The fall semester ended with a new study of social media demonstrating that campus ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ staffers are important promoters of anti-Israel bias. These staffers are part of a pipeline that extends from student governments through higher education into K-12 education, government, and corporations. Coupled with the uniformity of BDS support from American Muslim organizations, and the promotion of “Islamophobia” monitoring including by the House of Representatives, the trend is toward greater restrictions on speech supporting Israel.
One of the most important analyses of BDS activity on campus in December was a new report that revealed the extent to which ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) officials are pervasively biased against Israel. The study analyzed the Twitter feeds of 741 DEI staffers at 65 institutions and found that 96% of Israel-related tweets were negative while 62% of China related tweets were positive. DEI officials routinely condemned Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ and accused it of ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing.’
The report noted the disproportionate attention paid to Israel and concluded “university DEI staff are better understood as political activists with a narrow and often radical political agenda rather than promoters of welcoming and inclusive environments. Many DEI staff are particularly unwelcoming toward Jewish students who, like the vast majority of Jews worldwide, feel a strong connection to the state of Israel.” In contrast, tweets about China were largely supportive, while expressions of disapproval did not include terms such as ‘apartheid.’
The role of DEI officers and the DEI ideology in shaping campus and broader culture, including by covering for overt antisemitism, cannot be understated, as demonstrated by 2021 incidents at Yale Law School, Stanford University, the British Cabinet Office, and others, where DEI personnel or ‘trainers’ actively promoted antisemitism.
The role of DEI was also on display at the University of Southern California where student Yasmeen Mashayekh, the ‘senator in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion,’ tweeted that she wanted to “kill every motherfucking Zionist.” When the tweet was uncovered, along with others dating back a decade that expressed support for Hamas and the murder of Israelis, she was removed from her mentoring position but retained her elected DEI position.
Mashayekh was widely condemned by the administration including the president and the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and by Jewish faculty. Predictably, Mashayekh and her supporters depicted her as “an exploited and oppressed person.” She claimed further that she had not expected the reaction and that she did not “feel safe on campus.”
The pattern of antisemites portraying themselves as the victims once their bias is exposed was also repeated at George Washington University. There the local ‘Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter sought legal support after a university-created “virtual processing space” (apparently an internet chat room) instituted after the spring 2020 Gaza conflict was taken down. The students and Palestine Legal, the lawfare arm of the BDS movement, filed a complaint with the District of Columbia’s ‘Office for Human Rights’ claiming the university had deprived Palestinian students of mental health support.
The systemic, institutionalized nature of anti-Israel bias within entire swaths of academia was reinforced by the decision of the Middle East Studies Association to advance a BDS resolution to its full membership. The resolution excoriates Israel, ostensibly “recognizes the right of scholars to academic freedom as well as the right of scholars to choose whether or not to participate in an academic boycott,” but endorses the 2005 “Palestinian civil society” BDS call and “Directs the MESA Board of Directors to work in consultation with the Committee of Academic Freedom to give effect to the spirit and intent of this resolution, in a manner consistent with MESA’s bylaws as well as relevant US federal, state, and local laws.”
The resolution thus requires the organization to support BDS in a manner consistent with stringent Palestinian demands for ‘denormalization.’ This will inevitably entail personal and institutional discrimination, the institution of formal and informal litmus tests, and increased rhetorical and pedagogical hostility against Israelis and supporters of Israel. The resolution was widely condemned by Jewish and other organizations who assailed its attack on academics supportive or involved with Israel.
The MESA resolution also sets up a conflict between academics and their institutions, including administrations and states, especially those with anti-BDS legislation. In this sense the opposition to the resolution expressed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be important to watch. DeSantis’ office stated “It is our expectation that Florida State University will not permit MESA to operate a boycott of Israel through a public institution, will not accept the academic boycott of Israel, and will not allow university funds to be paid indirectly or directly to any organization that endorses BDS.”
The institutionalization of BDS among graduate students and future professionals was seen in a resolution adopted by the CUNY Law Student Government Association. The resolution demanded that CUNY divest from corporations invested in Israel, end associations with Israeli academic institutions and “cut all ties with organizations that repress Palestinian organizing,” and named “Hillel, CAMERA, StandWithUs, Bulldogs for Israel, Israel Independence Day Committee, United 4 Israel, Israel Student Association, Students Supporting Israel at City College of New York.”
It also called on the school to end contracts with corporations such as ThomsonReuters, provider of the Westlaw legal database, accusing them of both being associated with Israel and contractors for the Department of Homeland Security. The resolution was sponsored by the “CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine, “CUNY Law Jewish Law Student Association,” and was endorsed by 20 other organizations.
The resolution was widely condemned including by the CUNY chancellor, who objected to the resolution’s claim that the school was ‘complicit in war crimes,’ CUNY faculty, and Jewish organizations. The CUNY resolution followed a sweeping resolution by the student-run N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change. These statements and others suggest that the leadership of professions such as law will be overtly and systematically biased against Israel and its supporters, particularly Jews. As has been seen in K-12 and higher education, domination of professions by BDS supporters also sets up confrontations with the grassroots and with outsiders, undermining public faith as a whole.
Elsewhere on campus, the Brown University Graduate Labor Organization passed a BDS resolution demanding the university divest from Israel and establish “financial transparency and student oversight of the University’s investments.” The student government at London City University passed a BDS resolution, prompting a warning from a legal group that such a boycott would violate the terms of the union’s status as a charity. Meanwhile, at Goldsmiths, University of London, Jews and ‘whites’ were banned from a meeting on “defending Palestine.” A resolution at the Northeastern University student government also called for the end of exchanges between university of police and Israeli counterparts, while the University of Illinois Chicago SJP called for the boycott of local Israeli restaurants.
