The end of the academic year shows BDS on campus having made further gains in colonizing student media and student government. The significance of BDS resolutions and editorials remains not in forcing universities to boycott or divest from Israel but in convincing or coercing enough individuals to comply. The political ramifications, however, flow through broader class and economic filters since as an elite hatred BDS has less overall traction. Meanwhile, while the battle within the Democratic Party shows pushback from centrists has the potential to regain control from far left challengers.
The spring semester ended in May with the BDS movement making strides on campus but being pushed back in primary elections and in the cultural sphere.
In the academic sphere one of the most notable episodes was the endorsement of BDS by the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson. The bizarrely written editorial stated that “desire for rightful justice spreads, like wildfire, moving us to act, to speak, to write, and right our past wrongs,” expressed “our sincere support to those who have been and continue to be subject to violence in occupied Palestine, as well as to any and all civilians affected by the region’s bellicosity,” and lauded student BDS supporters for their “potent form of resistance, and we are humbled by our peers’ passion and skill.”
Continuing this obsequious tone the editorial board stated “the extraordinary abuses and our privileged ability to speak to them and face comparatively less unjustified retribution — compel us to take a stand. Palestinians, in our board’s view, deserve dignity and freedom. We support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement as a means to achieving that goal.” It also explicitly repudiated previous editorials that rejected BDS.
Pushback against the endorsement was swift from students (including dissenting members of the editorial board), faculty, and alumni, as well as Jewish groups. Observers noted that the putative cachet of Harvard gave the endorsement greater weight than an average college newspaper. It was also significant for representing the antagonism toward Israel of aspiring members of the American ruling class.
The student governments at the University of California at Riverside, Louisiana State University, the Marquette University and the University of Sydney passed BDS resolutions. The student union at the University of Liverpool rejected a BDS resolution.
At the University of Melbourne the student government approved a BDS resolution that declared Israel is a “settler colonial apartheid state” that was guilty of “massacres, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”, deemed Zionism “a racist, colonial ideology” and supported the right of Palestinians “to engage in self defence against their occupiers.”
The adoption was followed quickly by a class lawsuit by a student alleging the union had “acted outside of its purpose as a student union (violating the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012) and alleges it violated the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.” University officials had previously expressed opposition to the resolution along with Jewish groups. The Australian National Student Association, however, expressed support for the Melbourne resolution. After a series of deliberations the resolution was rescinded.
Elsewhere, the student government at McGill University decided not to ratify a previously adopted BDS resolution after the university administration made it clear it would take action against the union.
One notable BDS resolution passed by the student government at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School in 2021 was endorsed in May by the faculty, who then joined students at a “Zionism out of CUNY” rally. The endorsement was noted with disapproval by mainstream media and represents another step in the politicization of academia, where any faculty unit can adopt its own foreign policy (in practice almost exclusively anti-Israel), free of any institutional constraint, under the guise of academic freedom and ‘collective political action.’
The CUNY faculty move came in the midst of a series of tit for tat moves against the administration. The CUNY Chancellor had traveled to Israel with a group of university presidents, provoking the ire of BDS supporting students, while a Nakba Day campus event, provocatively entitled “Palestine Lives 2022: By Any Means Necessary,” was canceled by John Jay College for security reasons.
Further antisemitic incitement from authorized speakers was displayed with the CUNY Law commencement address from Nerdeen Kiswani, leader of the violent Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) breakaway group ‘Within Our Lifetime.’ In her talk Kiswani, who has a history of making threats against Jewish students, alleged that she had been “been facing a campaign of Zionist harassment by well-funded organizations with ties to the Israeli government and military.” She also condemned CUNY leaders’ travel to Israel alleging that “normalizes Israel’s colonization and murder of the Palestinian people.” Kiswani had previously called for and celebrated violence against Israelis on social media and at ‘globalize the Intifada’ rallies.
The CUNY developments came as ‘Nakba Day’ protests were held across the country, including in New York. Additional harassment of Jews and Israel-supporters took place during New York’s Israel Day parade. Overall antisemitic hate crimes in New York City are up dramatically in 2022 compared to previous years.
The abuse that typically flows from the antisemitism fostered on campus by the BDS movement was displayed at Rutgers University, where for the second year SJP members waving Palestinian flags threw eggs at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity on Yom Hashoah. The local SJP chapter later claimed it was not involved and that fraternity members had previously disrupted their rally. The fraternity later stated that ‘cultural education’ was the solution.
At Brooklyn College the local SJP chapter disrupted Israel Independence Day celebrations. One anonymous protestor stated “In actuality, they’re celebrating their independence, but it’s actually like the genocide for the Palestinian people.” The student government later condemned a pro-Israel organization for a social media posting about the SJP that noted “these people are violent and have harmed several Jews in NYC” and “be prepared to defend yourself,” claiming that the posting was “promoting violence” against the SJP.
The role of BDS in American politics was displayed in a series of Democratic primaries. After 2016 anti-Israel politics emerged fully as an organizing principle for far left candidates (including ‘Justice Democrats’ and ‘Democratic Socialists of America’ members) running as Democrats and who have now formed the pro-BDS ‘Squad’ in the House. As more candidates espouse these and other radical views, pushback has emerged from centrist Democrats including PACs which have countered dark money funding, such as from the Arabella Advisors network, that was instrumental for far left victories in earlier cycles.
