House passes anti-BDS bill in rebuke to progressives as BDS activists ambush presidential candidates. Israel boycott activities continue in academic organizations.

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The highlight of BDS activities in July was passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives opposing BDS. In a major rebuke to vocal BDS supporters and the BDS movement as a whole, the House demonstrated that the vast majority are willing to express support for Israel, provided they operate as a group and are thus less susceptible to being singled out by critics. At the same time BDS-supported ambushes of presidential candidates on the question of the ‘occupation,’ and a growing public profile for Islamists supporting BDS, promises that the lead up to the 2020 election will feature BDS at the center.


The focus of July’s BDS activities remained firmly in the political sphere. Most notable were a series of BDS resolutions introduced in Congress, both opposed and in favor of boycotts. In July a resolution passed the House by an overwhelming margin after being fast-tracked and with limited debate. A Senate bill, introduced in March and then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, reaffirmed support for a two state solution and rejects the BDS movement. The House passed two additional security bills and an amendment addressing BDS activities attached to a Middle Eastern security cooperation bill passed the Senate earlier this year.

The passage of the non-binding House resolution was a rebuke to BDS supporters in the House led by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and a clear defeat in ongoing confrontation between the progressives and the Democratic leadership, particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It demonstrated that House members including Democrats remain willing to oppose BDS and support Israel when operating as a group, thus limiting individual attacks from the ‘squad’ and other BDS supporters.

In contrast, the House bill, introduced by Ilhan Omar, reaffirms the right to boycott but rather than mention Israel by name lists boycotts against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa as precedents.

By design, Omar’s pro-BDS bill expropriates both Jewish and American history by citing the precedent of “boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.” The offensive equation of the Holocaust with the Palestinian experience is equally obvious. The bill was supported by J Street but also received surprising support from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, who denied that Israel was targeted.

Unconsciously following the Palestinian lead, manipulation of the Holocaust by the BDS movement and the far left generally has become central to opposing the Trump Administration. The allegation that migrant detention facilities are ‘concentration camps’ extends the accusation of ‘fascism’ against the Administration and in doing so degrades history and language. Omar’s likening of the BDS movement to the Boston Tea Party was another expropriation, this time of American history.

After filing her pro-BDS bill, Omar announced that she and Tlaib would be traveling to Israel and the West Bank on a fact-finding trip. The trip was clearly designed as a provocation to the Israeli government to ban them but after brief speculation it was announced that both would be permitted to enter.

BDS has also become part of the presidential campaign. After leading harassment of Jewish students and institutions such as Hillels, the BDS group ‘IfNotNow’ (INN) has moved on to ambushing Democratic presidential candidates, asking them to state their opposition to the ‘occupation.’ Candidates Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg stated their support for INN’s position, while Cory Booker and Joe Biden offered more complex answers, with Booker refusing to use the word ‘occupation.’ In response INN accused Booker and Biden of ‘retreating’ to “AIPAC’s anti-Palestinian & false talking points.” Reports also indicate that Warren has hired an INN cofounder for her campaign staff.

In contrast, an Administration conference on antisemitism featured resounding condemnation of BDS from Education Secretary Betsy de Vos and expressions of concern regarding growing antisemitism and hate crimes from Attorney General William Barr.

Support from the ‘red-green’ alliance in Congress and by the increasing alignment of Muslim Brotherhood groups such as CAIR and American Muslims for Palestine with Jewish fronts like ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ has emboldened the BDS movement. Reports indicate that AMP has conducted trainings for INN activists. AMP’s public profile is also increasing. One sign was a Congressional briefing by AMP alleging mistreatment of Palestinians. Participants included several AMP officials who had been members of the Hamas support group Islamic Association for Palestine.

Another sign of the alliance are growing attacks on pro-Israel groups, such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI). After weeks of planning, the ‘intersectional’ alliance of Islamist-led protestors protested the CUFI annual meeting in Washington, D.C. and then characteristically depicted the smaller than expected turnout as a major triumph.

The manner in which the BDS movement has penetrated local politics was also seen in a boycott resolution proposed in the Ann Arbor City Council, the rescheduling of an anti-Israel film sponsored by Takoma Park, Maryland, with the added participation of CAIR, AMP, and JVP, the appointment of a prominent local Islamist antisemite to the Champaign (IL) ‘Human Relations Commission,’ the opposition to an anti-BDS bill in New Jersey from CAIR and other Islamist groups, and the continuing scandal of anti-Israel materials used in Newton (MA) high schools.

Misleading reporting that downplayed the goals and means of the BDS movement continued in July. But the evolving attacks on Israeli supporters also expanded in unexpected directions as the Daily Beast published a vicious attack on retired Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera on the eve of his induction into the baseball Hall of Fame. The article accused Rivera of supporting ‘far right causes’ including Israel and the Trump Administration. Rivera, a devout Christian, has visited Israel several times and served briefly on presidential commission to investigate opioid abuse. The piece was widely condemned but illustrated the manner in which individuals are condemned for expressing any support for Israel.

Even more bizarre was an attack by BDS support Marc Lamont Hill at the Netroots Nation conference where he accused news outlets such as ABC and NBC of being “Zionist organizations’ producing “Zionist content.” Hill made his comments during a session dedicated to ‘embedding Palestinian rights in the 2020 agenda.’ The upshot of the accusations was that any organization that does not adopt an explicitly anti-Israel stance is by default ‘Zionist’ and thus an enemy.

The intensifying splits in the Democratic Party over Israel and BDS instigated antisemitism have yet to reach a breaking point. In contrast, the antisemitism crisis in the British Labour Party, initiated by the BDS movement, reached a new level in July. The airing of a television documentary detailed how complaints regarding antisemitism in Labour have been systematically ignored by the party leadership came at the same time that a government human rights body opened an investigation into the problem.

A number of prominent Labour supporters who had previously been silent spoke out forcefully while others attacked the documentary and critics. In response, party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged for the first time that there was a problem, even as other party members implicated in the scandal were reinstated and received standing ovations at meetings. Despite the publicity there is no indication that Labour is actually addressing the problem.

BDS also had an impact on academia during July. The European Networks for Mental Health Service Evaluation suddenly canceled plans to hold its 2021 meeting in Jerusalem, with organizers stated they wished to preempt protests that would have preoccupied the group for the next two years. They claimed further that the move was not an endorsement of Israel boycotts and that no pressure had been made on the organization. The capitulation stunned Israeli and other members. A BDS resolution introduced prior to the Society for the Study of Social Problems annual meeting has generated opposition, as has one in the American Political Science Association. A resolution condemning Israel at the National Education Association was defeated.

At the student level, attacks continued against Birthright including pieces in mainstream and Jewish media outlets that touted J Street’s alternative trip highlighting the ‘occupation’ and its anti-Zionist impact.

Finally, in the entertainment sphere, the BDS movement has increased pressure on Jennifer Lopez after she announced plans to perform in Tel Aviv. In a related incident, during a performance in Tel Aviv Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento publicly rebuked the BDS movement for its demands that he cancel his shows.

House passes anti-BDS bill in rebuke to progressives as BDS activists ambush presidential candidates. Israel boycott activities continue in academic organizations.

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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