US recognition of Jerusalem sparks BDS-led protests and threats of violence. British Labour Party BDS support comes to forefront, splitting Jewish supporters.

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The fall semester ended with all eyes on President Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This move prompted outcries from the BDS movement and usefully exposed its underlying antisemitism. At the same time, the BDS movement expanded efforts to redefine antisemitism away from its own denial of Jewish rights to sovereignty and towards alignment with implacable opposition to the Trump Administration. These moves respond to the almost total lack of tangible successes, the unwanted recognition that BDS is integral to the rising tide of ‘intersectional’ left wing antisemitism, and the fact that the broader forces opposing the Trump Administration overlook racism and sexism from allies.


The most important BDS related developments came in the wake of the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol. This designation will culminate in the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reportedly within the next three years.

Despite loud complaints from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, calls for ‘Days of Rage’ produced only minor protests in the Arab and Muslim world. In the US and European cities, however, there were a number of large protests, many of which were organized by the BDS movement and by Muslim and Arab groups, while in Sweden several Jewish institutions were firebombed.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters at various universities around the country took leading roles. Their overall tone was expressed by social media postings from the New York City chapter which stated “jaffa, where the u.s. embassy is currently located, is no less palestinian than jerusalem, and it is ours just as jerusalem is ours just as the rest of the land from the river to the sea is ours.”

More ominous were public protests in Times Square at which calls for ‘intifada’ were heard along with chants of “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Muhammed is returning,” an Islamic reference to a 7th century massacre of Arabian Jews. Representatives of Communist groups also participated in the protests and hailed Palestinian ‘resistance.’

The various protests serve – once again – to clarify the goals and motivations of the BDS movement and its allies. The stated rejection of the 1948 ‘borders,’ not simply the 1967 ‘occupation,’ usefully exposes the BDS movement’s core rejection of Israel as a state. The invocation of genocidal Islamic tropes and the rhetoric of ‘resistance’ shared by Islamist and communists also demonstrated a shared commitment to violence, as a motivational concept and as a reality.

Elsewhere on campus, the first ever divestment resolution passed by a student government at the University of Michigan drew a response from the school’s regents. In a statement the regents made it clear that they would not form a committee to investigate its investments in Israel, nor would they actually divest from companies working in Israel.

While the Michigan announcement was a setback for BDS activists, at the University of California at Irvine the administration has relaxed sanctions on the local SJP chapter. The chapter had been placed on probation after violently harassing participants at a pro-Israel event in May. The university gave no explanation for removing the group from probation over a year early.

But the BDS movement’s legal strategy of crying racism and associating itself with other causes is clear. At the University of Wisconsin a November letter from Palestine Legal, the legal support wing of the BDS movement, complained that restrictions on pro-BDS students and ‘people of color’ constituted harassment and infringement of their freedom of speech. In general universities have indulged SJP harassment of Israelis and Jews, imposing sanctions only reluctantly and after interminable ‘investigations.’

The BDS strategy of accusing universities of ‘racism’ will certainly prevent them from protecting Israelis and Jews. The American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuits against state BDS laws, aimed at protecting the rights of state employees like teachers to participate in Israel boycotts, will expand the movement’s legal strategy.

At the same time, a small-scale survey of campus attitudes towards Israel and BDS indicated that Jewish students generally did not perceive antisemitism at their schools, think their campuses were hostile to Jews, or that there campuses in general were hostile to Israel. They were, however exposed to hostility to Israel.

The campus survey confirmed the longstanding observation that hostility to Israel is increasingly widespread but that BDS was most perceptible at limited but shifting number of institutions and is centered on a relatively small number of a highly vocal student activists and faculty supporters.

Regarding faculty, one of two lawsuits against the American Studies Association was dismissed on the grounds that no injury occurred when the organization began to support a BDS policy. A second lawsuit that effectively alleges that BDS members undertook a conspiracy to assume control of the organization and covertly push their agenda is still being litigated.

BDS efforts to control the narrative regarding anti-Israel bias and antisemitism expanded in December. Strong opposition continued to be expressed to the nomination of Kenneth Marcus as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. Marcus, the head of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has been a leader in pushing for definitions of antisemitism that include anti-Israel bias and in defending rights of Jewish students on campus.

‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ (JVP) has been vocal in its opposition to the nomination. That group also continued its efforts to control narratives regarding antisemitism – and to exclude anti-Israel abuse – with a panel discussion at the University of Massachusetts co-sponsored with the local SJP chapter. One speaker characterized antisemitism as “a very, very effective silencing mechanism” aimed at quashing criticism of Israel. This came on top of JVP’s seasonal efforts to subvert the Hanukah holiday by decrying Israel and celebrating Palestinian terrorism, and its increasingly routine protests aimed at Birthright.

