BDS co-opts George Floyd protests, blames Israel for US police violence. Europeans threaten boycotts as ‘annexation’ looms.

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June was dominated by the sudden onset of global protests over the police killing of George Floyd, for which Israel was immediately blamed, and which escalated into broad institutional and social condemnation of ‘whiteness’ and ‘colonialism’ and the ‘canceling’ of critics. ‘Cancel culture,’ which has strong roots in the campus BDS movement, and the hijacking of the Floyd incident and ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, demonstrate how antisemitic bias is seamlessly grafted onto any contemporary issue, movement, or institution.


In a sudden shift from blaming Israel and Jews for the coronavirus pandemic, BDS news in June was dominated by the killing of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police department.

This outrage was immediately hijacked by the BDS movement and its allies, including the Democratic Socialists of America, which stated on social media that “The police violence happening tonight in Minneapolis is straight out of the IDF playbook” and that “US cops train in Israel.” The BDS group US Campaign for Palestinian Rights also explicitly identified Palestinians as ‘people of color’ on social media stating “The Israeli military trains US police in racist and repressive policing tactics, which systematically targets black and brown bodies.” Situating Palestinians as ‘people of color’ while characterizing Jews as ‘white’ has been a long-term project of the BDS movement and Arab lobby in the US.

Accusations that Israeli police training programs undertaken by organizations such as the ADL and JINSA are responsible for police violence in the US goes back at least to the 2014 unrest in Ferguson. The ‘Deadly Exchange’ program run by the BDS group ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ has worked at the campus and grassroots political levels to disseminate the idea that Israeli police training programs are uniquely violent and evil. In fact, the programs are oriented toward counterterrorism and community relations and not street level tactics and methods. Comments from Israeli police sources also emphasized that the techniques used against George Floyd are not taught or authorized in Israel.

The protests that followed in the US and Europe featured signs blaming Israel for police violence and Palestinian flags were common. Social media campaigns featured the slogan “Palestinian Lives Matter” and Palestinian social media also depicted Floyd in a kaffiyah while in Iran he was depicted as a Shia martyr along side Qassem Soleimani.

In nights of unrest that followed, ‘Black Lives Matters’ and ‘Antifa’ inspired rioting featured attacks on commercial centers in cities across the US with particular attention paid to Jewish sites, including businesses, synagogues, and cemeteries. ‘Free Palestine’ and other slogans were scrawled on synagogues in Los Angeles and other cities while cries of ‘fuck the police and kill the Jews’ were reported.

The connections between the protests and the BDS movement were more than conceptual. One of two lawyers arrested for attempting to throw of Molotov cocktail into a New York police vehicle, Urooj Rahman, interned with the anti-Israel group Mada Al-Carmel and spent a summer in the West Bank. Bail for Rahman and fellow accused Colinford Mattis was paid by lawyer Salmah Rizvi, whose legal education was funded by CAIR and who was a fellow with the BDS group Al-Haq before working on intelligence matters at the Defense and State Departments.

Both left and right wing groups capitalized on the rioting and blamed Jews and Israel. The left wing groups are typified by a report from Amnesty International that falsely blamed Israeli for American police violence. Further left are claims from former Pink Floyd bass player and BDS activist Roger Waters’ allegations that American Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is the “puppet master” controlling President Trump and that America’s ‘militarized police forces’ were taught to ‘murder black people’ by the Israeli military. Waters later apologized for his remarks regarding Adelson and police violence but emphasized Israel’s “racist system of apartheid and military occupation.”

Among the right wing conspiratorial theories that circulated was that billionaire philanthropist George Soros was responsible for funding protestors. In fact, Soros was a key funder of a national effort to elect progressive District Attorneys as part of longstanding efforts to reduce incarceration. These District Attorneys have almost uniformly declined to charge rioters with larceny or assault.

