BDS activities in November were marked by increased anti-Israel agitation on campus and harassment of Israeli diplomats and Jews. The rhetoric of ‘no two sides’ that completely excludes any pro-Israel viewpoints is gaining strength, especially on campus. Another notable feature is the exposure of BDS supporters as gatekeepers for media and technology companies. Coupled with an increasing number of Islamists and other BDS supporters running for office, the result is an environment that normalizes BDS and antisemitism.
In November BDS in academia was marked by efforts to cancel speakers perceived as pro-Israel. The most blatant attempt were efforts, primarily by pro-Iranian Shia groups, to prevent Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely from speaking at the London School of Economic. While the talk proceeded with high security, Hotovely was threatened by a large mob afterwards and had to leave the school quickly under security escort. The incident was widely condemned by British politicians and defended by BDS activists.
Also blatant was the vandalizing of a fraternity house and a miniature paper Torah scroll at George Washington University during a break in. This also produced widespread condemnation from the university community as well as national and local officials. A public march was held to protest the incident but an investigation has yet to solve the case.
In the aftermath, however, Palestinian students staged a march to protest the removal of a “virtual processing space” that had been set up for them by the university’s ‘Office of Advocacy and Support’ (which has directly supported BDS) in the ‘aftermath of Gaza.’ A legal effort on the part of the BDS movement’s legal wing ‘Palestine Legal’ alleged discrimination against the Palestinian students’ ‘mental health.’ The fact that the march was refused access to a university site was cited as evidence of further discrimination. The university president then announced support for the Palestinian students and an investigation of their allegations.
Much BDS activity in November was cast in terms of the assertion that there are ‘no two sides’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that any person or activity not actively opposed to Israel and ‘Zionism’ should not be permitted to speak.
At Barnard College the ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ (JVP) chapter attempted to prevent a talk by a leading scholar of antisemitism and an author of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, Kenneth Stern, on the grounds that his presence was “legitimizing apartheid.” The group also stated “Placing the blame for antisemitism onto Palestinians is a harmful distraction, both from the urgency of the Palestinian liberation struggle and from the real root of antisemitism — white nationalism.”
Similarly, at Northwestern University, the SJP chapter led a walkout of a talk by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang over his support for Israel. The SJP chapter at the University of Illinois in October also led a walkout of a joint talk by Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi and his Palestinian co-author Mohammad Darawashe. The Northwestern SJP chapter also joined other groups including “Community Not Cops,” “NU Dissenters,” “Fossil Free NU,” and “Students Organizing for Labor Rights” and disrupted a college football game. The students took the field for several minutes holding banners saying “Board of Trustees meet with us now,” “Abolish NUPD invest in Black lives” and “Stop funding the war on Palestine,” before being removed.
At Stockton University a talk by disabled Israeli veterans was disrupted by protestors holding signs, including those saying “These are the children YOU killed,” while Loyola University the SJP chapter disrupted a ‘Taste of Israel’ festival. At New York University an SJP sponsored panel demanded the removal of US tax-exempt status for non-profit groups including the Jewish National Fund and Regavim. Panelists made it clear the intent was not simply to restrict the flow of funds to Israel and the ‘territories’ but label supporters of Israel as ‘racists’ by “confronting those kind of supporters that were coming in to contribute to their fundraising.”
At Oberlin College a proposed winter trip to ‘Israel-Palestine’ was opposed by JVP and ‘Students for a Free Palestine’. This incident produced widespread condemnation from the university community as well as national and local officials.since “The use of ideological ‘both sidesisms’ frames the Occupation of Palestine as a conflict and not a settler colonial project carrying out genocide.” The protests at Oberlin came as the school continued to grapple with the fact that a faculty member, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, had helped cover up mass killings in 1988 as an Iranian representative to the United Nations.
These efforts took place against a continuing backdrop of anti-Israel agitation such as divestment protests at Harvard, an ‘apartheid week’ at McGill University, and a call for Sabra hummus to be removed from college property at Swarthmore (and subsequent complaints that pushback was ‘astroturfed’). At the University of Connecticut the student newspaper condemned materials presented by Hillel to counter an SJP march. The newspaper complained “One sticker Hillel distributed reads “Peace and Prosperity For Israelis & Palestinians.” Such material ignores the ongoing ethnic cleansing, displacement and apartheid for the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, equivocating between oppressors and the oppressed. This rhetoric plays right into the strategy of maintaining the occupation and violent status quo in Palestine.”
A BDS resolution passed in the student government at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. The resolution cuts funding to pro-Israel organizations, demands that Jewish groups purchase food from sources that do not support “Israeli apartheid,” blacklists a number of organizations, and categorizes Jewish students in terms of those who are “inherently in violation of the BDS policy” and those who reject Israel. In response, the university president issued a strongly worded statement in opposition decrying the resolution’s discrimination, restrictions on academic freedom, and political tests.
A more serious series of incidents occurred at Indiana University where reports indicate a number of mezuzahs have been stolen from students’ doors this semester (which resulted in formation of a ‘task force’). Potentially deadly incidents included attempted arson at an Austin (TX) synagogue and an arson threat again a Queens (NY) deli.
Manipulating the campus environment and student organizations to exclude supporters of Israel also continued. At Duke University the student government first approved and then the leadership revoked the status of a Students Supporting Israel chapter, after the chapter engaged in an exchange on social media. The student government then upheld the veto. In response, the university administration condemned the student government and offered SSI separate funding. The student-led New York University Review of Law & Social Change also formally endorsed BDS including boycotts of supporters of Israel and individuals with viewpoints that differ from the editorial board. The university and the law school immediately stated they were ‘troubled and disappointed’ by the move.
