDS students.

In contrast to the pro-BDS complaints regarding ‘silencing,’ the student newspaper at McGill University rejected a pro-Israel op-ed on the grounds that it “doesn’t align with our values as a paper” since “Zionism is a settler-colonial ideology that has perpetuated the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”

Stating that national Jewish and pro-Israel organizations shape anti-Palestinian bias, or are de facto ‘white’ and ‘racist’ was also a feature of a recent controversy at the University of Michigan Law School, where an email announcement regarding an ADL event produced an outpouring of invective. The event was a microcosm of the intolerance and hostility that now characterizes law schools and the next generation of lawyers, which reached a climax in the abuse hurled at a Federal judge, including by the ‘associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion,’ during an invited talk at Stanford Law School.

SJP’s goals of creating a hostile atmosphere on campus towards Israelis and supporters of Israel was challenged at Lafayette College when administrators rejected an application to form a chapter on campus. The chapter, as well as the national free speech organization FIRE, opposed the move. Administrators stated, accurately, that “that the chapter’s events could violate college policy by targeting or disrupting other clubs and individuals on campus.”

The manner in which anti-Israel bias has been naturalized by faculty and administrations was demonstrated at the City University of New York, which has been roiled by a series of antisemitism controversies. Reports indicate that students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College will be given credit for attending an anti-Israel film as part of the March “Palestine Solidarity” series sponsored by the school’s “Social Justice and Equity Center.”

This came as the center featured a month-long “Visual Timeline of Occupied Palestinian Land” which accuses Israel of the “longest military occupation in history” and describes Hamas not as an Islamic terror organization but an entity striving to create “an Islamic society in historic Palestine.” The college later apologized “to anyone who was offended and felt unsafe” but refused to state who was responsible for the display. Also at CUNY Law School, the local SJP chapter demanded that the administration revoke a speaking invitation to an Israeli scholar as “a violation of the unanimous passing of a BDS resolution by student government in 2021.”

An example of naturalizing anti-Israel bias by students was displayed at Tufts University where the student government awarded $10,000 to Students for Justice in Palestine for a “Palestine Solidarity Concert.” No student representatives voted against the proposal. Other examples were the invited appearances of BDS sctivists Muhammad el-Kurd and Noura Erekat at the University of Pennsylvania.

Earlier in March el-Kurd had admitted that he and the BDS movement falsely apply the term “apartheid” against Israel deliberately:

  • I’m not talking about the crime against humanity, but the negative word that is “apartheid” and the negative connotation in the psyche of the public – I think it is capable and it has been engineering and establishing a cultural shift in the way people approach and talk about Palestine. But I’m less concerned with the accuracy of the word. You know, me and my friends have these arguments about, like “It’s settler colonialism,” “It’s apartheid”, It’s police brutality”, “It’s ethnic cleansing”, It’s this”, It’s that.” I don’t care. As long as there is a conversation happening in which the villain is portrayed clearly, I think that is good.

In another telling example of the underlying rejectionism that propels the conflict on American campuses and in the region, the appearance of former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Duke University was marked by repeated interruptions, screaming, and a walkout of 100 audience members yelling “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” A protest held outside the venue featured speakers who alleged “Israel has occupied Palestine for over 70 years, and has been denying every right for the Palestinian people,” and chants of “Resistance is justified, if people are occupied.” The Duke SJP chapter later justified the walkout and protest, saying that “Hosting Bennett on campus was a shameless attempt to normalize Israeli apartheid,” complaining that faculty comments about protests were “trivializing,” and rejecting “meaningful dialogue.”

In another example of how higher education intersects with the corporate sphere, reports indicated that leading BDS supporter Linda Sarsour was among the many speakers scheduled to participate in the Arab Conference at Harvard. The conference, organized by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association and other student groups, is designed to bring together Harvard students with a variety of corporate representatives. Sarsour’s participation, however, set off alarms with Jewish and other alums.

