June was characterized by sweeping statements from academics and journalists declaring the impossibility of objectivity and evenhandedness when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pledging absolute fealty to the Palestinian cause. While there was pushback regarding earlier student and faculty statements condemning Israel, the public dedication of various professions to the cause of ‘Palestine’ clarifies the extent to which they are ideological movements. The result will be further erosion of public trust in key institutions. Another upshot, however, is that antisemitism from Palestinians and their supporters now appears to be regarded as legitimate expression by a portion of the left.
BDS activities in June were marked by continued condemnations of Israel from a variety of faculty and student groups, unions and others. Overall more than 100 departments, programs, and faculty groups have issued condemnations of Israel, typically accusing it of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” being a “settler-colonial state,” endorsing the “Palestinian right to return,” and equating Palestinians with African-Americans.
Characteristic was a statement by the faculty union at the City University of New York which issued a condemnation of “the massacre of Palestinians by the Israeli state’’ and Israel’s “expansionism and violent incursions into occupied territories.” The resolution also directs chapters to “facilitate discussions” about supporting BDS. No mention was made of Hamas since that would erase the “military, economic, media and global power that Israel has over Palestine.” Union talking points in response to criticism emphasize that it is “firmly committed to anti-racism and internationalism.”
As questions emerged regarding condemnations of Israel, accusations of ‘censorship’ were immediate. One example was the African American Studies department at Penn State University, which issued a statement condemning “Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid in solidarity with Palestinians’ struggle for liberation,” “Jewish supremacy,” and stating “we join calls from the Black Lives Matter Movement to recognize that the struggle against state-sanctioned anti-Black violence is interconnected with anti-Palestinian violence and that Afro Palestinians have born the brunt of dispossession and rightlessness while also speaking out against police terror in Jerusalem.”
The university administration then requested the department take down the statement and establish that it represented the views of the entire faculty. The statement quickly was restored after complaints that the intervention was an example of the “Palestine exception,” which ‘censors’ speech about ‘Palestine,’ which apparently otherwise must naturally dominate all discourse.
Most ominous were condemnations that explicitly called for the politicization of classrooms. A statement called “Palestine & Praxis” characterized the conflict as “the Palestinian struggle as an indigenous liberation movement confronting a settler colonial state” and described Israel as “a brute force that enshrines territorial theft and the racial supremacy of Jewish-Zionist nationals.”
Accusing Israel of various crimes the statement redefines scholarship by saying that “We recognize our role and responsibility as scholars to theorize, read, and write on the very issues unfolding in Palestine and among all oppressed nations today. Scholarship without action normalizes the status quo and reinforces Israel’s impunity” and that “we affirm that it is no longer acceptable to conduct research in Palestine or on Palestinians without a clear component of political commitment.”
It then states:
- In the classroom and on campus, we commit to
- Pressuring our academic institutions and organizations to respect the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel by instating measures that remove complicity and partnership with military, academic, and legal institutions involved in entrenching Israel’s policies.
- Supporting student activism on campus, including, but not limited to sponsoring joint events and holding our universities’ accountable for violations of academic freedom.
- Highlighting Palestinian scholarship on Palestine in syllabi, our writing, and through invitation of Palestinian scholars and community members to speak at departmental and university events.
- Extending the above approach to any and all indigenous scholars within the university, and any Indigenous communities within the vicinity.
- Centering Indigenous analyses in teaching and drawing links to intersectional oppression and transnational liberation movements.
- In our research, we will actively
- Include Palestine as a space and place worthy of substantive and historical integration into critical theory, not only as a case in a list of colonial examples.
- Work to engage methods which highlight and elevate the voices and experiences of the places and moments we study over our own positions.
- In places where we reside, we will
- Support community efforts and legislation to pressure our governments to end funding Israeli military aggression.
Several hundred scholars from a variety of disciplines from Anthropology and History to Music and Theater signed the statement. The statement represents a full-fledged politicization of classrooms in all disciplines and privileges ‘Palestine’ as the central if not sacred academic subject.
The Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association issued a similar statement condemning Israel and decrying “settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and racial capitalism that connect the United States and Israel.” The statement also made explicit demands regarding pedagogy:
We call on our colleagues in their classrooms, universities, and beyond to:
- Reject the “two-sides” narrative that erases power hierarchies.
- Recognize the framework of apartheid as applicable to describe Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and within Israel’s 1948 boundaries.
- Recognize that Israel’s violent repression often constitutes crimes against humanity.
- Reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism which has been used by Israel’s supporters to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel
The statement therefore rejects the academic ideal of objectivity, implies that Israel’s formation and existence is a priori a “crime against humanity,” and implicitly accuses critics of using the IHRA antisemitism definition as a shield. The statement regarding the US, Israel, capitalism and race effectively links Iranian style “Great Satan-Little Satan” Islamic antagonism with ‘Black Lives Matter’ communist-inspired anti-capitalism and racism.
A similarly sweeping condemnation was issued by a group of journalists. The statement accused journalism of abandoning its “core principles” of “finding truth and holding the powerful to account” by promoting “a narrative that obscures the most fundamental aspects of the story: Israel’s military occupation and its system of apartheid.”
It cites ‘power asymmetry’ between Israel and the Palestinians as justification for abandoning objective reporting, noting that tendentious language including “apartheid, persecution, ethnic supremacy — are increasingly gaining institutional recognition after years of Palestinian advocacy, and we, as journalists, need to examine whether our coverage reflects that reality.”
The statement concludes on a revealing note: “We have an obligation — a sacred one — to get the story right. Every time we fail to report the truth, we fail our audiences, our purpose and, ultimately, the Palestinian people.” Over 500 journalists from both mainstream and radical publications, such as the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, San Diego Union-Tribune, New Yorker, New York magazine, Condé Nast, TIME, NPR, NBC and ABC. The signatories also included many individuals who refused to be named.
By accusing Israel of being a “settler-colonial” state guilty of “genocide,” and endorsing the “Palestinian right of return” the statements explicitly call for Israel’s destruction. And by stating that there cannot possibly be ‘two sides’ to the Israeli-Palestinian ‘narrative’ and that all teaching and reporting must be absolutely orienting toward condemning the former and promoting the latter, these calls explicitly negate both academic freedom to hold, and in the case of journalism to report, contrary views.
They therefore guarantee obsessive and tendentious focus, promise to inject ‘Palestine’ into all fields, issues, and narratives, and demand harassment and intimidation of those who disagree. This politicization will be guaranteed from above by the appointment of supportive institutional leaders and from below by ‘voluntary’ and mandatory “antifacist pedagogy” reeducation for faculty and students, and now in the Federal Government.
But the further implications of these statements and many others are vast. Contradictory information and viewpoints are automatically dismissed and derided by ideological politics designed to homogenize the worldview of information consumers. This stark polarization inevitably creates gaps between reality as independently perceived and as ideologically presented. The unintended result is accelerating erosion of trust in key institutions, namely education and media, and generating inevitable pushback.
There was indeed pushback against the wave of anti-Israel statements that issued from university students and faculty in May and June. In some cases student governments backtracked after protests that the original statements were one-sided, acontextual, and which effectively proposed to discriminate against supporters of Israel, or in recognition that the optics were negative.
One example was the University of Oregon student government which issued a statement accusing Israel of “actively committing genocide and engaging with modern day colonialism” and asserting “This is not a war one takes sides on — supporting Palestine and condemning Zionism is doing the bare minimum to uphold the values of human rights, equality and justice.”
After protests from the university Hillel and other groups the student government executive committee apologized for “our unnuanced discussion of Zionism” and claimed “We stand for peace in the region that Israel exists in and that Palestinians and Jews have resided in peacefully for centuries. We stand against all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and against all forms of apartheid.” For his part, the University of Oregon president blamed the rise in antisemitism on the “growth of white supremacy.”