In the media, the New York Review of Books echoed the allegations regarding Israel police training, while the BDS movement’s platform Electronic Intifada targeted an editor at Newsweek, alleging he was ‘racist’ for supporting Israel and the possibility of ‘annexation’ of the West Bank, as well as for calling for ‘law and order’ in the US. The New York Times’ appointment of a new opinion editor previously employed by the harshly anti-Israel The Intercept promises to mainstream BDS further.

The usurpation of other aspects of black American life also continued with BDS supporter Linda Sarsour headlining a Juneteenth rally hosted by Muslims for Abolition’, advertising for which excluded “cops & Zionists.” BDS supporters like Representative Ilhan Omar were also prominent in arguing for police to be ‘defunded’ or ‘abolished.’ A ‘day of rage’ planned by BDS groups to protest Israeli ‘annexation’ demanded “the defunding and dismantling of US police alongside the defunding and dismantling of Zionist colonialism and racist Israeli apartheid.”

Allegations against Israel related to the Floyd incident and ‘defunding the police’ quickly emerged on campus. The student government at the University of California at San Diego passed a resolution calling for the campus police to be defunded’ but demands that the university divest from Israel were dropped.

For their part SJP chapters across the country published variant statements of a statement of “Solidarity with the Uprising for Black Life and Liberation” alleging that:

Systemic racism and oppression are central to the function of the U.S. and Israel as settler-colonial and carceral states. The struggles for Palestinians and Black liberation under the institutional regimes of apartheid and segregation, mass incarceration, racial capitalism, and white-supremacy are deeply intertwined. In 2018, Jewish Voice for Peace launched the ‘Deadly Exchange’ campaign to raise critical awareness about the harms of military exchanges and trainings conducted by the Israeli military to equip U.S. police with tactics that reinforce racial profiling and excessive force.

The statements demanded “complete divestment from all such institutions [Textron, Caterpiller, Raytheon, Safariland Group] in line with the Palestine-led BDS Movement. Our university must end its criminal complicity by severing ties with companies profiting off of such violence globally.”

More ominously a series of statements issued throughout the University of California system claimed:

This complicity goes beyond domestic policing. We also call on the UC to divest from companies that profit off of Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine, investments that uphold a system of anti-Black racism in the US. We know the Minneapolis police were also trained by Israeli counter-terrorism officers. The knee-to-neck choke-hold that Chauvin used to murder George Floyd has been used and perfected to torture Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces through 72 years of ethnic cleansing and dispossession. Police departments view Israeli Defense Force tactics as models for responding to ‘public health and safety crises… Neocolonial state violence extends from the US, to Israel, to the Philippines, to the UCs. The complicity of the UC system with Israeli settler colonization is directly tied to its complicity with the American lynching, settler and imperial state. We demand an end to this complicity… We live and work in the communities of California, brutalized by police and state violence. We demand the UC act on our demands… UC, the time is now: 1) End all police contracts, abolish police departments on campuses and redistribute those resources to those in need. 2) Divest from companies that profit off Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestine. 3) Return Indigenous lands and material relatives to their Indigenous communities.

The statement was signed by the usual Arab, Muslim, left wing, and Jewish groups but also dozens of other groups unrelated to politics, including the Bone Health Initiative and the UC Davis American Sign Language Club, as well as hundreds of graduate students. The signatories demonstrate that intersectional pressure demands conformity as price for admission to campus life and that a large number of future academics are totally in agreement with the nearly religious level of anti-Israel fervor.

The ‘cancel culture’ now seen widely throughout society arguably began on campus and was focused against Israel and its supporters. It has now spread to any deviation from ‘black lives matter’ and other ideologies. In an example from campus, a prominent economist who criticized the ‘defund the police’ rhetoric was denounced and then removed from a consulting position with the Federal Reserve and may be removed from his position as editor of a journal. In the media, Senator Tom Cotton’s op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that military forces might be necessary to quell urban unrest brought massive condemnation within the newspaper itself and prompted the resignation of the editor and calls for leading Jewish writers to be removed.

