Stakes are high for BDS as election looms. BDS movement adopts (diversity, equity and inclusion) as ‘woke’ attacks on Jews and Israel expand

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With America on the verge of elections the stakes are high for the future of BDS. Even as Israel expands peace agreements with Arab states, anti-normalization led by the BDS movement is spreading to new areas. Empirical reality has become disengaged from the demands of political activists, particularly as ‘wokeness’ positions Jews as ‘white.’ The results of the election are likely to expand rather than close those gaps.


There were several important BDS related developments in the academic sphere during October, in part resulting from President Trump’s 2019 extension of protections to Jewish students under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

To resolve a complaint filed by a Jewish student with the Department of Education, New York University announced it was adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The complaint had been filed after the school presented an award to the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, which had been involved in numerous incidents of harassment aimed at Jewish students. The university also stated it would revise its non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and take measures to curb future antisemitic incidents.

The student government at Foothills College also unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the IHRA definition, while the British Education Secretary warned the government would take steps if universities did not adopt the definition by the end of the year.

In contrast, Jewish students at the University of Illinois at Champagne Urbana filed a complaint with the Department of Education alleging the school had tolerated a hostile environment. The complaint alleges that the school tolerated vandalism and verbal harassment, and that it has incorporated antisemitic and anti-Israel materials into mandatory student training. Students reported accusations that they were ‘genocide supporters’ and ‘white supremacists’ and expressed fear of displaying Jewish symbols.

Fallout also continued from the approval of a BDS referendum at Columbia University. A group of faculty members issued a letter supporting the university president after he strongly condemned the resolution. More antisemitic graffiti was also reported on campus.

Elsewhere, the student government at the University of California at Davis failed to overturn the president’s veto of a BDS resolution. The SJP chapter at Tufts University also introduced a referendum calling on the university to end police contacts with Israel.

The Butler University student government’s (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board) hosted a BDS event which included an art exhibit and a Zoom call with a BDS activist. The student government then rejected a resolution condemning antisemitism, and another resolution calling for the adoption of the IHRA antisemitism definition.

In the wake of the thwarted remote event celebrating Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled at San Francisco State University (SFSU), the General Union of Palestinian Studies has introduced a BDS resolution in the student government. Faculty members also condemned Zoom for canceling the Khaled event at SFSU and later ones at the New York University, the University of Hawaii and the University of Leeds.

Faculty at NYU called on the university to end its agreement with Zoom because of the company’s alleged ‘censorship.’ Other Khaled events, however, were recorded and posted to YouTube and Facebook. The continued controversy sets up a collision between BDS supporters using the First Amendment to attack private companies subject to US laws regarding material support for terrorism. Faculty endorsement for BDS was also seen in Middle East Studies Association annual meeting, which featured a session on how to teach BDS to undergraduates.

In the political sphere the impending election has heightened concerns regarding BDS and its intersectional allies. The Biden campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn BDS supporting Democrats such as Rashida Tlaib. The situation was highlighted in September by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backed out of a Yitzhak Rabin memorial at the behest of anti-Israel activists and to the dismay of progressive Jews. Her October appearance in an online event with a blogger who stated that American ‘deserved 9/11’ may also indicate her leanings, as does the revocation of an endorsement for a House candidate by far left ‘Justice Democrats’ super PAC in California who supports Israel.

Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ close connections to CAIR, both in California and as a Senator, have raised additional concerns, particularly in the light of the campaign’s promise to appoint Muslims at every level of government. This is in contrast with the Trump Administration, which has made opposition to BDS a focal point, most recently in the State Department, which has held events on antisemitism and has called on countries to adopt the IHRA definition.

The continued support for BDS among idea-setting elites, and its deep intersectional collaboration with BLM and other antisemitic far left factions, even as peace expands in the Middle East, demonstrates that reality has been disengaged from activism and ‘theory.’ The ‘idealism’ of these movements is not about achieving realistic aims but rather about annihilating hated realities in favor of revolutionary outcomes led by a vanguard. The hatred of reality extends to the past, where poorly understood caricatures motivate efforts to destroy monuments and, as the ‘1619 Project’ has shown, the very fabric of historical understanding.

The BDS movement’s reference to ‘alternative histories’ of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zionism, antisemitism, Islam, and much more, provide a kind of template for the current revisionism. Accepted history is declared racist and one sided while alternatives are proposed that selectively emphasize, deemphasize, omit, or fabricate elements to produce a cartoonish account of victims and perpetrators, in which Original Sin is inescapable and current structures are declared irredeemable.

Tendentiously shallow allegations that ‘Zionism is racism’ now have parallels in even more sweeping, acontextual and instrumental allegations of ‘white supremacy.’ ‘Wokeness,’ grounded in Critical Race Theory (CRT), positions Jews regardless of their history and ethnicity as ‘white’ by virtue of their particularity and success, which by definition come at the expense of ‘people of color.’ Failure to embrace new paradigms, and more specifically to advocate for Jewish particularism and even Jewish history, is taken as de facto evidence of racism.

The concept that Jews, including Israelis, are ‘white,’ has now been codified in institutional processes such as student ethnicity data collection at universities and informally in media and corporations. This gives official imprimatur to the racialization and segregation of Americans with Jews at a unique disadvantage, particularly given their overall socio-economic success. With ‘woke’ positions aimed at Jews and their ‘privilege’ proliferating rapidly in high schools and middle schools and in state mandated curriculums such as in California, overt antisemitism is reemerging even among students, while statements condemning antisemitism are being decried as ‘far right’ support for ‘whiteness.’

The Trump Administration’s prohibition of CRT training in the Federal government and Federally funded entities including universities makes support for CRT a transgressive political necessity for Trump opponents. The result is to redouble support for CRT – and allied movements such as BDS – no matter how false and destructive the results.

Should Trump be reelected this outside support for CRT will likely intensify, while if Biden wins intersectional allies will be rewarded both inside and outside the government. The Biden campaign has also promised to implement ‘racial justice’ programs in various institutions. The spread of BDS and ‘woke’ antisemitism in lower level contexts such as city council races and police training debates indicates that the grassroots are primed.

Stakes are high for BDS as election looms. BDS movement adopts (diversity, equity and inclusion) as ‘woke’ attacks on Jews and Israel expand

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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