BDS in September built on the summer’s conflict in Gaza, with a variety of efforts to condemn and isolate Israel in academia. European economic threats against Israel in order to force Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have also intensified after the summer conflict.
One of the most important BDS developments was the public announcement of an “International Day of Action” against Israel by Hatem Bazian of the group “American Muslims for Palestine” (AMP). Bazian and AMP called for
No to Academic Complicity with Israeli Occupation
No to Study Abroad Programs in Israel
No Investments in Apartheid and Occupation Supporting Companies
No to University Presidents’ Visits to Israel
No Campus Police Training or Cooperation with Israeli Security
No Joint Research or Conferences with Israeli Institutions
No Cooperation with Hasbara Networks on College Campuses
No to Targeting Faculty for Speaking Against Israeli Crimes
No to Administrative Limits on Free Speech Rights of Palestine Activists
No to University Coordination and Strategizing with the ADL, JCRC, AJC, Stand With US, ZOA, Israeli Consulate to Limit Students Pro-Palestine Constitutionally Protected Activities.
The list provides interesting insights on the core BDS movement. It goes beyond standard BDS demands regarding economic and intellectual relations between American institutions and Israel and Israeli universities. Targeting specific programs such as visits by presidents of US institutions and campus police tacitly recognizes they are successful in correcting the negative images of Israel proffered by BDS supporters. The demands for limits to be imposed on anti-BDS speech also recognizes that the free flow of information works against BDS. The draconian tone of the demands indicate deep aversion to the idea of an open university environment.
Bazian was co-creator of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and has been a BDS leader since the early 1990s. He straddles the roles of anti-Israel activist and Islamic educator, with teaching positions at the University of California at Berkeley and Zaytouna College, an Islamic college, and as an anti-Israel speaker and organizer. His group American Muslims for Palestine is a national support organization for SJP and grew out of the now defunct Islamic Association for Palestine. This earlier group was associated with the Holy Land Foundation that was closed after being found to have funneled money to Hamas.
While AMP has BDS as one of its primary purposes, and has been active providing administrative services to SJP chapters and especially educating BDS activists in fundraising, organizing, media and outreach techniques at its annual convention, it has kept a relatively low public profile. Bazian’s public use of the AMP platform to call for BDS and anti-Jewish boycotts is a new level of agitation. But aside from protests at the University of California at Berkeley itself, there is little evidence that the call for “action” resulted in much activity. There is the possibility that Bazian’s call was a provocation to generate negative reaction from pro-peace groups, which would then be criticized. Alternately, the demands may simply reflect a pro-BDS anti-free speech agenda consistent with an Islamist viewpoint.
In August several hundred Middle East scholars and librarians signed a letter calling for the boycott of Israeli institutions and scholars. The signatories included several directors of Federally funded National Resource Centers, created under Title VI of the the Higher Education Act. This has led scholars to ask whether the directors of the centers are calling for or actually boycotting Israel in contravention of Title VI statutes.
Title VI was the subject of a report detailing the failure of funded programs, including evidence of anti-Israel bias. A coalition of ten groups signed a letter attached to the report calling on the US Congress to eliminate funding for Title VI programs. The report and proposal for funding cuts elicited a furious response from the Middle East Studies Association, which denied Title VI centers displayed anti-Israel bias.
The question of informal boycotts and overt bias against Israel by Title VI institutions was also given substance by a report on the Center for Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. The report showed that from 2010 to 2013 the center’s events and courses were disproportionately focused on Israel, dramatically biased against it, and with speakers frequently veering into antisemitism.
These efforts, and a public petition against campus BDS that has gained over 1000 signatures, have temporarily put BDS advocates in unfavorable public light.
