The fall semester began with attacks by Progressive Democrats on US aid to Israel. At the same time, attacks on free speech by BDS-related groups were made in the context of 9/11 commemorations. These complemented continuing efforts to reframe 9/11 in terms of ‘Islamophobia’ and to put ‘Palestine’ at the heart of pedagogy, politics, and discourse. The ‘Squad’s’ failed opposition to Iron Dome funding also put ‘Palestine’ at the center of Congressional business. These obsessions reflect the successful colonization of narratives and institutions by BDS and the relegation of Israel and Jews to secondary if not demonic status.
The fall semester began with the American evacuation of Afghanistan and the takeover by the Taliban. No condemnations of the Taliban, including for documented murder and abuse of women and children, were made by the BDS movement, or various student and faculty groups and politicians that had vociferously attacked Israel during the May campaign against Hamas. This predictable silence went largely uncommented upon.
In contrast, campus 9/11 commemorations were frequently countered by claims of ‘Islamophobia’ from BDS-related Palestinians and Muslims both on and off campus. An academic panel sponsored by San Francisco State University’s ‘Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora (AMED) Studies Department’ and Rutgers University’s ‘Center for Security, Race and Rights’ entitled “Whose Narrative? 20 Years Since 9/11/2001,” featured BDS leaders including Hatem Bazian, as well as Sami al-Arian, convicted in the US for covertly funding Hamas. The event went on despite challenges that it represented material support for terrorism.
BDS supporters also undertook direct action against 9/11 commemorations. At Washington University in St. Louis a BDS-supporting member of the student government, Fadel Alkilani, removed 2977 American flags that had been placed on campus as part of a 9/11 commemoration.
Alkilani later released a statement claiming that he had not violated any university policy, that he had been victimized in the aftermath of his act, and that “A memorial which uses US flags is especially insidious, as it does not recognize those who have fallen, but uses a symbol that was on the shoulders of those who are responsible for the deaths of 900,000 people, and uses the innocent lives lost during 9/11 as a political prop upholding American hegemony. Muslims such as I have faced fear, harassment, and Islamophobia from those who unjustly use the victims of 9/11 as a political cudgel.”
The university chancellor condemned Alkilani’s action saying “I want to make it very clear that, as an institution, we find the actions of this student to be reprehensible,” but Alkilani’s actions were widely defended by commentators who accused the university of not responding to the unspecified ‘Islamophobia’ directed at the student and other Muslims on campus. A student walkout was then organized to support Alkilani. A Washington University law professor also claimed the act was free speech in response to seeing the American flag, that the “College Republicans’ flag display was a powerful, contestable political statement,” and that the chancellor’s statement and failure to condemn ‘Islamophobia’ had caused “far greater harm.”
The heckler’s veto is a standard tool of the BDS movement as are claims of victim status ‘Islamophobia’ when confronted by their assaults on the free speech of others. Claims that assaults on free speech are themselves ‘free speech’ are increasing, particularly on campus, where students and faculty increasingly demand to be protected from viewpoints with which they disagree. The opposition of law professors to free speech is a particularly dangerous part of this growing trend. A new survey also indicates that in general, student support for suppressing speech, including through the hecklers’ veto and even violence, and for self-censorship, has grown rapidly.
A number of other 9/11 displays were vandalized including at Michigan State University, where a campus landmark reading “Never Forget” was crossed out and “Never Israel” written in its place. A slew of opinion pieces in campus newspapers also claimed that Muslims in the US and abroad were the primary victims of 9/11.
This co-optation of 9/11 into a narrative about Muslims and Palestinians was also seen in instructions from the Virginia Department of Education not to teach about ‘American exceptionalism’ but to downplay Muslim extremism and “plan our 9/11 lessons in a way that does not seek to reproduce anti-Muslim racism.” The instructions featured a video from American University lecturer and Islamist Amaarah DeCuir, who has emphasized that Muslims were primary victims of 9/11.
One member of the Fairfax County, Virginia Board of Education, Abrar Omeish, condemned a 9/11 commemoration resolution, saying “we chose to forget, as this resolution does, the fear, the ostracization, and the collective blame felt by Arab Americans, American Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus and all brown or other individuals that have been mistaken for Muslims since that day over the past two decades.” Omeish had previously condemned Israel for ‘desecrating the Holy Land’ and praised jihad to graduating seniors.
The reframing of 9/11 and pedagogy onto Muslims and Palestinians was complemented by number of fawning profiles of pro-Palestinian groups in campus newspapers such as ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ have claimed that Palestinian voices have gone ‘unheard’ and elided their anti-Israel goals in favor of ‘community’ and ‘justice,’ as have ‘solidarity resolutions’ passed by student governments.
One result of making ‘Palestine’ the central campus cause is growing fear on the part of Jewish students who are targeted by BDS-related antisemitism. A recent poll of “openly Jewish’” students indicated that more than 65% felt unsafe on campus, 50% felt the need to hide their Jewish identity, and 10% feared physical attack. Almost 70% were aware of or had personally experienced a verbal or physical attack. These results must be seen in the context of recent FBI data showing Jews were the subject of 58% of religiously oriented hate crimes in 2020.