Efforts to create pro-BDS Jewish groups to subvert Jewish support for Israel are much advanced in Britain. A new Labour Party group, ‘Jewish Voice for Labour,’ was created to fight the correct impression that the party has a severe and growing antisemitism problem in both the leadership and grassroots, as well as explicit anti-Israel animus. The group is also intended to ‘break the Zionist monopoly’ by directly challenging the long-established Jewish Labour Movement and its pro-Israel orientation. The British Jewish community is thus doubly weakened by internal splits engineered by anti-Israel Jews to protect Labour antisemitism and shift public opinion against from Israel.

There were several incidents where BDS leaders were accused of behaving abusively. In one, Hatem Bazian, SJP co-founder, ‘Islamophobia’ pioneer and a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, tweeted a number of images depicting Israelis as Nazis and accusing them of murdering Palestinians for their organs. Despite an outcry from students, faculty, and Jewish leaders the university has taken no action against Bazian.

In another strange turn, noted BDS supporter and recent left-wing icon Linda Sarsour was accused of enabling the sexual harassment of a junior colleague while on the staff of the Arab American Association. Sarsour, who had recently headlined a discussion of antisemitism at the New School, is alleged to have told the victim – a Muslim woman – that “sexual harassment doesn’t happen to someone who looks like you.” Sarsour has denied the charge as have a growing number of defenders. Recent reports indicate that this defense extends to Wikipedia, where editors have repeatedly undone changes to Sarsour’s page regarding the incident.

The Bazian and Sarsour cases demonstrated that certain left wing figures are protected despite the larger cultural environment that is shifting, even against sexual harassment. But it also demonstrates how BDS leaders are frequently both crude antisemites and duplicitous individuals willing to sacrifice the well-being of others.

The tendency for BDS to infect completely unrelated areas of politics – and to declare itself the victim when this is pointed out – also expanded in December. A noted BDS supporter on the Berkeley City Council was accused of dismissing a city transportation commissioner because he declined to answer questions regarding his attitude toward Israel. In response to news coverage of this, the city council member claimed that “For this to be considered news worthy is another reflection of the ongoing suppression campaigns to smear anyone who supports Palestine.”

In the international sphere, Denmark and Norway both announced that they would cease funding NGOs promoting BDS against Israel. The moves came after reports detailed how Scandinavian countries were funding the “Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat” and other BDS groups. The decisions are particularly interesting given Norwegian and Danish hostility towards Israel and growing antisemitism in both countries. Danish interests were also affected when New Jersey announced that it was ending its investments in the Danske Bank as a result of the state’s new anti-BDS law. The bank has been targeted by various US states due to its refusal to do business with several Israeli firms.

Less positive was the decision by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to downgrade South Africa’s relations with Israel. The country’s embassy in Tel Aviv would be renamed a ‘liaison office.’ While activists claimed the move was in response to the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital observers noted that the ANC has longstanding relations with Hamas – who were present when the vote to downgrade relations was taken.

Finally, in the cultural sphere, the New Zealand pop singer Lorde abruptly canceled her scheduled performances in Israel after pressure from BDS activists. Reports indicated, however, that she would continue with her performances in Russia. The Tel Aviv based promoter expressed sorrow at her decision but also noted that Lorde is a young person who should not have been expected to have the maturity to withstand pressure from the BDS movement.

Lorde was excoriated by music industry professionals, Jewish groups and pro-peace activists, who complained about her decision to boycott Israel but who also pointed out the hypocrisy of her continuing to perform in Russia. This unusually severe backlash is unlikely to produce a change of course but usefully highlights the hypocrisy of artists who routinely perform in actual human rights abusing states, including their own “settler-colonial” countries.

The calendar year thus ends with the BDS movement at a low point, reliant as always on its masquerade s a human rights movement and on hijacking of other causes, but with few tangible gains. The movement’s underlying antisemitism is harder to disguise but, as figures like Sarsour show, all will be forgiven if a specific offender falls into a category protected by a larger cultural trend. The BDS movement does not fundamentally aim at tangible results, such as boycotts but rather ideological ones, the long-term normalization of hating Israel and Jews. Mutual accommodations will therefore be made by the movement and its allies to protect key assets, like Sarsour, from criticism.

US recognition of Jerusalem sparks BDS-led protests and threats of violence. British Labour Party BDS support comes to forefront, splitting Jewish supporters.

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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

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