[NB This version differs in minor stylistic ways from the Jerusalem Post one]
A self-proclaimed National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Conference is set to take place at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) an Ivy league institution in the heart of Philadelphia during the weekend of February 4th. Last held in 2009, according to the organizers, the BDS movement intends to focus onthe Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demonizing Israel while propagating the Palestinian victimhood status in order to gain global sympathy. They believe that if universities, companies and even countries employ BDS it will pressure the government of Israel to change its “so called” hardnosed policies towards the Palestinians in addition, to giving up land they supposedly “stole” from the Palestinians in 1948 and 1967.
A closer look at the BDS movement and its methodology shows not legitimate criticism but actually one that is racist and anti-Semitic.In a world where refugees have been created and resettled by the tens of millions, including over 700,000 Jews that fled Arab states, BDS only targets Israel. Its stated goals vary but all include the “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian “refugees” and thus the end of Israel. It is cloaked to give the impression that ending specific Israeli policies such as the “occupation” or “apartheid” will also bring an end to efforts to ostracize Israel. Their maximalist demand — the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state — is carefully hidden but readily apparent to a careful examiner.
What is concerning is that universities like Penn lend their space and name to such “academic” conferences in addition to the participation of their faculty and others from around the country. We commend Penn for making it clear that it does not support or endorse the BDS movement as it underscored in its press release on the conference affirming that, “The University of Pennsylvania has clearly stated on numerous occasions that it does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel. Indeed, Penn has important and successful scholarly collaborations with Israeli institutions that touch on many areas of our academic enterprise.”
Notwithstanding, the participating faculty clearly believe otherwise.
Universities which should be bastions of critical thinking and opposition to fallacies of argument have become fertile ground for myth, fantasy, and lies about history. The “apartheid state” accusation is just one of many such fallacious rhetorical tropes used in the ongoing war of delegitimization that is being sponsored on campuses by those whose sole goal is to destroy Israel and its reputation for a generation of young Americans.
In fact, demonizing Israel through bogus charges of Apartheid has become common practice within pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist circles, but it is not borne out in fact.
Apartheidis an Afrikaans word that originally denoted the system of racial segregation and curtailment of rights of the non-white population of South Africa between 1948 and 1994. It is difficult to imagine a country more diverse and less segregated than Israel, where 15 religions have official status and where Muslims, Arabs, Christians, and others are represented in all professions, serve in the military and the Knesset (Israeli parliament), the Supreme Court and play leading roles in sports and the arts. Israel has welcomed and embraced Vietnamese “Boat People” and Cambodians refugees from genocide. Gay, lesbian and transgender people from all over the Middle East have found refuge in Israel. Israel’s Christian community is the only Christian community in any nation in the Middle East that has grown in number since 1948. But these facts have never gotten in the way of the mythic fantasies promoted by the BDSers whose sole goal is the destruction of the only functioning role model of human rights in the Middle East, Israel.
Moreover, “Israeli Apartheid Weeks” have become the accepted norm on many campuses across North America during which a series of events staged by anti-Israel activists are held and the Jewish state is equated with the racist regime of apartheid-era South Africa. All of these skewed programs teach an alternate reality rather than the authentic character of the modern state Israel, which affords more rights to minority groups than any other country in the Middle East.
Combating BDS has become complicated and confusing especially for those who want to believe that there is room for debating the “facts” presented by the BDS movement. What makes this battle so arduous for the pro-Israel community and so attractive for the antagonizers of Israel is the umbrella of academic freedom that argues that it is legitimate to debate all aspects of Israel, from specific policies through its elimination, in contrast to racial and gender discussions were such unsupported slanders are correctly and forcefully rejected by university communities. Many in the Jewish community in their naïveté are willing to engage in these debates precisely because it is cloaked in academic freedom, which gives it the impression of legitimate criticism rather than racism.
On a positive note, the racist nature of the BDS movement has redrawn the lines of acceptable discourse. We are now seeing a sure but steady understanding of the real threats BDS and its sympathizers represent to not just the pro-Israel community but to honest academic discourse on the Middle East. The hope is that rejection of their hateful message will catch on.