BDS in July accelerated efforts to divide the American Jewish community from Israel and to intensify internal divisions in the latter. Two incidents where Birthright participants walked off their tours in protest over ‘not being told about the occupation’ illustrate how this uniquely successful Jewish institution is under sustained assault precisely because it has brought American Jews closer to Israel. The Jewish connection to Israel is the latest target of the BDS movement, particularly for anti-Zionist Jews. Coupled with antisemitism crises in major political parties, the impact of BDS on political systems throughout the world has become profound.
Some of the most significant BDS developments in July came in the Jewish arena. On two occasions Birthright participants walked off their tours in protest over allegedly not being shown the Israeli ‘occupation’ and joined BDS group tours. It was later revealed that these actions were not spontaneous but that the individuals were members of the BDS group IfNotNow. In one case Birthright canceled the individuals’ return tickets prompting them to solicit funds.
Despite the recent incidents, Birthright officials have announced that they will not vet applicants. This decision also demonostrates the impossible dilemmas BDS creates for Jewish institutions. If vetting is done and applicants are rejected, the organization will be accused of exclusion and censorship. If applicants are not vetting, BDS groups will continued to exploit and subvert the organization from within.
The results of the provocations were predictable condemnations and applause, divided along political lines. Despite its proven track record of decreasing distance between young American Jews and Israel, Birthright is simultaneously accused of being insufficiently Zionist, not inclusive enough of anti-Zionism, and captive of ‘right wing donors.’ This is a variation of the trap created for American Jewish institutions by the Jewish wing of the BDS movement in order to undermine social cohesion and institutional viability.
In other news, Israel has barred a number of prominent BDS activists from entering the country, including a South African celebrity, a Spanish BDS leader, and American BDS figure Ariel Gold. The South African was later invited to Israel by the government, which stated that she was being effectively being blackmailed by the BDS movement into making expressions of support.
The uproar over IfNotNow’s Birthright provocations and barring BDS activists from Israel, however, has also revealed a new dimension to the BDS movement’s Jewish strategy, deliberately creating a political problem for the Reform movement by alleging Israel’s actions are anti-democratic. Targeting the most politically liberal wing of American Judaism, which already feels slighted over its treatment by the Israeli rabbinate and the government, is transparent but clever. Reform vulnerability to its own left wing will likely expand.
Overall, beginning with campus provocations over ‘Open Hillel,’ BDS has thrust itself fully into the much discussed problems of Israel-Diaspora relations by attempting to undermine mainstream Jewish institutions. These are typically cast in terms of young American Jews alienation from Israel’s ‘nationalism,’ seemingly illiberal behavior towards Palestinians, and its very nature, exemplified by its treatment of the non-Orthodox and, most recently, the passage of the nation-state bill defining Israel as the Jewish state.
But with a few exceptions (in Israel itself), Jewish anti-Zionism remains overwhelmingly a North American Ashkenazi phenomenon that unironically projects its own deracinated cultural values onto a poorly understood Israel comprised of diverse Jewish communities. Specific criticisms of various policies may be well founded, such as protests against the Rabbinate. But most Israeli policies are disaggregated and ad hoc responses to contingent situations, such as the lack of any historical or cultural resonance for Reform and Conservative Judaism even by non-religious Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Not surprisingly, however, mainstream media valorizes the rejection of Israel and the American Jewish consensus by a small Jewish minority.
But the values exemplified by IfNotNow and ‘Jewish Voice for Peace,’ where religion is devolved to simplistic formulae, national identity is derided, and security concerns dismissed, is also signaling a confluence of Jewish anti-Zionism with the emerging ‘democratic socialism.’ It is therefore not surprising that the ‘Democratic Socialists of America’ adopted a BDS plank, as has the ‘Socialist International.’ The rapid takeover by ‘democratic socialists’ is already having an effect on the Democratic Party and will pose significant problems for American Jews in coming elections.
The normalization of Israel-hatred and BDS through ‘intersectionality’ and ‘wokeness’ as means of virtue signaling, was also demonstrated by an article in Teen Vogue magazine which blamed Israel for the alleged wave of police violence in the United States. This accusation is now reaching ever-younger audiences as an explicit fashion statement, in part because platforms such as Teen Vogue must continue to find the edgiest perspective on an ever-expanding range of issues in order to stay relevant in the hyper-competitive media market.
Pushing BDS and antisemitism onto younger audiences is complemented by the expansion of anti-Israel programming into high schools and middle schools. This occurs through the employment of BDS supporters as teachers, as was the case at en elite private schools in Philadelphia and New York City, the use of anti-Israel teaching materials as in Newton, Massachusetts, and through direct partnerships with Islamic and Arab groups, as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Signaling a school’s ‘tolerance’ by celebrating Islam and denigrating Israel has long been a feeding mechanism for BDS, which is now achieving new synergies with mass media.
There were several noteworthy BDS related developments in academia. San Francisco State University refused to take further action against a faculty member, Rabab Abdulhadi, who declared on social media that Zionists were not welcome on campus and that she was ashamed of the apology offered to Jewish students by the university president over past harassment.
