New York’s universities stand up against BDS and antisemitism

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One has to be unusually callous to revel publicly in the coronavirus-related death of an 88-year old Holocaust survivor, yet Leen Dweik did not hesitate.

A 2019 graduate of New York University, Dweik served as president of the NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the main force on campus behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that targets the Jewish state. Born in Budapest, Aryeh Even survived the war in Hungary before emigrating to Israel by himself as a teenager in 1949. He went on to have four children and 18 grandchildren, then became the first Israeli to succumb to COVID-19.

Dweik reacted to the news of Even’s death by posting on Twitter, “anyway should I paint my nails red or green today.”

What’s surprising is not Dweik’s combination of political zeal and personal coldness. She has called for abolishing the State of Israel and made headlines last year for a public confrontation with a visibly flustered Chelsea Clinton, whom she accused of provoking the massacre of 49 Muslims at a mosque in New Zealand.

What’s surprising is that NYU condemned Dweik’s brand of activism.

“With almost 500,000 alumni,” wrote NYU spokesman John Beckman, “NYU does not routinely respond to its graduates’ social media posts, but the reported Twitter post by a former NYU student about the first Israeli death from COVID-19 was shameful and callous.”

He added, “The death and disruption caused by this pandemic should be reason to draw us together in sympathy, not be fodder for divisiveness and indifference. NYU denounces such insensitivity; it is at odds with our campus’ values.”

This episode comes as the anti-Israel BDS campaign continues to permeate campuses not only in New York but throughout the country. Pro-Palestinian students have passed votes to impose BDS on the Jewish state, and university administrators have often remained indifferent or even supportive when BDS-animated anti-Semitism surfaces.

Positively, there have been some encouraging countervailing forces at work not only at NYU but also Fordham University and Columbia University.

Fordham led the way. In 2017, Keith Eldridge, dean of students at the Jesuit university’s Lincoln Center campus, opposed a request from the student government to recognize SJP. Eldridge said, “while students are encouraged to promote diverse political points of view, and we encourage conversation and debate on all topics, I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group and against a specific country.”

Unfortunately, a New York court overruled the ban last year

Columbia, for its part, is the same university that gave a platform to the then-president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2007. Iran’s regime is the world’s top state sponsor of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Tehran plays a role in supporting BDS activists and campaigns across the globe. The Iranian regime-sponsored al-Quds rallies, which were called into international action in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s militant regime, support BDS. The annual al-Quds event calls for the abolition of the Jewish state.

Still, Columbia President Lee Bollinger rightly opposes the upcoming undergraduate student BDS referendum recommending that Columbia divest from eight companies doing business with Israel that profit from work in the disputed West Bank territory.

Bollinger appears to have internalized the growing danger presented by the link between anti-Semitism and the BDS campaign at his school. In a statement, he places BDS in the context of the widespread rise of Jew-hatred. “When a swastika appears on campus, it is not just an isolated event. When there is a rising anti-Semitism in this country and around the world, even a single instance of it in any context is more alarming than it might otherwise be,” wrote Bollinger.

Anti-Semitism continues to proliferate in academia. BDS activism has generally subsided during the pandemic. It is too early to declare victory at NYU and Columbia, where BDS and other expressions of contemporary anti-Semitism have gained traction for years.

Yet as recent events demonstrate, the opening salvos of the fight back have begun. Whether they continue remains to be seen.

New York’s universities stand up against BDS and antisemitism

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Asaf Romirowsky

Asaf Romirowsky PhD, is the Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). Romirowsky is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a Professor ​[Affiliate] at the University​ of Haifa. Trained as a Middle East historian he holds a PhD in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King's College London, UK and has published widely on various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and American foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as on Israeli and Zionist history.

Romirowsky is co-author of Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief and a contributor to The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.

Romirowsky’s publicly-engaged scholarship has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The National Interest, The American Interest , The New Republic, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Ynet and Tablet among other online and print media outlets

Read all stories by Asaf Romirowsky