In another ideological driven incident, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling expressed doubt that transgender individuals were women, prompting widespread outrage and rapid condemnation from entertainment elites and employees of her publisher. These youth-led attacks demonstrate that deviance from newly created social norms bring ‘cancellation.’

The Floyd related protests also rapidly escalated with efforts to remove symbols of the Confederacy and ‘settler-colonial’ figures such as Christopher Columbus, US Presidents including Jackson and Grant, and even abolitionists such as Hans Christian Heg.

These various cancellations must also be set in the context of ongoing rebellions by the staffs of technology companies such as Facebook and Google over the companies’ refusal to censor statements by President Trump, and efforts to manipulate those companies by political adversaries and ostensibly non-partisan entities into demonetizing or canceling other individuals or organizations deemed ‘hateful.’ Observers note, however, that explicit expressions of antisemitism, such as from Ilhan Omar or rapper Ice Cube, do not result in ‘cancellation.’

The relative impunity of antisemites to cancellation was also displayed on campus in the case of the incoming student government president, Palestinian-American Ahmad Daraldik, at Florida State University. Discovery of his antisemitic social media postings resulted in a meeting of the student government at which his presidency was reaffirmed. This came two weeks after the student government ousted a white Catholic as president for statements critical of Black Lives Matter, abortion, and ‘transgenderism.’

The local SJP chapter characterized efforts to remove Daraldik “as racially and politically motivated to smear and silence Palestinian students and critics of the state of Israel.” A statement from another student government official, Rawan Abhari, “The fsu zionist community is a bunch of rich white hypocrites who looked the other way when black people were being murdered by the police and now are tryna dig up old shit bc they don’t like seeing a Palestinian person in a position of power,” did result in an apology.

In a bland statement the university’s president took “this opportunity to unequivocally state that we will not tolerate discrimination against groups or individuals” and reassured Jewish students that “FSU remains a community that embraces them.” Florida Republicans also condemned the state’s Democrats for failing to speak out against Daraldik, as did the Jewish legislative caucus, while an online petition calling for his ouster has garnered several thousand signatures.

A similar situation emerged at Pomona College where the student government president, Palestinian-American Malak Afaneh, posted that “6 million people died in the Holocaust, we still commemorate it to this day. 18.4 MILLION people are dying in Yemen RIGHT NOW. That’s 3 holocausts at once…SILENCE IS COMPLIANCE!!!” and added, “once again, zionist-Israel-birthright-vacation-stuck-on-comparing-holocaust-to-racism-WW2-worshipping bitches, this should be right up ur alley. Oh wait u hate brown ppl.” The student offered a weak apology and was defended by the administration but calls from Jewish student groups for her to resign have thus far been ignored.

The moral panic surrounding the issues of police violence, ‘decolonization,’ and ‘whiteness,’ and the escalating severity of ‘cancel culture’ has ominous implications. Demands for demonstrations of loyalty to what is in effect a Puritanical belief system onto which BDS and antisemitism have been long grafted place supporters of Israel, Jews and others in impossible situations. The campus ostracism and deplatforming of Israel supporters that helped originate this culture has spread to society at large. Failure to condemn all the intersectional enemies targeted is to risk cancellation. In practical terms this means risking jobs, private and public funding, and social standing. With institutions refusing to defend free speech or variant opinions, indeed, with freedom of speech being condemned as a ‘right wing value,’ it is increasingly likely that expressions of support for Israel will be restricted.

In the international sphere, European threats to sanction Israel should ‘annex’ portions of the West Bank escalated, while the ‘United Nations Human Rights Council’ called for an arms embargo. Despite UN Secretary General António Guterres’ description of annexation as being “calamitous” for the region, the extent of potential European sanctions remains unclear, with some sources predicting only symbolic measures as a result of European divisions and American opposition. American sources have in turn noted that sanctions against Israel run counter to US law and would jeopardize European firms.

BDS co-opts George Floyd protests, blames Israel for US police violence. Europeans threaten boycotts as ‘annexation’ looms.

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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