In September the focus of BDS remained fixed on the connection between academia and the political sphere. Prompted by a complaint over a BDS event, the Department of Education warned Duke University and the University of North Carolina over misuse of Federal funds. At the same time, the Women’s March replaced BDS supporting board members with overtly antisemitic ones, while the British Labour Party formally adopted BDS. The evidence shows that antisemitic impacts travel downstream from universities to culture and politics.
In academia the most notable development was the Department of Education censure of Duke University and the University of North Carolina for misuse of federal Title VI funds, prompted complaints over a BDS related event in the spring. Title VI of the Higher Education Act is intended to support foreign language instruction and US national security needs but has become a slush fund for tendentious Middle East studies education and programming aimed at college students and K-12.
The letter to the Duke-UNC Center for Middle East Studies complained that fewer than 1000 students were taking Middle East language courses while almost 7000 were enrolled in Middle East Studies courses with “little or no relevance to Title VI.” The complaint also criticized the lack of focus on religious minorities in the Middle East and the near exclusive emphasis on Islam, particularly for K-12 teachers.
The schools were instructed to respond with a compliance plan. In the interim, however, predictable complaints were voiced by academics regarding the alleged ‘chilling effect on academic freedom’ and by BDS advocates, who characterized the move as ‘anti-Palestinian.’
The investigation comes after a recent study demonstrated that Arab and Muslim countries had donated billions of dollars to American colleges and universities in the past decade, with over $1.5 billion from Qatar alone. The impact of these donations is difficult to measure but the deference and obsequiousness shown by universities and academics to donors generally is well known.
Underscoring the impact of BDS and biased pedagogy on campus, another report also indicated that Israel related antisemitism on campuses increased dramatically between 2017 and 2018. Strong increases were seen in accusations of ‘genocide’ against Israel along with justifications for terrorism. Most important were dramatic increases in faculty led BDS activities including sponsored events and individual boycotts of Israel and supporters.
The tangible impacts of this changing environment of campus were seen in September when Jewish students at Tufts University a reported a swastika hung on dorm room doors, while at the University of Tennessee, a campus focal point was painted with antisemitic graffiti.
Finally, it was announced that the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference would be taking place at the University of Minnesota in the beginning of November. The announcement also touted the election of Omar and Tlaib. The conference is designed to train BDS activists, many of them already on record espousing violence, as well as expand ‘intersectional’ alliances “who struggle against state violence, settler-colonialism, and imperialism– from Palestine to Turtle Island, from the Philippines to Mexico and beyond.”
The connection between ‘intersectional struggles’ on campus and the seemingly inevitable path to BDS and antisemitism was demonstrated in September. Among the most important developments were the replacement of three of the original Women’s March organizers, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Bob Bland, with a group that included activists and BDS supporters, Samia Assed and Charlene Carruthers, and local CAIR official Zahra Billoo, an especially vocal BDS supporter who has compared Israel to ISIS.
Sarsour and the others had been accused of financial mismanagement and abuse, and had systematically manipulated the Women’s March against Israel supporters and Jewish women. Predictably, major media outlets reported these activities as only ‘allegations,’ while the overt antisemitism of their successors went unnoted. Like the original members, the newly appointed are also vocal supporters of Louis Farrakhan. In an unexpected turn of events, however, after her appointment was publicized Billoo was suddenly voted off the board of the march. She blamed then the organizers and an ‘Islamophobic smear campaign.’ Representative Rashida Tlaib also declared her support for Billoo.
The incident demonstrates how BDS supporters have colonized progressive politics and organizations. Sarsour is a strong supporter of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and recently gave him her endorsement as the potential ‘first Jewish president.’ Sanders has expressed his personal disapproval of BDS but nevertheless defended the right of individuals to boycott Israel. He also recently appeared at the Islamic Society of North America meeting, a leading Islamist group that does support Israel boycotts.
BDS support continues to percolate in other parts of the political system. For example, Representative Ilhan Omar expressed vocal support in an interview in which she claimed that BDS – which explicitly seeks to dismantle Israel through the ‘right of return’ – will lead to a “peaceful process” in the region and a two state solution. The lack of any Congressional action against Israel after Ilham and representative Rashida Tlaib were barred from entry indicate that the leadership does not wish to endorse their provocations. The sudden disappearance of Israel from most Democratic political messaging also suggests the issue was not polling well, as perhaps indicated when candidate Cory Booker made a forceful statement against BDS at a campaign stop.
But other incidents in September showed politics and social movements after their takeover by BDS and antisemitism. In Britain, the Trade Union Council (TUC), an umbrella group representing over 50 unions and 5.4 million members, voted to reaffirm its support for BDS. The resolution also called on the TUC to work with Britain’s leading BDS organization, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The centrality of anti-Israel bias to the political process in Britain was also demonstrated at the annual Labour Party conference, which featured a BDS resolution calling on Britain to boycott products from ‘settlements’ endorsing the Palestinian ‘right of return,’ calls for ‘free Palestine’ and Palestinian flags. Labour had invited Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to address the conference but they declined.
While a Labour official claimed that the party was addressing ‘Jew hatred,’ other Labour events featuring individuals suspended or expelled from the party for antisemitic statement went forward but the Labour Friends of Israel group was not represented due to safety concerns. Organizers of a fringe event also invited Omar Barghouti to speak. Barghouti, a Tel Aviv University graduate, is a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). In another surprising turn of events, however, Barghuoti was denied a visa to enter Britain.
The Labour experience has immediate implications for politics globally. BDS is a key part of larger ‘intersectional’ mobilization strategies that threaten to transform political parties and politics as a whole. For example, contrary to its claims of being a grassroots project, a recent study demonstrated how the BDS group ‘IfNotNow’ was one of a series of groups created by graduates of training program by the far left Ayni Institute and the Momentum Community and facilitated by the online marketing and fundraising website ‘The Action Network.’
The groups that have been created and supported, which include Black Lives Matter and Dream Defenders, are designed to take over the progressive movement and the Democratic Party from within in the same manner in which Labour was taken over by a similarly named socialist Momentum cadre and its antisemitism defended by the newly constructed ‘Jewish Voice for Labour.’
Members of ‘IfNotNow’ were among those who created the group ‘Never Again Action,’ (NAA) which purports to be a grassroots Jewish response to the US border and immigration crisis. The deliberate and insensitive cooptation of Holocaust language and imagery (calling immigration facilities “concentration camps”) gave NAA immediate visibility. The hijacking strategy is also displayed by the persistent rhetoric condemnation of ‘the occupation and,’ the later being a blank space into which climate change or other causes are inserted.
The parallel comparison of the US immigration situation with Gaza by ‘IfNotNow’ and by the American Islamist group ‘American Muslims for Palestine’ (the main backer of Students for Justice in Palestine), was also deliberate and misleading. The shared goal is to embed anti-Israel animus throughout the progressive movement and many seemingly independent but actually astroturfed organizations.
The connection between BDS and antisemitism, including violence, was underscored in a report from Israel’s Strategic Affairs ministry, which detailed antiemetic displays by prominent BDS supporters. Elsewhere, BDS supporters in Berlin assaulted attendees of an Israeli film festival after refusing requests to leave the theater. Synagogues in Barcelona and Los Angeles were defaced with ‘Free Palestine,’ the latter of which BDS supporters defended on the basis of an Israeli flag flying at the building.
These connections were underscored by a draft report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to the ‘Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.’ In the unprecedented report on “Combatting Antisemitism to Eliminate Discrimination and Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief,” the rapporteur noted regarding BDS that while ‘legitimate speech’ should be protected, “expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion should be condemned.”