Many BDS supporters defeated in Democratic primaries as ratings agency bias against Israel draws legal scrutiny. Universities and student groups hit with student lawsuits over BDS support and campus antisemitism.

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The brief August flare up between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) produced a predictable but short spate of BDS activity. PIJ’s undeniable responsibility for Palestinian civilian casualties and rapid Israeli messaging campaigns blunted the impact except on hardcore BDS supporters. The clash was overshadowed by Democratic primaries and upcoming midterm elections, in which a number of BDS supporting candidates were defeated. Elections, and systemic issues such as the pernicious impact of ‘environmental, social, and governance’ (ESG) ratings and strategies and the ‘human rights’ industry’s pervasive bias against Israel, remain deeper threats that require closer attention.


The brief Gaza conflict in early August caused a upsurge in unvarnished antisemitism from BDS groups, especially ‘Jewish’ ones like ‘IfNotNow,’ but was quickly overshadowed by other developments. The undeniable evidence of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rockets causing casualties within Gaza and rapid Israeli messaging campaign blunted the BDS movement’s ability to use the events.

Predictably ‘Jewish Voice for Peace,’ ‘IfNotNow,’ Code Pink and other BDS groups blamed Israel for the conflict and the casualties. A number of anti-Israel protests were held including in New York City where participants chanted “We don’t want no two states” and “Palestine in ours alone.” BDS groups also mourned terrorists killed in the conflict going so far as to distribute fliers with terrorists in PIJ uniforms. Protests were also held at Ohio State University, Concordia University, McGill University, and on other campuses.

More notable were the continuing midterms. One surprising outcome was Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s unexpectedly narrow margin of victory. Pro-Israel groups had declined to support her opponent under the mistaken impression she would dominate the race. Mainstream media such as the New York Times and the Washington Post predictably described her victory as a defeat for pro-Israel supporters while failing to mention her antisemitism and support for BDS.

In Michigan BDS supporter Rep. Rashida Tlaib easily won her primary while Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the ‘International Solidarity Movement,’ was defeated. In New York City, noted Trump opponent Dan Goldman narrowly defeated BDS supporter Yuh-Line Niou. In a sign that BDS may be becoming toxic, at least in some districts, Niou initially stated explicit support for BDS, claiming it was not antisemitic, but later walked this back.

In NY-16, however, a district that includes Westchester County, Squad member Rep. Jamaal Bowman defeated challengers by a wide margin while Rep. Ritchie Torres, an outspoken Israel supporter, won his election in the Bronx. One of the most hard fought races was in Michigan, where Haley Stevens defeated Rep. Andy Levin, a strong critic of Israel who was supported by J Street. While the race was characterized as a clash between J Street and AIPAC, local issues and Levin’s overheated attacks on Stevens appear to have been decisive.

The overall success of Democratic candidates supported by AIPAC and DMFI led to another round of bitter criticism that alleged the groups (especially AIPAC) were deliberately ‘dividing the American Jewish community.’ ‘IfNotNow’ promoted a typically antisemitic cartoon from Eli Valley blaming AIPAC for progressive losses in the primaries. Most observers noted, however, that pro-Israel PACs had supported the stronger candidates.

The controversy over the covert support for BDS from the corporate ratings agency Morningstar also expanded. The issue revolves around the use of anti-Israel sources and ‘human rights’ criteria to downgrade or exclude Israeli firms from investment ratings. It was revealed that a vice president at Morningstar subsidiary Sustainalytics, Heather Lang, had previously worked at the controversial Israeli ‘human rights’ group B’Tselem, which has a key role promoting the idea of Israel as an ‘apartheid state.’ Lang stepped down from Sustainalytics for unclear reasons and Morningstar reiterated that while it “does not support the anti-Israel BDS movement. Matters related to an individual’s employment are confidential.”

The inadequacy of the report on Sustainalytics by the law firm White and Case, which largely exonerated the firm and its parent, was reflected in the decision of 19 states to undertake investigations of the firm’s methods and ratings. A number of state Attorneys General have expressed concern or opened investigations, including Missouri’s, with Arizona’s state treasurer sending the firm a formal statement demanding a response. In addition, 17 Republican state financial officers sent a letter to the firm accusing it of “apparent alignment with the Boycott, Divestment [and] Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

A number of Jewish organizations have also urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to take action on a proposed rule on “Environmental, Social, and Governance Disclosures for Investment Advisers and Investment Companies.” The groups requested that the SEC ensure ratings agencies rethink methodologies, adopt transparent practices, and avoid inflammatory language regarding Israel.

Focus on the manipulation of investment ratings regarding Israel is a subset of the growing critique of ‘environmental, social, and governance’ (ESG) investing regarding its neglect of fiduciary responsibility toward shareholders and overt promotion of political agendas.

New reports revealed that after being targeted by the BDS movement, General Mills appears to have removed its Pillsbury brand entirely from Israel. The firm then provided misleading information to investors, claiming it was ending refrigerated dough sales as part of a larger global restructuring. In reality the firm appears to have only stopped sales in Israel. The JLens Investor Network has since added General Mills to its no invest list. In a statement the firm denied the allegation and claimed it was planning to bring more brands to Israel.

The ‘human rights’ industry and BDS supporting NGOs came under sharp criticism in August. A report from Amnesty International criticized the Ukrainian military for operating in urban areas and “putting civilians in harm’s way” and alleged that Western military aid was being diverted. The report was quickly excoriated for its absurdity given the nature of urban combat against Russia. Amnesty then issued a ‘clarification’ but its leaders accused critics of being ‘Russian trolls.’