At Franklin & Marshall College, however, the president and provost issued a strong statement disavowing a faculty letter condemning Israel and noting “Healthy discourse and even passionate disagreement about important issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are absolutely consistent with the discussions that contribute to an academic culture of inquiry and greater understanding on college campuses.”
But elsewhere pushback met with mixed success. An effort in the University of Chicago student government to rescind an Israel condemnation failed. A statement condemning Israel by the Wayne State University student government, criticized by the university president for “needlessly inflammatory language,” angered pro-Palestinian students. At Rutgers University, the university president’s condemnation of antisemitic violence was met by protests from Palestinian students claiming it served to “derail Palestinian voices and activism.” A subsequent apology condemning both antisemitism and “Islamophobia” was also deemed inadequate.
The defense in the Wayne State and Rutgers cases and others (such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer was fired for a statement condemning antisemitism) appears to be that condemnation of antisemitism and attacks on Jews are attacks on Muslims, implying that these are legitimate forms of Palestinian and Muslim protest or that it is prejudicial to point them out. The result is that even ritual condemnations of antisemitism must be ‘balanced’ by mention of ‘Islamophobia,’ thereby negating any specific anti-Jewish context.
In other cases, such as at Harvard University, statements supported Israel’s right to self-defense and condemned the antisemitism behind it “being demonized, delegitimized, or held to a standard to which no other country is held.” CUNY and Columbia University faculty signed similar statements, but in both cases the majority of signatories appear to have been Jews. The Harvard statement also came in the wake of multiple incidents of antisemitic vandalism of the Hillel.
The full voiced condemnations of Israel from nearly unaccountable institutions like faculty members and the vacillation from semi-accountable ones like student governments should be contrasted with the responses from political bodies. One example is that the governments of Texas, Switzerland, and Quebec adopted the IHRA antisemitism definition. In contrast, however, were the condemnations of Israel from progressive politicians, notably the pro-BDS ‘squad’ in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blamed Israel for Hamas’ violence and claimed that there had been “attacks on Al-Aqsa,” while Rep. Ayanna Pressley equated Israel defending itself to “police brutality and state-sanctioned violence.” Most notable were remarks from Rep. Ilhan Omar who stated “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen un-thinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
Omar quickly backtracked, saying “To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel,” Omar said. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
Omar’s remarks prompted condemnation from Hamas, Jewish Democrats and calls for censure from Republicans. None materialized and in the aftermath of the controversy observers concluded that the Democratic Party’s support for Omar had solidified and that she represents the hostile younger, grassroots party consensus regarding Israel. This emboldened position also suggested by polling data and the recent letter from 73 Democrats demanding among other things that the Biden Administration declare ‘settlements’ illegal. The emerging consensus reflects the tradeoffs inherent in ethnic politics and the vanguard role of the red-green alliance between the far left and Islamists.
Coupled to the now firm anti-Israel consensus is the use of Israel and BDS as litmus tests for progressive politics in New York City, both at the mayoral and city council levels. Anti-Israel rallies are becoming more common in New York City, organized by BDS members, and have featured calls for ‘intifada’ and chants of “We don’t want two states; we want all of it!” This eliminationist rhetoric was echoed by other movements, including the “Chicago Dyke March” which featured a poster demanding ‘abolition’ of both the US and Israel. After the poster was criticized the image was removed and critics were accused of “censorship.”
The vilification of pro-Israel voices and the spread of antisemitic materials on social media platforms such as Twitter, the harassment of Jewish teachers and nurses in Britain, the exclusion of Jews and Israelis from public events (such as a Philadelphia food festival that initially disinvited an Israeli food truck over ‘security concerns’ before canceling the entire event), have become common. The routine attacks by BDS supporters in local contexts such as school boards, and now situations with no conceivable connection to Israel such as rent board meetings, points to the rapid growth of antisemitism in liberal society. Acceptance of Palestinian antisemitic rhetoric as justified is especially pronounced among sectors that have endorsed calls to ‘defund the police’ including leaders of ‘Black Lives Matter.’
