Escalating violence against Israelis in September was cheering by BDS supporters, especially on campuses and social media. The disappearing pretense of the BDS movement’s support for non-violence demonstrates that, in the manner of Palestinian politics generally, radical voices pull the movement towards extremism and away from the possibility of peaceful co-existence.
September saw a major escalation of Palestinian violence against Israelis. The BDS movement responded to the violence with unconditional support. At the start of the violence the BDS National Committee in the West Bank called for the movement’s supporters to show a “wave of solidarity with Palestinian Popular Resistance.” The call was particularly effective on university campuses. Pro-Palestinian protestors at the University of California at Berkeley cheered “we support the intifada.” Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across the country posted similar messages endorsing violence to social media. Leading BDS activists including Ali Abunimeh also actively cheered the violence.
BDS supporters also made strenuous efforts to depict Palestinians as the true victims of their own intifada. On several campuses BDS protestors picketed pro-Israel demonstrations and held their own at which they deplored the killing of Palestinians who had attempted to murder Israelis. At Leeds University BDS supporters held a vigil for Palestinian “victims of the recent wave of violence” – that is, Palestinian terrorists killed while attacking Israelis.
On other campuses, such as Stanford University, Palestinian students criticized pro-Israel demonstrations. The Boston University chapter of SJP, for example, condemned the pro-Israel protests and demanded the university administration “take strong measures to address the misleading and inciting rhetoric that these groups are using.” The Wesleyan chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine decried violence against civilians but claimed that the “primary engine” of recent violence is the “illegal military occupation of the West Bank.”
Depicting Palestinians as victims, while condemning and attempting to shut down pro-peace voices, are consistent with the North American BDS and pro-Palestinian movements’ lawfare strategy. One example in October was the “Palestine Exception to Free Speech” report, published by the group “Palestine Legal” and the far-left Center for Constitutional Rights, which claimed that that pro-Palestinian speech in the United States is being “suppressed.” Jewish Voice for Peace simultaneously released a similar report, entitled “Stifling Dissent.” Both depict criticism of BDS as suppression and censorship. Falsely accusing BDS opponents of censorship and racism for criticizing the BDS movement’s actual, sometimes violent, attacks on free speech and racism is an established tactic. Persistently claiming victim status is also consistent with larger patterns of Palestinian culture.
These documents usefully demonstrate how the BDS movement functions as part of the American far-left. “Palestine Legal” (formerly Palestine Solidarity Legal Support) is effectively the SJP legal defense fund, and is supported by the far-left Tides Foundation. Direct donations are sent to the offices of the Chicago branch of the American Friends Service Committee (a major BDS organization). Other far-left organizations supporting “Palestine Legal” include the National Lawyers Guild and Jewish Voice for Peace.
“Palestine Legal” also had a role bringing a BDS resolution to the “Berkeley Human Welfare and Community Action Commission” (see below), and has taken the lead in supporting Rasmea Odeh (convicted in Israel for a 1970 terrorist bombing that killed two). Odeh, currently the associate director of the Arab American Action Network, is appealing her Federal court conviction for lying on her US immigration application and faces deportation. Her case is also promoted by another BDS group, the US Palestine Community Network. In October Odeh spoke for the Students for Justice in Palestine branch at San Diego State University. This celebration of a convicted terrorist parallels the appearance earlier in 2015 of terrorist Leila Khaled at a BDS event in South Africa.
BDS support for violence against Israelis is a significant development and reflects the pattern where Palestinian society as a whole must endorse extremist violence or be branded disloyal. This is illustrated by the endorsement of violence and opposition to “normalization,” that is, any relationships with Israelis or Israeli institutions. The concept of “anti-normalization” was transferred from Islamic sources and the radical Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine during the 1970s to the BDS movement in the West Bank during the 1990s, and now to the Muslim Brotherhood dominated elements of the BDS movement in the West.
The growing inability of BDS supporters in the West to empathize with Israelis, in terms of either individual suffering or Israel’s ‘right to exist’, demonstrates that the Palestinian narrative of complete rejectionism is becoming more deeply rooted. In this view, the real issue is not the 1967 ‘occupation’ of the West Bank but the ‘occupation’ of ‘Palestinian’ lands in 1948 when Israel was created.
The extent to which these characteristics have become accepted by the BDS movement, and increasingly the American Arab and Muslim communities, suggests a process where tribal and religious loyalties must trump logic and evidence, and the possibility of a negotiated settlement and peaceful coexistence. Further radicalizing of American Arab and Muslim communities and unifying them with the far-left is proceeding rapidly.
This strategy was demonstrated in October with the national tour of Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi, best known for instigating confrontations between his children and Israeli soldiers. While in the US Tamimi spoke before a third grade class, which he explained was intended to created young pro-Palestinian “activists,” promoted the blood libel that Israelis steal the organs of Palestinians, and called for an intifada against Israel in America. Amnesty International, Jewish Voice for Peace, Friends of Sabeel, and Interfaith Peace Builders, sponsored Tamimi’s 25 city tour.