The mixture of obnoxious juvenile behavior, vandalism, and violent menace has long established the BDS movement as an element shaping campus culture and politics. But this reality, along with the fact that university administrations must be pressed for anodyne condemnations of antisemitic activity, have not yet deterred Jewish and other donors.
Puff pieces in university newspapers have normalized a vision of Palestinian students as powerless victims, when in fact they and their supporters are the trend setting progressive majority on campus. In contrast, human interest stories on Jewish students press the image of Jews as helpless yet demanding. The corollary of this was coverage of a Jewish student government president at Virginia Tech who had led passage of a BDS resolution and who then complained about ‘antisemitic’ comments directed at him.
A piece in the New York Times on higher education in Gaza similarly whitewashed a notable BDS supporter and antisemitic professor, as does a new book by a Brown University professor which seeks to “normalize Hamas.” Alternately downplaying and normalizing extremism complements the ‘no two sides’ rhetoric that dominates most campus discussions.
The impact of BDS, now in the context of ‘critical race theory,’ is being felt widely. In Massachusetts the proposal to adopt a California style ‘ethnic studies’ curriculum has alarmed Jewish and pro-Israel groups, particularly given the presence of BDS supporters within the faction pressing for adoption. The effects of BDS agitation at the high school level was also seen in Canada, where students at a Toronto school led a walkout and protested against the existence of Israel. In another case a New York City public school teacher was forbidden by his principal from wearing a ‘Proud Zionist’ shirt, while permitting ‘Black Lives Matter’ apparel.
Another disturbing trend became clear wherein BDS supporters are given roles as ‘trainers, ’gatekeepers’ or ‘correspondents.’ In one case it emerged that Twitter hired Fadeh Jassem, former Al Jazeera reporter and anti-Israel activist, as an ‘Editorial Curation Lead’ for the Middle East and North Africa. The New York Times has also hired a longtime opponent of Israel, Raja Abdulraham, as an Israel correspondent, while the Nation hired anti-Israel activist Muhammad el-Kurd as its ‘Palestine correspondent.’
BDS activists are also being hired as ‘trainers’ in the burgeoning ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ industry. In the continuing controversy at Yale Law School, it emerged that the individual hired as a diversity ‘trainer’ claimed that antisemitism is a “subset of anti-blackness,” while Google’s ‘head of diversity strategy’ had claimed that Jews have an “insatiable appetite for war” and an “insensitivity to the suffering [of] others.” The hiring of Mizanur Rahman as an ‘inclusivity trainer’ for British civil servants brought an anti-Israel activist and overt Israel hater into a role of educating those charged with protecting the rights of all citizens.
Internalizing antisemitism and hatred of Israel within institutions through personnel is a longstanding BDS tactic. The pipeline begins with organizations such as SJP and the domination of student government but a recent case has shown how this process works with regard to national politics. The exposure of an antisemitic BDS supporter as vice president of the College Democrats of America has provoked the Democratic National Committee to consider disaffiliating from the student group. Nourah Mesbah, whose social media posts blaming the ‘Yahood’ for sabotaging Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign a call that ‘God will kill the Jews’ is at the center of the controversy.
A report also indicated that an internal investigation had revealed Mesbah’s “pattern of discrimination against members of the black community, specifically black women.” Calls for her to resign have been predictably countered by preposterous assertions that her offensive comments were the result of “different regional dialectic linguist comprehension” and angry claims of “Islamophobia” from CAIR and other American Muslim organizations.
In the political sphere, the trend toward BDS supporters running for Congress continued. The most notable example was Huwaida Arraf, cofounder of the ‘International Solidarity Movement’ and advocate of “violent resistance” against Israel, who announced her candidacy in Michigan. Arraf was among the volunteers who supported Palestinian terrorists in their 2002 occupation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and was an organizer and participant in the 2010 Gaza flotilla. In July 2021 she participated in a panel demanding the University of Pennsylvania cancel all travel to Israel.
Another example is Nida Allam, a BDS supporter and anti-police activist, who is running in North Carolina. Allam, currently a county commissioner in Durham, is a close ally of Linda Sarsour, who immediately endorsed her candidacy, along with the local ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ chapter. In Vermont, Rep. Peter Welch, who has co-sponsored anti-Israel legislation with Rep. Betty McCollum, also announced that he would be a candidate to succeed retiring Sen. Pat. Leahy.
The grassroots takeover by BDS advocates obsessed with the single issue of ‘Israel/Palestine’ has led to the protracted anguish of the British Labour Party, whose leader, Keir Starmer, has apologized yet again regarding the horrific treatment of Jews and stated the party does not support BDS. A similar situation is playing out in the Canadian Green Party, where reports indicate pro-Israel Jewish leaders are being forced out after racist and antisemitic harassment.
At the same time, vociferous criticism was aimed by the BDS supporting ‘Democratic Socialists of America’ against Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, a strong critic of Israel, for meeting Israeli political leaders during a J Street sponsored trip to Israel and voting to fund Iron Dome replenishment. The DSA call to expel Bowman and the condemnation of J Street demonstrates that no toleration of Israel exists for ‘even-handedness’ and that the movement is willing to cancel its own allies to penalize ‘normalization.’
Finally, the appearance of BDS supporters in New York City protests following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, as well as at the COP26 climate convention in Glasgow, demonstrated yet again that any public event or protest is susceptible to being taken over by BDS supporters.