The deliberate abandonment, indeed, condemnation, of evenhandedness and objectivity and the demand for direct action, in the senses of activism, cancelation, protests and violence, in the name of ‘abolition,’ is an ominous development that will further undermine confidence in both institutions and movements. As threats and violence increase, a backlash is also likely, which will be taken as confirmation of the evils of the US and Israel by the parties being repulsed.
At another level the BDS-related obsession with Israel also represents a little acknowledged convergence with the epistemology espoused by ‘black lives matter’ and other ‘indigenous knowledge’ movements. These claim that objectivity, along with many other features, are ‘white’ characteristics and thus to be condemned. This extends the racial and identity partitioning of society into the epistemic realm where the very nature of shared reality is disputed, in which ‘race’ is paramount, and in which Jews are classified as ‘white.’
For these reasons Critical Race Theory and BDS in K-12 education are growing threats to both a shared sense of reality and the immediate wellbeing of Jews. BDS resolutions proliferated among teachers unions, including in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the State of Vermont, alleging Israel is engaged in ‘ethnic cleansing’ and other crimes. In response, Jewish parents accused unions of antisemitism, expressed concern regarding the safety of their children, and took complaints to the school board. In at least one case a teacher resigned over safety concerns.
The umbrella American Federation of Teachers has not taken a stand on the resolutions while two BDS resolutions will be debated at the National Education Association (NEA) annual meeting. The union has two million members. The BDS resolutions indicate again that K-12 education has become structurally hostile towards Israel and Jews who support Israel.
Locally, fallout expanded after school officials used official platforms to spread allegations against Israel. In Schenectady, New York, school officials apologized for an email sent by the “Culturally Relevant Committee” which accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and urging students to advocate “anti-Zionism” and how to “ally with the Palestinians.” The “words to use” list included: apartheid, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, boycott Israel, and anti-Zionism. “Words not to use” included: ‘clash, war, both sides and conflict.” School officials refused to disband the committee.
The singling out of Israel for attacks, and by extension Jewish teachers and students, is also mirrored in ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) training. A lawsuit alleges that DEI training at Stanford University created a hostile work environment by endorsing “the narrative that Jews are connected to white supremacy” and “antisemitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy, and control.” The complaint also alleges that the training stated that “Jews, unlike other minority groups, possess privilege and power, Jews and victims of Jew-hatred do not merit or necessitate the attention of the DEI committee.”
The direct impacts of the protests and vilification of Israel were seen both on and off campuses. In Queens, New York, a Vietnam Veterans Memorial was vandalized with racist and antisemitic graffiti. In Los Angeles a Jewish boy was assaulted on a busy street amidst a huge rise in antisemitic harassment. A number of synagogues, Hillel and Chabad houses were vandalized, including gunfire into a Brooklyn synagogue, as was a San Francisco area Jewish preschool, which was vandalized with the phrases “Israil terror” and “Death to Israil.”
In the economic sphere, the BDS movement, in association with BLM and antifa groups, has attempted to prevent the unloading of ships belonging to the publically traded ZIM Line. In Oakland reports indicate that 1000 protestors blockaded entrances to the port and that union employees refused to cross the picket line. The ZIM ship was eventually rerouted. In Seattle protestors blocked the port entrance and threatened workers. The cargo ship was forced to remain moored in the harbor without unloading before police arrested protestors and permitted the ship to be unloaded. In Vancouver police and port authorities were alerted in advance to the protests and the ship was unloaded after delays. Other protests are planned around the country.
The alliance of BDS, BLM and antifa protestors demonstrates the willingness to not only disrupt Israeli connected business but broad aspects of the American economy. The longstanding convergence of the anti-Israel and anti-American, anti-capitalism movements has taken new significance with the prominence of antifa street violence since 2020. All the groups involved in the ZIM protests are share the same funding sources, above all the far left Tides Foundation (whose chairman has now been appointed president of Temple University). Observers note that disrupting interstate commerce by threats or violence is a Federal offense (18 U.S. Code § 1951) and may also be subject to class action lawsuits from affected parties.