Abdulhadi remains director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program and advisor to the schools General Union of Palestine Students, the predecessor of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has orchestrated harassment of Jewish and Israeli students. The university’s refusal to take action, such as removing her from a leadership role or cutting funding to her program, effectively endorses her formal statement that she is creating a hostile learning environment.
The ability of public university faculty unions to support political causes through their lobbying, including BDS, appears to have been restricted by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus case regarding the power of unions to collect due from non-union members. One observer notes that that New York State’s public faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, had condemned Israel and recommended divestment.
Meanwhile, a Federal judge ruled that the lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) may proceed. The suit alleges members covertly planned to take over the organization for the purpose of subverting its mission and adopting BDS. Takeovers similar to that of the ASA have been attempted in numerous academic organization by BDS supporters, including by many of the same individuals.
The attempted recall of the newly elected president and vice president of the University of California at Davis student government failed. The individuals were accused of being “racist, homophobic, sexist, trans-antagonistic, Zionist, conservative, etc.” and of having committed voter fraud. The local SJP branch then published an op-ed stating that peace is impossible “so long as the state of Israel exists.”
The Tulane SJP chapter also warned the university not to collaborate with Israeli institutions, while a Stanford SJP member threatened that he would “physically fight zionists on campus next year.” After the threat was widely publicized the student changed the wording of his social media posting to ‘intellectually fight.’ These incidents were a small reminder of the harassment and intimidation regularly used by SJPs, but also their vulnerability to embarrassment when such behavior is publicized.
In international news, the most important development was the British Labour Party’s rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in favor of its own version, which demands proof of an individual’s “antisemitic intent.” The Party’s version excludes virulent expressions of anti-Israel bias, including equating Israel with Nazi Germany, that Israel is inherently racist, and accusations that Jews have dual loyalties. Observers have noted that if Labour had adopted the full definition of antisemitism, it would have been compelled to sanction or expel countless members, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The move, which was supported by the party’s ruling organs dominated by Corbyn’s far left and antisemitic Momentum group and by fringe Jewish anti-Israel organizations it created, effectively puts antisemites in charge of defining antisemitism. Unlike any other minority group in Britain, Jews are thus barred from defining what constitutes prejudice against them.
The Labour Party stance enraged British Jewry and produced outcries and protests that expressed fear that Corbyn was an “existential threat” to the community. The party quickly censured members critical of its new stance; in contrast, antisemites, about whom numerous complaints have been made for over two years, remain largely untouched. The decision also touched off a storm of antisemitic abuse directed at the Jewish community and its supporters for their ‘disloyalty’ against Corbyn and Labour. These attacks have included bizarre allegations that the Mossad had conspired with the editors to British Jewish newspapers to attack Corbyn. Critics warn that Labour is effectively institutionally antisemitic, and that Britain is courting disaster should Corbyn be elected Prime Minister.
The bizarre and infuriating paradox of antisemites defining antisemitism to exclude their own anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and traditionally antisemitic stances, and accusing Jews and others of bad faith, disloyalty, and even of antisemitism against Jews who hate Israel, is expanding rapidly. Efforts to gain semantic and institutional control over the definition of antisemitism demonstrate the enduring power of the issue.
But the Labour Party’s trajectory continues to be a warning, or harbinger, of developments within the US Democratic Party, particularly with much promoted candidacies of anti-Israel figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar for the House of Representatives, Maria Estrada for the California State Assembly, and Abdul El-Sayed for Governor of Michigan. Ocasio-Cortez’s forthcoming appearance along side BDS activist Linda Sarsour at an Islamist conference is an indication of the progressing red-green alliance within US politics.
Elsewhere, a High Court in the Spanish state of Asturias ruled that Israel boycotts by municipalities and states are unconstitutional. After legal action Israel boycotts have been ruled illegal and reversed in dozens of Spanish states and municipalities but more localities continue to adopt motions regardless, most recently the city of Valencia and a nearby town.
The defiance of court rulings suggests that Israel hatred is a supra-legal issue in Spain that is undermining the rule of law. The announcement by the Spanish Justice Minister that it expected to reinstate the policy of universal jurisdiction that allowed foreigners, particularly Israelis, to be tried in Spanish courts, also indicates that Spanish foreign policy will be aligned with supra-legal norms.
Finally, the Irish Senate approved a bill criminalizing trade with Israeli ‘settlements.’ The legislation demands heavy fines and prison sentences for individuals and companies importing, selling to, or providing services to entities located in the ‘settlements.’ Observers warned that the wording of the bill was so broad that it would criminalize purchase of souvenirs and taxi rides across the ‘Green Line.’ More substantively, the legislation will jeopardize American corporations based in Ireland by putting them in violation of US laws regarding politically motivated Israel boycotts, as well as European Union regulations. The bill, which was praised by Palestinians and BDS supporters, including Hamas, must still pass through other levels of the Irish legislature.