The centering of ‘Palestine’ in K-12 education has also been propelled by countless teachers promoting intersectionality and ‘critical race theory,’ such as those who have been caught out bragging about their classroom behavior on social media. In one case a Los Angeles teacher shared photos of a classroom that was decorated with Palestinian, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and Gay Price flags, as well as posters saying “fuck the police” and “fuck America.”
Reports also indicate the explicit promotion of anti-Israel books by Philadelphia children’s librarians. One librarian was quoted in a video “I’m sharing it because the struggle for liberation and total freedom is interconnected across cultures and communities. So when children, young people, see and hear about what’s happening to Palestinian people today, and for many decades, they will probably see and notice that Zionism looks a lot like racism… ”
More systemically, BDS, anti-Zionism, and antisemitism remain central issues in teachers’ unions. The San Diego chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) passed a resolution condemning Israel, referring to “historic Palestine” and the “73 year occupation.” The San Diego Community College District Chancellor responded by saying “We recognize that the opinions expressed by some groups, including the Local 1931, are not embraced by many employees and students… Further, we offer our sincere thoughts to those who were offended by the resolution.” The resolution passed despite expressions of concern from AFT president Randi Weingarten. More positively, the board of the United Teachers Los Angeles Union voted to postpone indefinitely consideration of a BDS resolution.
The issues are also central in the revised ‘ethnic studies curriculum’ that is has been passed by the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature. Even mainstream platform such as the Los Angeles Times have condemned the bill’s promotion of the BDS movement and treatment of Israel, while a number of school districts passed resolutions in support of the original, more radical curriculum or the more extreme ‘liberated ethnic studies curriculum.’
The impact of making “Palestine” the essential intersectional cause was seen in a series of “Globalize the Intifada” protests held in New York City by a coalition of anti-Israel and far left groups aimed at Israeli, Jewish, and other institutions. Targets for ‘decolonization’ included the Museum of Modern Art, which was targeted for its wealthy patrons, “blood soaked modernity,” and “MoMA’s entanglement with the mutually reinforcing projects of settler-colonialism, imperialism, and racial capitalism in Palestine.”
In the political sphere, Progressive Democrats stripped $1 billion in funding for the Iron Dome defense system promised by the Biden Administration from the continuing resolution to fund the government in the absence of the final budget. ‘Squad’ member Rep. Pramila Jayapal complained that the measure had been “slipped in” at the last moment. The BDS movement touted the move as an ‘historic victory.’
Critics pointed out that without the Iron Dome system Israeli retaliation against Hamas missile attacks will necessarily be far more destructive and will cost both Palestinian and Israeli lives. Some commentators improbably suggested that the move would increase the cost of the defense system for Israel and therefore incentivize negotiations. But observers also puzzled over the willingness of the aging Democratic leadership to accept the move. Israeli officials reportedly blamed former Prime Minister Netanyahu for the development, alleging that the damage he had done to bipartisan support for Israel would take time to repair, thereby giving Democrats cover.
Democrat Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez also introduced legislation that would bar sale of US precision guided munitions to Israel. A number of amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act remained directed at supporting Israel-related programs, while Iron Dome funding was restored in a standalone bill by an overwhelming margin, with Ocasio-Cortez voting present and Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York voting yes.
At the local level two notable BDS measures were rejected. After protests from the Jewish community and others a sweeping resolution (that included endorsement of the Palestinian ‘right of return’) proposed in the Burlington Vermont city council was withdrawn at the last moment. In the Seattle City Council a measure aimed at canceling police exchanges with Israel was rejected.
The impact of state-level anti-BDS laws has also now been felt with respect to the Ben & Jerry’s effort to boycott the ‘territories.’ New Jersey, Texas, and Arizona have announced they will divest from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever. Florida has announced its intention to divest, and pressure is also being put on New York State to do so. Several hundred million dollars worth of Unilever stock is involved, but it is unclear whether this has impacted the company’s stock price and reputation.
In the international sphere, more than three-dozen Western nations boycotted the 20th anniversary celebration of the 2001 Durban “World Conference Against Racism.” The 2001 event, which was marked by overt antisemitism and hostility towards Israel and Jews, effectively marked the beginning of the modern BDS movement. The United Nations General Assembly, however, reaffirmed the original 2001 Durban Declaration while the conference passed a resolution that named only the Palestinians as ‘victims of racism.’
More negatively, the British Liberal Democrat Party passed a motion calling for a ban on British trade with Israeli ‘settlements.’ The British Labour Party also continued to be riled by its longstanding antisemitism crisis, which began with the BDS movement’s takeover of campus clubs. A motion passed at the Labour conference accused Israel of committing an “on-going Nakba” against the Palestinians. The motion, one of only ten put forward at the conference, called for sanctions against Israel and endorsed the Palestinian ‘right of return.’ Labour leader Keir Starmer and Shadow Foreign Minister Lisa Nandy opposed the motion, which represented a setback to their efforts to expunge antisemitism from the party and rebuild ties with British Jews.