BDS on campus suffered setbacks in April but succeeded when Jews were effectively excluded from debates by the Passover holidays. The passage of BDS resolutions during Passover demonstrates the movement’s underhandedness and antisemitism, while the growing anti-free speech movement threatens to make pro-Israel stances ‘intersectionally’ unacceptable. These developments and the celebration of BDS advocates show how BDS has been normalized as a progressive ‘value.’
April saw a number of important BDS developments on campus. Student governments at Columbia University and the University of Bath defeated BDS resolutions, while others were approved at Tufts University and Pitzer College. Another resolution was narrowly defeated at the University of British Columbia in a campus referendum. In response the resolution, Tufts’ trustees quickly issued a statement that the university “will not divest from companies doing business in Israel.”
A BDS resolution at the University of Wisconsin was indefinitely postponed after six hours of debate. The debate included an angry walkout by campus delegates disgusted by the resolution’s timing. But the incident also featured the covert reinsertion of language condemning Israel into a separate resolution that called on the university to support various causes. Jewish students condemned the ambush and the university issued a statement reiterating its opposition to BDS.
The Tufts and Pitzer resolutions were brought and voted on votes just before the Passover holiday when many Jewish students were away from campus. The Wisconsin statement was issued after the debate had been closed and a resolution text seemingly ratified. Such antisemitic ambush tactics are routine for BDS supporters, in particular Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters. Jewish students at both schools expressed shock at being ambushed.
The manner in which BDS bills were both approved and rejected by student governments is telling. At Columbia and Bath the rejections took place after open debate. At Tufts and Claremont bills were approved after limited debate that was timed to exclude Jewish students. Further evidence of the deliberate timing of BDS activities was seen in the Passover scheduling of ‘apartheid week’ at Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, and the University of Minnesota.
At Harvard ‘apartheid week’ included distribution by the local SJP chapter of fake ‘detention notices’ aimed at illegal aliens. This ‘intersectional’ attempt at hijacking another movement failed, however, when students expressed upset at the notices. The SJP chapter and a Latino group were forced to apologize for the stunt.
These incidents demonstrate the manner in which the BDS movement strives to capture other movements, its habitual use of underhanded and antisemitic tactics, and willingness to poison the campus environment.
The Passover ambushes should be set into additional contexts. One is the holiday’s now traditional hijacking by leading BDS group ‘Jewish Voice for Peace.’ Their ‘haggadah’ called for Israel to be boycotted, Palestinian ‘liberatory movements’ to be celebrated, and which with the call ‘next year in al-Quds’ rather than Jerusalem. Of particular note is the ‘intersectional’ demand for an end to US-Israel police training, which the ‘haggadah’ alleges to be responsible for US police shootings of African-Americans. Another Passover incident was seen in ‘Passover Against Apartheid’ posters at Concordia University, put up by pro-BDS students.
Both religious and non-religious Jewish concepts, including Israeli laws, are BDS targets. Examples of manipulation and blackmail are being played out by Americans for Peace Now, which has canceled its summer trip to Israel on the grounds that members could be subject to Israel’s new law giving authorities the ability to prevent entry of BDS advocates, and by a group of J Street backed students who are challenging Birthright regarding the Israeli policy as it applies to boycotts of ‘settlements.’
These incidents demonstrate that no Jewish religious, social or cultural concept or institution is immune from hijacking in the name of BDS. Indeed, this appears increasingly the case for Jewish spaces such as Hillel, as well as campus progressivism as a whole, where there is growing evidence that opposition to Israel is a litmus test and being Jewish is a priori evidence of unacceptable attitudes.
Another important context is the rising climate of anti-free speech protests and violence on college and university campuses. A specifically anti-Israel and pro-BDS example unfolded at SOAS London where students and staff objected to a talk by the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom on the grounds that it was ‘deliberately provocative’ and “could lead to serious tension and substantial distress.” One protestor was quoted saying “We should not be giving platforms to hate speech. Freedom of speech is bullshit.”
A similar talk by the Israeli ambassador to France at an elite Paris-area university was also disrupted by BDS protestors. A hastily planned talk at San Francisco State University by the mayor of Jerusalem was canceled after the school failed to adequately promote the event. The presence of Israel in real or conceptual form is sufficient to cause dramatic and often violent outbursts.
Events other than formal speeches have also been targeted, such as at the University of Georgia where a pro-Israel cultural festival was protested by the local SJP chapter, which alleged that Israel was a ‘racist apartheid state’ and had ‘appropriated’ Palestinian culture. A similar protest occurred in March at the University of Texas at Austin.
More ominous is escalating use of violence to shut down speakers and deny their viewpoints have any legitimacy, trends that began with the BDS movement’s small-scale violence and intimidation against pro-Israel speakers. This was on display in April at UCLA and Claremont McKenna College, as well as at Middlebury College and the University of California at Berkeley. Not surprisingly, Claremont protestors also chanted “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free.”
The expunging of free speech from campus is proceeding in the name of ‘safe space’ and ‘emotional distress,’ on the grounds that hurt feelings are as valid and meaningful as facts and the openness of debate, and that speakers and viewpoints deemed unacceptable are unfit to be heard and should be countered with violence. Both inarticulate and articulate attacks on campus free speech are increasing, pairing groundless accusations of ‘fascism’ with explanations that ‘deliberately provocative’ speech should not be tolerated.
The ‘intersectional’ structure of anti-free speech movements is successfully having a chilling effect on any speech deemed ‘controversial,’ and threatens to make pro-Israel stances de facto ‘conservative’ speech and hence unacceptable.
There were several important BDS developments in the political sphere. The Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill forbidding state entities from doing business with companies boycotting Israel. The bill is expected to be signed by the governor in May. Similar bills also passed the Kansas House and the Minnesota legislature.
The manner in which BDS advocacy has become a passport to wider progressive acceptance has been demonstrated by the invitation by a City University of New York branch to Linda Sarsour to deliver a commencement address, a decision the school has defended. Sarsour was recently featured, along with convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, at the ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ convention.
Elsewhere, Democratic New York City Council candidate, Palestinian-American Khader El-Yateem, announced his “100 percent support for BDS”. El-Yateem received support from Linda Sarsour. Another City Council candidate, Thomas Lopez-Pierre, is running on a platform opposing “greedy Jewish landlords” In a similar case, a British parliamentary candidate, Ashuk Ahmed, was suspended by the Liberal Democratic Party after it was revealed that he had alleged that other parties were controlled by “Zionist paymasters” and that ISIS was created by “Jewish media and their gentile pawns.” A second Lib Dem candidate, David Ward, was also suspended for antisemitic comments.
On a more positive note, in the international sphere, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated “A modern form of anti-Semitism is the denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist.” The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross representative to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Jacques De Maio, also stated “No, there is no apartheid here, no regime of superiority of race, of denial of basic human rights to a group of people because of their alleged racial inferiority.” And French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron renewed his condemnation of BDS, which he called “anti-Zionist moves, thus profoundly antisemitic.” It is unlikely these forceful statements will influence BDS rhetoric.