BDS movement capitalizes on social conflicts to equate Zionism with Nazism and ‘white supremacy’ as new BDS-formed ‘antifa’ movement threatens campus. Democratic progressives oppose anti-BDS bill as threat to free speech while technology companies suppress speech.

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The cooptation of radical trends by the BDS movement continued in August after the violent confrontation between neo-Nazi and ‘antifa’ communist protestors in Charlottesville. With both neo-Nazis and BDS supporters equating Zionism with ‘white supremacy,’ the fall semester seems likely to be violent. At the same time, the influence of BDS on far left politics and the left wing of the Democratic Party is growing, as seen in the opposition of key progressive Senators to a minor anti-BDS bill. The intolerance and hatred of BDS has thus moved closer to the heart of both radical discourse and the political mainstream.


August saw the violent collision of politics and culture in American life, with the BDS movement playing the spoiler. The riots between neo-Nazis and white supremacists and communist ‘antifa’ protestors that began on the University of Virginia campus turned violent, sparking further waves of demonstrations on both sides and furiously divisive commentary.

One result of the rioting, and the subsequent claim by President Trump that there are “some very fine people on both sides,” are trends that label political adversaries ‘Nazis,’ ‘white supremacists,’ and ‘hate groups,’ as well as to regard ‘anti-fascist’ violence as intrinsically legitimate and defensive. Even more pervasive are demands that all persons condemn Trump or be excoriated and ostracized. The BDS movement has picked up on these trends that promise to shape the campus environment in the fall semester.

Perceiving the ‘antifa’ movement as a useful fig leaf, leading BDS activists David Palumbo-Lio and Bill Mullen announced that they are organizing a ‘campus antifascist network.’ By virtue of the organizers alone this new organization will label Israel and its supporters ‘fascists’ along with those deemed insufficient in their opposition to the Trump Administration.

Whether or not the new network succeeds in mobilizing the increasingly violent ‘antifa’ street forces, physical threats to Jews and others on campus will increase, since this movement has been validated by academics, some of whom explicitly reject the concept of free speech and liberal democracy. Campus violence and intimidation have increased steadily during 2017 and ‘antifa’ protestors will likely expand on the example of BDS protests, where the mere presence of ‘Zionists’ has long been seen as violent and ‘triggering.’

Colleges and universities have responded by canceling ‘controversial’ events and speakers, setting onerous security requirements, or, as was seen at Berkeley in the spring, by giving ‘antifa’ forces license to riot. Simply labeling individuals or groups as ‘alt right,’ ‘fascist’ or ‘conservative’ will have an impact on campus life, as will expanding efforts to eradicate symbols, such as statues and names deemed offensive. These trends pose dual threats to campus supporters of Israel and to free speech as a whole.

Outside of academia the BDS movement coupled Zionism with ‘white supremacy’ when BDS leader and progressive icon Linda Sarsour stated at a protest against the National Football League that “We will not be silenced by blue lives matter—by white supremacists—by neo Nazis—by right wing Zionists. Expect us anytime there is a fight for justice or a fight against injustice.” The allegation that ‘right wing Zionism’ was akin to ‘white supremacy’ was echoed by media figures, and is featured in a new BDS campaign.

Traditional Neo-Nazi leaders in the US like David Duke have been outspoken regarding their hatred of Jews and Israel, a characteristic shared with the BDS movement and the far left generally. An especially bizarre example of their symbiosis occurred after white supremacist leader Richard Spencer stated in an interview with an Israeli TV network that “I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves, just like you want a secure homeland in Israel,” and that he sees himself as “a white Zionist.” Spencer clarified, however, that his apparent admiration for Israel was based on the possibility of all Jews being removed from the US and not philosemitism or Zionism.

But Spencer’s seeming equation of white supremacy and Zionism was endorsed by a representative of ‘Jewish Voice for Peace,’ a leading BDS organization, who asserted that there is a “disturbing alliance between Zionists and white nationalists in the White House” and that he “is holding a mirror up to Zionism and the reflection isn’t pretty.” Ken Roth, the head of ‘Human Rights Watch’ also repeated the allegation that ‘white supremacist’ support for Israel was common.