Parallel radicalization is underway within areas of academia where loyalty to Palestinian-dominated ‘anti-imperialist’ and ‘anti-colonialist’ narratives is paramount and must be demonstrated continually. The academic dominance of the ‘settler-colonial’ paradigm is evident in a boycott resolution that will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in November. At the last meeting a task force was set up, ostensibly to study the ‘Israel/Palestine’ question, and to return proposals to the association. Predictably, the task force’s proposals range from censure of the Israeli government to a full boycott of Israeli academia.
The charges against Israel are directed primarily at the alleged limits on “the academic freedom of faculty and students in the West Bank and Gaza and also, in more subtle ways, of Jewish and Palestinian academics in Israel itself.” The task force, which briefly visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority, suggested that mere censure would be insufficient. A group that includes well-known BDS and anti-Israeli activists proposed the boycott resolution.
A group of Israeli anthropologists who oppose the proposals notes that cutting off dialogue is not conducive to peace. Given that an earlier petition supporting an Israel boycott was signed by over 1000 anthropologists, the current resolution is likely to pass. Observers suggest that passage will trigger further criticism from university administrators and trustees, the public, and will come at a time of increasing vulnerability for the humanities and social sciences.
Anti-Israel attitudes are becoming rooted in other areas of American society, the result of Palestinian outreach to the Occupy and ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements. One example of this in October was a speech by controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright at the ‘Million Man March” in Washington, where he stated “The same issue is being fought today and has been fought since 1948, and historians are carried back to the 19th century … when the original people, the Palestinians — and please remember, Jesus was a Palestinian — the Palestinian people had the Europeans come and take their country… The youth in Ferguson and the youth in Palestine have united together to remind us that the dots need to be connected.” Wright opined that Palestinians “have been done one of the most egregious injustices in the 20th and 21st centuries” and concluded “Palestinians are saying ‘Palestinian lives matter.’ We stand with you, we support you, we say God bless you.”
The connection between the events of Ferguson, Missouri and the violence in Israel was mainstreamed further by James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, who declared in an interview on MSNBC that “Palestinian lives matter” and that “Palestinians are at the end of the day the ultimate victims.”
There were a number of BDS related developments in the political sphere. Most notable were reports because of the current “situation” that European Union (EU) labeling of products originating in ‘settlements’ will be delayed. At the same time, EU officials continued their long-established pattern of issuing threats to Israel regarding potential actions against ‘settlements.’
One pointed example was a statement from the EU ambassador to Israel who perhaps sarcastically suggested that labeling would be to Israel’s advantage; “Because BDS is a general boycott that targets all Israeli products, from settlements and other places [within the Green Line]. Here [with our labeling scheme] we’re making a very important distinction, saying this has nothing to do with BDS. This has to do with a certain policy that Israel is pursuing when it comes to settlements that we disagree with and that we don’t want to support.”
Elsewhere, BDS has emerged as a local political issue in the United Kingdom. The Conservative Party announced its support for legislation that would forbid local councils from adopting BDS policies against Israel. The proposal implicitly criticized the Labour Party, many members of which are active BDS supporters. It came at the same time that the Scottish Green party debated a motion at its annual conference calling for a full economic and cultural boycott of Israel until it withdraws to the 1967 borders. The motion also called for Israeli political and military leaders to be tried for war crimes.
BDS also continues to be an issue in local US politics. In two cases BDS resolutions were put forward in local ‘human rights commissions.’ In Berkeley a divestment resolution that condemned Israel was defeated in the “Berkeley Human Welfare and Community Action Commission.” The “human welfare commissioner” who brought the resolution was previously fired in September. In Portland, however, the “Human Rights Commission” passed a resolution calling on the city to divest from Israel. These examples show again how local politics are warped by the BDS movement, especially well-intended but vague institutions like ‘human rights commissions.’ This parallels the ways in which campus politics have been hijacked by BDS supporters.
There were two major BDS developments the cultural sphere. In the first, a major statement from British cultural figures criticized efforts to boycott Israel and called instead for “cultural engagement.” Among the most notable of these was Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who followed up with her own statement in which she noted that she “never heard of a cultural boycott ending a bloody and prolonged conflict.”
In response, 343 British academics took out an advertisement in the Guardian newspaper to announce their support for BDS. Several were long-time BDS supporters. The same newspaper also ran a number of letters that harshly criticized Rowling and other anti-BDS activists. The hasty responses suggest the BDS movement was taken off-guard by Rowlings and other BDS opponents. In a statement, the British ambassador to Israel also reiterated that the government was opposed to any for of boycott.
The second development was the well-publicized criticism by radio personality Howard Stern directed at Roger Waters, noted BDS supporter and former bass player for Pink Floyd. The PLO Mission to the US immediately accused Stern of “misusing his national radio platform to espouse vitriolic and genocidal views against Arabs and, in particular, Palestinians” demanded an apology on behalf of Waters and the Palestinians. Waters also responded with hostility.