A number of Amnesty staffers and supporters have resigned in disgust at the organization’s obvious bias. Observers noted, however, that unrelenting criticism of Israel from Amnesty and other organizations –critical to the BDS movement – proceeds on the same basis of taking anonymous or unverified accounts at face value, ignoring operational realities that provide necessary context, attacking critics, and using its reputation as a shield. Critics also noted that Amnesty and other ‘human rights’ organizations were conspicuously silent regarding the attempted murder of author Salman Rushdie, as were American Islamist organizations.

In the academic sphere, the student union of the University of Melbourne passed a BDS resolution that “supports the self-determination of the Palestinian people and their right to engage in self-defense against their occupiers” and “deems the use of Zionism to justify the illegal occupation of Palestine as racist and colonial.” In May a similar resolution was withdrawn after drawing criticism from the university. Both resolutions called for “armed struggle” against Israel. A class action lawsuit against the student union filed by a student alleging the resolution violates Australia’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act was filed earlier this year. Jewish students at the university protested the student union’s decision and reported feeling unsafe as a result of BDS activities on campus.

A Jewish student at McGill University filed a similar lawsuit against that school’s student union, the local pro-Palestinian student group, and the university itself, alleging that a proposed BDS resolution is “discriminatory, biased and antisemitic,” and “designed to create a climate of fear and intimidation against Jewish students attending McGill.” The resolution was tabled after the university threatened to withdraw a portion of its financial support for the student union.

Meanwhile, a student at the University of Leeds has sued that university alleging that an instructor had marked down her paper specifically because it did not condemn Israel for Hamas war crimes. This caused her to fail and then retake a course. An external reader recommended the grade be changed. The lawsuit alleges that the student was penalized for support of Israel and that she was the victim of overt discrimination. The university denied the allegations.

Continuing the theme of legal action, two Jewish students at SUNY New Paltz filed a complaint with the US Department of Education over their exclusion from a campus sexual assault awareness group on the basis of their support for Israel. The complaint recounted that the sexual assault awareness group stated to the Jewish students “We, as a group focused on combating oppression, can only consist of members who stand against all forms of oppression. We believe that having a member that does not share this viewpoint is not conducive to ending all forms of oppression and thus is not the right fit.”

In a similar vein, the Department of Education has opened an investigation against the University of Southern California regarding the targeting of a Jewish member of student government who was harassed because of her support for Israel.

At the City University of New York, a complaint was filed with the US Department of Education alleging that the university had become a “pervasively hostile environment for Jewish students.” The lawsuit recounts a long series of abusive actions against Jewish students and faculty to which the university responded either not at all or by defending those who attacked Jews, including physically. Two other Federal investigations of CUNY are underway. The complaint came as a ostensibly Jewish students and faculty at CUNY released a letter accusing Israel of “genocide” and ‘funding Nazi groups” and alleging the administration worked with ‘Zionist groups’ to ‘silence anti-Zionist voices.’

Intimidation targeting Jewish students was also notable in August. At Concordia University in Canada the pro-BDS group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Concordia co-sponsored a “Glory to Our Martyrs” rally to commemorate Palestinians killed in the recent Gaza conflict. Other rallies are scheduled around North America. The rally was also lauded in an op-ed that appeared in the student newspaper.

In an indication of the fall campus environment, the University of California at Berkeley Law School SJP chapter reported that nine ‘affinity’ groups had agreed to incorporate a by-law to support BDS and “include a Palestine-centered and de-colonial approach to holding club activities.” The groups pledged not to invite “Zionist speakers” in order to protect “the safety and welfare of Palestinian students.” The statement suggests “publicly stipulating [each] organization’s position of anti-racism and anti-settler colonialism to speakers, ensuring that proposals for speakers emphasize the organization’s desire for equality and inclusion,” or “informing speakers of the event’s goals and mission values.” Efforts are now underway to force all student groups to adopt BDS in their charters. The Law School dean condemned the measure.

Finally, in a related development, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released its “legislative Threats to Academic Freedom” which criticized adoption of the IHRA antisemitism definition. It stated that antisemitism was not a “special form of discrimination” in civil rights legislation but rather should be addressed only “as religious or race discrimination.”

Many BDS supporters defeated in Democratic primaries as ratings agency bias against Israel draws legal scrutiny. Universities and student groups hit with student lawsuits over BDS support and campus antisemitism.

  • Source: Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)b
  • Originally published on 09/01/2022
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Alex Joffe

Editor SPME / BDS Monitor

Alexander H. Joffe is an archaeologist and historian specializing in the Middle East and contemporary international affairs. He received a B.A. in History from Cornell University in 1981 and Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 1991. From 1980 to 2003 he participated in and directed archaeological research in Israel, Jordan, Greece and the United States. Joffe taught at the Pennsylvania State University and Purchase College, and has been Director of Research for Global Policy Exchange, Ltd., and The David Project, Center for Jewish Leadership.

Joffe's work is uniquely broad. Since 1991 he has published dozens of studies on the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and is a leading figure in contentious debates over the relationship between archaeology and politics in the Middle East. He has also authored numerous works on contemporary issues, including Middle Eastern environmental security threats from pollution and weapons of mass destruction. His work on the problem of dismantling intelligence agencies is widely cited by experts and democratic reformers alike.

In the past decade Joffe has written and spoken on topics as varied as the future of American Jews, the Palestinian refugee problem, and nationalism. During that time as well he has been deeply involved with combating the problems of campus antisemitism, the ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions' movement against Israel, and in educating Jews and others about threats to Israel and the West. His current projects include a biography of a British World War II general and several novels. He and his family reside near New York City.

Read all stories by Alex Joffe