At the same time, in an open letter writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, who recently edited a book of essays opposing the Israeli ‘occupation,’ described the Trump administration as fundamentally antisemitic, demanded that Jewish members of the administration resign, and stated that “Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.” These types of demands will split the American Jewish community and weaken efforts to oppose BDS on campus and elsewhere.

In another move American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Muslim Brotherhood linked sponsor of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a national campaign protesting Israeli security measures outside the Temple Mount. Using the phrase “Aqsa under attack,” AMP organized protests outside the Israeli embassy in Washington after Friday prayers.

The AMP campaign is derived from the longstanding Palestinian theme of ‘al Aqsa is in danger’ used to incite Muslim and Arab hatred of Jews and Israel for decades, and the technique of organized anti-Israel rioting on Fridays. The rhetoric is intended to radicalize American Muslims, with AMP at the center, and will find its way to campus and BDS through SJP chapters.

Silencing free speech in the name of protecting marginalized voices and fighting ‘extremism’ has long been a feature of campus life but is now spreading to communities, and is also emerging as an important battle in cyberspace, including over BDS. With accusations of ‘fascism’ and ‘Nazism’ standard tools for the BDS movement, threats to free speech, including speech defending Israel and Jews, are rapidly escalating. Giant oligarchic technology corporations like Facebook and Google that have pioneered corporate-led thought policing are in danger of importing BDS from campuses as a function of their external virtue signaling and rigidly enforced internal corporate culture.

In the political sphere, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) party voted in favor of BDS at their annual convention. The resolution calls for full support of the ‘Palestinian Civil Society’ call for boycotting Israel and for the ‘right of return’ of Palestinians to homes in pre-1948 Israel. The resolution therefore calls for the destruction of Israel. The vote was followed by chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which underscored the aim of destroying Israel.

Though still tiny, the DSA has experienced considerable growth in the past few years, particularly in the wake of Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy. The adoption of BDS has repelled Jewish socialists, including those who founded the party.

More significantly, the DSA’s move represents additional pressure on the Democratic Party from its left flank to distance itself from Israel, using BDS as a wedge issue. This process was also on display in August in the debate surrounding proposed modifications to long-standing Federal anti-boycott legislation.

While the changes were supported by mainstream Democrats such as Senator Chuck Schumer, bellwether progressive Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kristin Gillibrand, and Cory Booker all came out against the bill on the unsustainable grounds that it would undermine free speech. Each of these has presidential aspirations. Their moves, in this case related directly to BDS, were widely condemned but represent another step in the evolution of the Democratic Party away from Israel and Jewish concerns.

Booker also voted against the Taylor Force Act, which would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority until it stops paying salaries to convicted terrorists. The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) opposition to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act was key to undermining support in the Senate. Its national political director, Faiz Shakir, is a longtime anti-Israel activist.

In the wake of the Charlottesville riots the ACLU is facing increasing pressure from inside and outside the organization to abandon its ‘absolutist’ defense of free speech for an ‘intersectional’ stance that regards ‘free speech’ as unacceptable defense of abhorrent or simply powerful interests. Similar reasoning regarding the necessity to attack allegedly powerful interests seems behind the decision of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to renew support for ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’.

Elsewhere, reports indicate the US Government was strenuously lobbying at the United Nations to prevent the ‘High Commissioner for Human Rights’ from publishing a blacklist of international firms doing business in Israeli communities across the Green Line. The blacklist would pressure firms to cut ties with Israel. Legal action against the blacklist has been threatened.

In an unusual move, the group Judicial Watch has filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the US Department of State (DoS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after earlier requests for correspondence between the departments and BDS organizations were denied. The lawsuit demands all internal and external DHS correspondence “discussing the efforts of the BDS Groups to strengthen enforcement of the West Bank country-of-origin marking requirements” and all DoS emails relating to the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015.

Then President Obama had unilaterally reinterpreted the rules of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 to require DoS to introduce labeling requires for Israeli products originating the ‘West Bank.’ Reports at the time suggested the administration had been in contact with various BDS organization.

BDS movement capitalizes on social conflicts to equate Zionism with Nazism and ‘white supremacy’ as new BDS-formed ‘antifa’ movement threatens campus. Democratic progressives oppose anti-BDS bill as threat to free speech while technology companies suppress speech.

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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