Consulting giant McKinsey was among the sponsors of the conference, and in a statement the company noted that upon learning that “a speaker at an event our recruiting team was sponsoring at Harvard University had a history of anti-Semitic comments, we immediately stepped away from the conference, cancelled our in-person recruiting meeting, and withdrew two speakers from the program.” Later reporting, however, complained that the head of Harvard’s Hillel had incorrectly attributed a specific statement to Sarsour that had been made by a representative of American Muslims for Palestine, a leading BDS group.

For her part, Sarsour stated that she had never heard of McKinsey but complained about efforts to ‘cancel’ and ‘silence’ her. Earlier in March Sarsour gave a talk at American University after which Israeli and pro-Israel students were prohibited from asking questions.

The penetration into K-12 education of BDS and anti-Israel related antisemitism was also documented recently by the appearance of Huwaida Arraf at a Michigan and ADL curriculum based “diversity assembly” for 10th graders. Arraf, an organizer of the BDS group ‘International Solidarity Movement’ and a failed Democratic Congressional candidate, “deviated from the prompts” and delivered an anti-Israel diatribe which as the principal described, “discussed the conflict in Gaza from their own personal political perspective and experience.” Other reports indicate Arraf stated that Hamas is not a terrorist group and Jews are killing people in Gaza. Complaints to the local school board regarding the event were later mocked and dismissed.

The Arraf situation also points to the continued efforts by far left educators to incorporate anti-Zionist and antisemitic content into curricula in the name of ‘ethnic studies’ and ‘diversity.’ The ongoing controversies in California over now-mandated ‘ethnic studies’ were also highlighted in March by the firing of a consultant by the Mountain View Los Altos High School District after allegations of antisemitism.

The ongoing antisemitism issues on campus and in politics help account for the FBI hate crime statistics that show American Jews continue to be targeted disproportionately. Another report from the ADL indicates that campus antisemitic incidents increased 41% in 2022. This contrasts with recent polling data that purports to show that overall Americans have favorable attitudes regarding Jews, as opposed to Mormons. In turn, these data must be contrasted with new polls showing that for the first time more Democrats sympathize with Palestinians than Israelis.

In the economic sphere, it appears that despite repeated assurances from senior management that practices had been changed, ratings company Morningstar continues to downgrade Israeli companies with operations across the ‘Green Line.’ A variety of groups have again called for states to take action against Morningstar for violating local anti-BDS laws but reports indicate that some states fear retaliation from the company.

In the political sphere a number of states and municipalities formally endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism which includes reference to Israel. These included Virginia, Arkansas, Indiana, and the city of Cincinnati. In Georgia, however, a state resolution opposing antisemitism was postponed. It had been passed in the House earlier in March but was modified to removed IHRA references after the Senate heard objections to references to Israel, including from CAIR and SJP members, who characterized it as “victimizing Palestinian advocacy.”

Finally, in the international sphere, the controversy over the Israeli government’s plan to reform the judiciary continues to cause economic and cultural waves. Israeli business leaders and entrepreneurs threatened to move money and operations out of Israel and warned of economic turmoil should the now postponed legislation be adopted. Another report indicated that over 250 American Jewish business leaders also warned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that judicial changes could “feel compelled to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment, sourcing talent, building engineering centers, and maintaining intellectual property,” and that it will also become increasingly difficult to advocate for and defend Israel internationally.”

This self-fulfilling prophecy took an ironic turn when Silicon Valley Bank, a favored institution for Israeli high tech, start-ups, and for venture capitalists, collapsed. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that the Israeli government would aid companies affected by the collapse but the US Government then stepped in and secured all depositors regardless of size or nationality.

Left wing critics of Israel and especially BDS supporters rejoiced in the turmoil and taunted Israel supporters with the vision of Israelis boycotting one another. The claim, however, that actions to avoid an economically unsettled environment by Israelis and investors is the same as the BDS movement’s calls for boycott is false; the former seeks political change while the latter seeks to eradicate the state.

‘Apartheid Week’ programs promote Israel hatred as BDS supporters claim they are ‘silenced.’ IHRA definition is adopted as BDS advocates complain it “victimizes Palestinian advocacy.”

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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