The BDS movement advanced nationally in November, with anti-Israel legislation supported by BDS organization introduced in the US Congress. The results of resolutions on campus, however, were mixed, suggesting that persistence and outside help are critical to the progress of BDS. The role of faculty and outside forces advancing BDS was also demonstrated as the conspiracy to take over the American Studies Association was revealed in an unfolding lawsuit. A critical lesson is that BDS is not a grassroots movement but rather a Palestinian-Muslim Brotherhood-far left project aimed at Israel and the West as a whole.
November was an important month for BDS resolutions in academia. At the University of Michigan, a watered down BDS resolution passed after hours of contentious debate, that included antisemitism, catcalling, and other forms of harassment. The resolution was the 11th attempt by BDS supporters to force the university to divest from Israel.
The bill itself called on the university regents to form a committee to investigate divestment from Israel rather than to demand divestment. In this manner supporters cast the resolution as a procedural issue and not about Israel, implausibly claiming that it was neither a BDS resolution nor did it indicate alignment with the goals of the BDS movement. In response to the outcome, a spokesman announced that the university would not be divesting from Israel.
The debate was eight hours long and contentious, characterized by disingenuous and hostile rhetoric that drew heavily on personal accounts and ‘intersectional’ invocations of black and minority suffering. Undercover video also revealed BDS supporters harassing Jewish students, denying that Jews constituted a nation, and questioning non-violence. One faculty member who had spoken against BDS in previous debates was prevented from doing so on the basis that this would be a “structural power imbalance,” which is to say, his expertise constituted an unfair advantage. After the vote reports indicated the campus atmosphere had deteriorated, a fact borne out by the appearance of a swastika on a campus building.
In contrast, at the University of Maryland, after two hours of debate the student affairs committee charged with analyzing the BDS resolution recommended against it being brought to the full student government, much to the chagrin of supporters. Faculty and elected official also expressed opposition to the resolution. A BDS resolution was also defeated at the University of Ottawa.
The Michigan and Maryland contrasts are instructive. In both cases Arab and Muslim students took the lead, drawing heavily on far left allies and rhetoric of oppression. In the Michigan case, the role of ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ (JVP) appears to have been significant in convincing students of a ‘Jewish” case for BDS. The antisemitic rhetoric and behavior, including overt harassment, at Michigan, was also standard. Perhaps most significant is the importance of sheer persistence in finally forcing a BDS resolution to pass. But given the normal dynamics of student activity groups, where leaders and members turn over regularly, pressing a single issue on campus over a period of years is likely attributed to a high level of outside guidance.
In other campus news, the president of Rutgers University bizarrely claiming that drawing swastikas on university buildings is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. He also defended three antisemitic professors, including a former diplomat for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad who alleged Israelis stole organs of dead Palestinians, calling him a “well-respected scholar.” His position was severely criticized by Jewish and other sources.
Harassment and protests against Israeli, Jewish and Palestinian speakers opposed to BDS continued. At the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protestors shouted down Hen Mazzig, a former Israeli soldier who is also openly gay. SJP members also shouted down a presentation by conservative firebrand David Horowitz at the University of Houston. The appearance of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely at Princeton’s Hillel was canceled after protests from JVP and other groups. Hillel leaders later apologized. And Palestinian human rights campaigner Bassam Eid was almost assaulted during an appearance at a New York synagogue.
At McGill University, a Jewish student government leader who was removed after opposing a BDS resolution will retain his position along with two other students pending an investigation. These incidents were in keeping with the trend to shut down free speech on campus and promote BDS directly and through procedural means.
In an especially perverse example of anti-Israel provocation, BDS supporter and far left icon Linda Sarsour was invited, along with JVP head Rebecca Vilkomerson, to highlight a panel on antisemitism at the New School. The event was framed in terms of “Antisemitism is harmful and real. But when Antisemitism is redefined as criticism of Israel, critics of Israeli policy become accused and targeted more than the growing far-right. Join us for a discussion on how to combat Antisemitism today.” The panel therefore promoted the viewpoint that hatred of Israel is not inherently antisemitic and that it was a feature of the far right alone. The panel was loudly condemned by Jewish leaders, New York media, and by New School alums and faculty, including one who threatened to withdraw financial support for the institution.
Normalizing anti-Zionism by co-opting debates over antisemitism is an especially insidious tactic by BDS supporters, themselves antisemites who deny Jews rights to national identity and sovereignty, to control the narrative. Their growing domination of events and media presence– where appearances are frequent in the name of ‘openness’ and ‘diversity’ – is notable. So, too, are incidents where JVP harasses Jewish institutions and Israel-related events, using its putative ‘Jewishness’ as cover.
Elsewhere in academia, new evidence has emerged regarding the organized takeover of academic organizations by the BDS movement. A lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) has revealed that members of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) conducted a campaign to take over the organization by taking over the leadership. Participants concealed their plans for BDS and then manipulated the organization’s voting procedures to ensure passage of a BDS resolution. Similar methods by PACBI members are likely to have pushed BDS in other organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association and Middle East Studies Association.
In the political sphere, new legislation introduced in Congress seeks to “prevent United States tax dollars from supporting the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children.” Sponsored by Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and nine other members of the Democratic progressive caucus, the legislation’s alleges pervasive abuse of Palestinian children. But this allegation has been shown to originate with a number of BDS organizations, including Palestinian chapter of Defense of Children International (DCI-P), which is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The legislation was also endorsed by leading BDS groups including JVP, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Earlier this year the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ also passed anti-Israel resolutions based on DCI-P’s allegations.
The legislation is significant for several reasons, not least its direct connection to a terrorist organization. It demonstrates again that Palestinian factions within the PLO help orchestrate global BDS activities but more importantly that these narratives continue to gain support in far left political circles. These conditions are being recognized by American Muslim Brotherhood organization. McCollum and her cosponsors have a long track record of anti-Israel activity. She has also been endorsed by J Street, which continues to raise money for her.
In the international sphere, concerns continue to rise regarding the United Nations Human Rights Council blacklist of Israeli and other firms doing business in communities across the Green Line. Reports indicate the US and Israel are using all diplomatic methods to prevent the list from being published. Though non-binding, the resolution would cast a pall over doing business in Israel and would be used as the basis for international lawsuits. It remains unclear whether publication of the list would finally prompt the US to leave the council.
Finally, in cultural news, Australian musician Nick Cave performed in Israel. He stated at a news conference that his appearance was explicitly motivated as a rebuke to the BDS movement. Leading BDS figures, including Roger Waters, had called on Cave not to perform in Israel, and Waters excoriated him after the shows. For his part, a German television network canceled an upcoming concert by Waters after protests regarding his antisemitic views.
In contrast, British singer Morrissey vocally condemned the BDS movement, calling it ‘absurd,’ and attributing hatred of Israel to jealousy. Morrissey has also included several songs praising Israel on his latest album. These developments suggest that bullying of artists by ‘establishment’ BDS figures such as Waters may be backfiring.