BDS explodes on international stage as Israel bans Tlaib and Omar. California draft curriculum is delayed after outcry over treatment of Israel and Jews

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August saw the provocation engineered by BDS supporting representatives Tlaib and Omar come to a head as they were denied entry into Israel. The predictable outcries regarding ‘disrespect’ allegedly shown to Congress demonstrated that both American political parties expect Israel to kowtow, while the revelation that their trip was supported by a blood libel spouting Palestinian NGO was suppressed. The stunt showed that the Palestinian victimhood narrative cannot be easily challenged, and that BDS and Israel stand as a litmus test in American politics.


The most important BDS incident in August was the refusal by Israel to admit to leading BDS supporters, Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Announced in early July, initial reports indicated that they would indeed be admitted but at the very last moment the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced they would not. Their trip was to come at the end of a tour organized by AIPAC that brought 72 members of Congress to Israel that had been strongly opposed by the BDS movement.

Shortly after being banned, a humanitarian visa was offered to Tlaib to visit her grandmother in the West Bank but she refused. After declining the offer it was revealed that Tlaib had been warned against ‘normalization’ by pro-BDS and Palestinian sources. For her part, Tlaib’s grandmother cursed US President Trump.

After the ban was announced it was revealed that the trip was to have been sponsored by a Palestinian NGO called Miftah led by PLO stalwart Hanan Ashrawi. Their itinerary only included ‘Palestine’ and meetings with Palestinian and NGO officials. Miftah is a leading BDS supporter and in the past has posted a variety of literal blood libels regarding Jews and Passover on its website and glorified Palestinian terrorists. Failure to publicize this information was a major Israeli public diplomacy failure.

In later statements Tlaib and Omar refused to address any of these issues and lied regarding the ‘opportunity missed’ to meet Israeli as well as Palestinian officials. They later went on to share social media a cartoon by the antisemitic French illustrator Latuff, previously a finalist in the Iranian ‘Holocaust Cartoon Contest,’ showing them being ‘silenced’ by Trump and Netanyahu.

In a press conference, Omar demanded that the US cut aid to Israel and give ‘full rights to Palestinians.’ Other progressive Democrats demanded a halt to Congressional travel to Israel and a wider group of Democrats were reported to be considering retaliatory action against the Israeli ambassador to the US and the US ambassador to Israel. Unsurprisingly, Tlaib quickly used the incident in fundraising appeals.

Both Omar and Tlaib claimed that the incident was a racist ‘Muslim ban’ similar to what they allege the US has enacted and that their association with an antisemitic organization was a ‘distraction.’ Their racialization of the incident, though another lie, is in keeping with the larger trend of the BDS movement and increasingly of American politics and media.

All the Democratic presidential candidates were challenged on the issue of Tlaib’s and Omar’s association with antisemites but none responded. Similarly, no mainstream media outlet ran the story, which was relegated almost exclusively to ‘conservative’ media. This effectively protected their BDS narrative from its antisemitic basis.

Some critics from the left expressed astonishment that Tlaib’s and Omar’s association with an antisemitic organization and sharing of antisemitic materials were not being challenged by fellow Democrats. But a stronger reaction came from Jewish BDS supporters such as Peter Beinart who claimed that the entire incident was designed to ‘silence’ Tlaib and Omar and ‘hide the occupation’, that their antisemitism was an exaggerated and irrelevant distraction, and that Palestinian terrorism was unfairly raised to discredit critics of the ‘occupation.’

But in a sign that the consensus on the left is not absolute, gadfly late night host Bill Maher stated that the BDS movement was a “bullshit purity test. BDS is a bullshit purity test by people who want to appear woke but actually slept through history class.” In response, Tlaib called for a boycott of his show and compared Israel to apartheid South Africa. Maher then mocked Tlaib saying “Some people have one move only: boycott. Cancel. Make-go-away… “But here’s the thing, the house voted 318 to 17 to condemn the #BDS movement, including 93% of Dems. Does Tlaib want to boycott 93% of her own party?”

The entire incident was partially overshadowed by President Trump’s disturbingly garbled and perplexing statement regarding American Jews’ “disloyalty.” But the gaps over Israel and BDS within the Democratic Party and Congress as a whole are now fully exposed, with most presidential candidates comfortably expressing support for Tlaib and Omar and their sense of entitlement and identity politics, with some endorsing their specific policies.

In another sign that BDS is now a shared campaign by the far left and the far right, sometimes indirectly, a report demonstrated that neo-Nazis had coordinated an effort to impersonate religious Jews online and express opposition to the ‘occupation’ and support for BDS and for ‘Jewish Voice for Peace.’ This went as far as to use photos of Jews from other social media sites. Within hours after being exposed the accounts were shut.

In related news, the BDS organization ‘If Not Now’ was caught deceptively editing comments by Senator Bernie Sanders, in which he condemned Palestinian leaders along with Israeli ‘racism.’ Only the latter element was retained even though Sanders had shared the entire exchange on his website.

In academia the focus was on a proposed ‘ethnic studies’ curriculum to satisfy a state requirement for California high schools. Among other things the curriculum ignored the contribution of Jews to the US and ignored the problem of antisemitism while endorsing the Palestinian view of the conflict and tacitly supporting BDS. Reports also indicated that the drafters of the curriculum included a number of BDS supporters

The proposal generated a firestorm of criticism from dozens of Jewish and other ethnic groups as well as media outlets, which denounced the jargon-laden and ideologically skewed curriculum. Responding to the controversy, California Governor Gavin Newsom apologized and stated the draft curriculum would “never see the light of day.”

The controversy about the California curriculum also came as concerns were being again raised about the involvement of Federally funded university Middle East Studies centers in creating anti-Israel education materials for high schools (such as a teacher training program that was also produced with backing from the Qatar Foundation International), a proposed ethnic studies requirement for the California State University system that omits mention of Jews and antisemitism, as well as Islamist teacher training materials aimed at K-12 that glorified Islam and denigrated Israel, Judaism and the US.

In other news from academia, a BDS resolution proposed in the ‘Society for the Study of Social Problems” failed by a narrow margin. Only 71 of some 2000 members bothered to vote altogether, reflecting the ability of extremists to hijack entire organizations with only limited support. Elsewhere, the European mental health association ENMESH also announced it was reconsidering its decision to not hold its conference in Israel. These incidents show that pushback against BDS can be successful. But a resolution that is scheduled to be discussed but not voted on at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association also shows how the process of subverting academic organizations begins.

BDS explodes on international stage as Israel bans Tlaib and Omar. California draft curriculum is delayed after outcry over treatment of Israel and Jews

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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

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