The role of the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) and the ‘United Democracy Project,’ (UDP) the new PAC wing of AIPAC, have proven especially controversial. While UDP is bipartisan, its support for Republicans who had previously expressed support for President Trump has been used to attack Democratic candidates. The success of UDP supported candidates has also led to a spate of accusations that it is ‘secretly funding’ candidates ‘opposed to Palestinian rights.’
The role of UDP and DMFI in supporting opposition to ‘progressive’ candidates was highlighted in a bizarre video from ‘Justice Democrats’ excoriating AIPAC and in comments from Sen. Bernie Sanders in which he stated “This is a war for the future of the Democratic Party.”
Progressive candidates faired poorly in the May primaries. Rep. Shontel Brown’s win over a far left challenger in Cleveland was a relatively straightforward example. Elsewhere the situation was complicated by redistricting and by campaigns in liberal strongholds surrounded by conservative communities. One such example, in North Carolina pitted an Islamist, pro-BDS candidate, Nida Allam (who helped lead Durham’s city council to end police exchanges with Israel) against a state senator and an entertainer.
There and in most races, such as the victory of incumbent Texas Representative Henry Cuellar over Squad favorite Jessica Cisneros, the defeat of progressive candidates angered supporters who railed about ‘secret outside money.’ Unusually, similar complaints were heard from Republican primary candidate Greg Raths, who in a speech to the Orange County Islamic Foundation stated “That’s the problem. Israeli PAC in Washington, they got money and they control a lot of these politicians. And the other side, the Palestinians, they don’t have the clout. So these politicians go where the money is, unfortunately.”
Israel, and possibly even abortion, do not appear to have motivated Democratic voters when compared to economic issues. But a sign of the growing (if possibly misplaced) confidence of the House BDS caucus was the introduction of a resolution introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib and endorsed by Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Bowman, and Newsman, ‘recognizing the Naqba,’ condemning the foundation of Israel and celebrating Palestinian “refugeedom,” and endorsing the ‘right of return.’
In an unsubtle equation with Holocaust denial, the resolution also instructs the US Government to combat ‘Nakba denial.’ The resolution has little chance of passage but represents the effort to have Congress formally endorse the revisionist Palestinian narrative of victimhood and Israeli evil. The resolution is also another opportunity to propagandize the Palestinian narrative to Americans who remain largely unaware of the BDS movement.
In general, active efforts are underway to prevent Democratic politics from following in the path of the British Labour Party, which continues to be immersed in an antisemitism crisis that began with affiliated campus organizations. In May Jewish leaders called on Labour head Keir Starmer to condemn two Labour Parliament members who spoke at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign – Stop the War Coalition rally where speakers accused Israel of ‘apartheid’ and urged sanctions while the crowd chanted in Arabic for a Hamas leader to “blow up Kiryat Shemona.”
Elsewhere in Britain, the government has cut its ties with the National Union of Students (NUS) over the organization’s treatment of Jewish students and newly adopted support for BDS. The role of newly elected NUS president Shaima Dallali, a vocal BDS supporter and participant in anti-Israel protests, was highlighted along with allegations of long-term abuse of Jewish students by the union. An investigation will be launched but the since the NUS cutoff is unprecedented the procedures are unclear. Reports also indicate that the government may regard the election of Dallali, a vocal opponent of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as illegal since the organization is pledged to support the definition.
The outgoing NUS president also testified at a Parliamentary hearing denied that Jewish students had been mistreated and that there was a “hierarchy of racism” in the organization. The organization also announced its own investigation into the allegations.
In a predictable if still shocking twist, NUS and Goldsmith College student leaders then accused academic David Hirsch, a sociologist and leading scholar on British antisemitism, of being a “far right white supremacist” after he commented on social media “There is an antisemitic edge to official, institutional, university campaigns to ‘decolonise’ education.” When questioned, the student union then stated the accusation was simply an expression of free speech and that it would not investigate the comment.
The move comes as the Queen’s Speech marking the opening of Parliament outlined the government’s proposed legislation to “prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion.” The BDS and Sanctions Bill has been a Conservative Party priority since 2019. In a speech to a pro-Israel group, Home Secretary Priti Patel also applauded British-Israeli relations but noted that antisemitism has “infiltrated our politics, our political dialogue and discourse,” adding “everything we have seen around the BDS movement is racist.”
Finally, in a development that straddles politics and culture, the ADL has taken a strong stance that antizionism is antisemitism. In a speech ADL leader Jonathan Greenblatt stated “antizionism as an ideology is rooted in rage” because it aims for “the negation of another people, a concept as alien to the modern discourse as white supremacy. It requires a willful denial of even a superficial history of Judaism and the vast history of the Jewish people. And, when an idea is born out of such shocking intolerance, it leads to, well, shocking acts.” The implications are that the ADL will “act against the antizionist extremists just as we have against other extremists from the white supremacists and alt-right ilk.”
The equation of the BDS movement with white supremacy was especially stinging. A statement issued by CAIR and signed by a number of other American Muslim organizations including BDS leaders American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim Students Association National, and the Palestine Youth Movement, alleged the ADL’s effort would “smear and silence members of our community who advocate for Palestinian human rights.”
While the ADL has long been a target for Muslim and progressive groups alleging its police exchange program is responsible for ‘police violence’ in the US, the BDS movement was clearly taken aback by the unequivocal equation of antizionism and antisemitism. In a later interview Greenblatt refused to back down from the assertion saying “if you peel back the layers in anti-Zionism, it is a historic form of delegitimization targeting Jews.”
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