At the University of Toronto at Scarborough, the student union partially reversed a ban on using kosher food providers who ‘support Israel.’ The sweeping BDS resolution passed in November stated that “efforts should be made to source kosher food from organizations that do not normalize Israeli apartheid,” but “However, recognizing the limited availability of this necessity, then exceptions can be made if no alternatives are available.” After intense pressure, the union amended the restrictions on kosher food vendors.
As usual, BDS initiatives came against a backdrop of antisemitic incidents, such as vandalism at Dickinson College, the University of Wisconsin, and the erasure of the word Israel from a display at the London Natural History Museum.
In the political sphere, one of the most notable developments fallout continued regarding ‘Squad’ member Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s J Street sponsored trip to Israel and support for supplemental Iron Dome funding. The ‘Democratic Socialists of America’ condemned Bowman but decided not to expel him from the party. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered support for Bowman saying “has been an incredible champion on this issue given the community that he’s in.” This reference to Bowman’s heavily Jewish district in lower Westchester County (NY) was further noted in a report that falsely indicated that there had been “movement” among Bowman’s Jewish constituents towards a more pro-Palestinian position.
One of the most important political developments was the denunciation of Jews and Jewish institutions by American Islamists involved with BDS. These included Zahra Billoo, former campus BDS activist and CAIR San Francisco area director, who stated in a late November talk for the leading BDS organization ‘American Muslims for Palestine,’ (AMP) that American Muslims must “Oppose the vehement fascists, but oppose the polite Zionists, too. They are not your friends… When we talk about Islamophobia and Zionism let’s be clear about the connections… We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League, we need to pay attention to the Jewish Federation, we need to pay attention to the Zionist synagogues, we need to pay attention to the Hillel chapters on our campuses.”
Billoo added “We have to connect the dots between the organizations that promote Zionist agendas – materials marketing and legislation – are the same ones that want to ban Muslims, are the same ones that want to pass anti-sharia legislation,” and claimed that the Israeli military trained American police to “kill unarmed black men, women and children.”
After being publicized Billoo’s comments were widely condemned by American Jewish organizations but defended by CAIR, which assailed the “smear campaign” against her. Responding to the criticism, Billoo claimed the “Zionist onslaught” had ‘twisted her words’ but also that she was taking a ‘sabbatical.’
Speaking at the same conference, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad stated that “We have to fight. We have to take the fight to the other side. Moving the [U.S.] embassy, our embassy, from Tel Aviv which is occupied, to a city [Jerusalem] that’s supposed to be protected under international law, to move that embassy we should not accept that as a de facto… We have to pressure the administration to take our embassy back to Tel Aviv. And inshallah, it will be free later.”
Awad’s call for the destruction of Israel was echoed by Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who stated “And so whether in [Palestine] in ’48, in the occupied territories, in the refugee camps, or here in the U.S., we know we will continue to resist, we know we will continue to organize until one day we all go home.”
At the same time, AMP released a report on “Working with Zionist Organizations” to provide guidance for the Muslim community about “good” and “bad” Jewish groups. The report characterizes the majority of Jewish groups, including Jewish Community Relations Councils, and efforts at interfaith dialogue as bad, while treating fringe BDS organizations such as ‘IfNotNow’ as acceptable. Regarding BDS the report states:
Finally, if the Muslim community is to truly stand with the Palestinians, it must follow the policies of the BDS- Boycott, Divest, and Sanction- movement. This global, peaceful solidarity movement sponsored led by 170 Palestinian civil society institutions calls for institutional economic divestment from Israeli companies and the boycotting of their consumer goods, a cultural boycott, and an academic boycott of Israeli institutions that normalize or whitewash the crimes of the occupation. In short, the focus of BDS is not just on Israeli businesses and products, but also on organizations lending their support to the project of occupation. The principles of BDS clearly call for a withdrawal of support from institutions engaged in the violation of Palestinian human rights. This must necessarily include Jewish Zionist organizations who lend material, financial, and political support to the occupation.
The document further characterizes any “defense of the various bombing campaigns waged against Gaza, peddling the narrative that Israeli actions are justified and that they have a “right to defend themselves”, public support for settlements, and public support for anti-BDS legislation” as “Islamophobic. Similarly, all opposition to initiatives by Muslims “such as objections to Muslim community efforts including procuring zoning approval for masajid,” as “structural Islamophobia.”
The American Muslim community has thus been instructed by its leading organizations, all linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, that Israel is inherently and irretrievably illegitimate and that the vast majority of American Jews are enemies with whom no form of social interaction is possible.
These developments came at the same time the House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Rep. Ilhan Omar to create an ‘Islamophobia monitor’ “at the State Department that can report on, and counter, acts of violence and discrimination against Muslim communities abroad,” and provides for the appointment of a Special Envoy. The bill does not clearly define “Islamophobia” or “Islamophobic incitement” but mentions “hateful rhetoric” as well as violence. The findings would be linked overall assessments of “human rights” situations and would condition the provision of US aid.
Critics note that the bill would put US Government monitoring of “Islamophobia” on equal footing with antisemitism, The position would increase the likelihood that criticism of Muslims, Islam, and Islamic antisemitism, including attacks on Israel, would be officially regarded as “Islamophobic’ by elements of the US Government.