Several other academic developments warrant mention. At the City University of New York (CUNY), BDS supporters in the ‘Doctoral Students’ Council’ scheduled a vote on a BDS resolution for a Friday evening. Scheduling BDS related activities during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays are established tactics for BDS supporters. The consciousness regarding adverse publicity was also reflected in an advisory from the proponents claiming “In the interest of being environmentally friendly, we will not provide printed copies of the attached documents at the meeting.” After news of the vote was publicized it was postponed, allegedly “out of respect for Shabbat.”
The American Anthropological Association will also debate the question BDS in several panels at its annual meeting in December. Reports indicate that presentations on the question will be almost entirely one-sided in favor. Speakers will apparently include prominent BDS supporters from Jewish Voice for Peace and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, few BDS opponents, and no Israeli scholars. The bias in favor of BDS is consistent with the materials distributed earlier this year by the association to its members and the membership of the task force appointed to advise the organization. It appears likely that the organization will then move forward with a BDS resolution.
In the political sphere, in his speech to the United Nations, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians and cited the “the qualitative and quantitative broadening of activities of the international grassroots boycott campaign against Israel’s policies of occupation, apartheid and colonial settlement, especially among academia, cultural, student and youth groups.” While Abbas has spoken out against BDS in the past, his positive words at the UN suggest a change of position. Abbas also called on the United Nations to adopt a resolution demanding peace on Palestinian terms. The proposal carries the implicit threat of Palestinian calls for international sanctions if a resolution fails.
Boycott-related pressures have continued to increase from Europe. New European Union regulations designed to pressure Israeli communities in the West Bank have gone into effect. These do not ban Israeli agricultural products directly but do not recognize veterinary inspection by Israeli monitors, thus disqualifying them from the European market. Poultry products have already been affected, but regulations on dairy and fish products have been delayed. Ostensibly the European Union seeks to separate all Israeli products originating inside the 1967 borders of Israel from those originating across the Green Line. It is likely this rationale masks the effort for using economic pressure to force desired outcomes in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
A more explicit boycott threat regarding Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has come from Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard. In an interview he stated “If nothing happens at the peace negotiations this time, and if we don’t see a new reaction pattern from Israel, then we will discuss new steps, including a change in our trade relations with Israel.” Lidegaar also called for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted and for “illegal settlements” to be dismantled. Danish Trade Minister Mogens Jensen disagreed with Lidegaard, stating “You can use sanctions when there is international approval for doing so… I don’t think that it makes sense for Denmark to go it alone, because then it will have no effect. And I don’t feel that I can say there is a need for sanctions yet.”
Outside of the European Union and European governments, the record for BDS remains mined. The Dutch pension fund ABP, for example, recently announced that it would not divest from Israeli banks, despite a plea to do so from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
As usual, however, trade unions generally remain BDS supporters. One recent development saw Britain’s Trade Union Congress (YUC) passing a resolution condemning Israel over the Gaza war and calling for Britain “to end immediately arms trading with Israel including all military-industrial collaboration. The TUC should, working with the relevant unions, press those companies involved in supporting Israel’s military to cease to do so.” The resolution also called for “the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement until the rights of the Palestinians are established” and for corporations and pension funds to shift investments away from the “Occupied Territories.” Several commentators have suggested that the resolution represents not only a success for BDS activists in the United Kingdom but a dramatic failure for pro-peace advocates in the British labor movement and for Israeli diplomacy. The impact of the call on the Labour Party remains unclear. In contrast, in a speech to the Holocaust Education Trust Conservative Party head Michael Gove criticized Israel boycott calls and noted “the conflation of anti-Israeli agitation and straightforward antisemitism.”
Reports now suggest that the SodaStream company, located across the Green Line north of Jerusalem and which was the subject of intense BDS pressure, may be relocating to an industrial area of the Negev. Company management has stated that the move, if it occurs, will be prompted by Israeli tax incentives and not BDS. Some 900 Palestinians are currently employed by SodaStream.
Finally, in cultural news, despite BDS pressure musical artists have resumed performing in Israel after the summer’s conflict in Gaza. These include Lady Gaga, who appeared alongside Tony Bennett. The Beach Boys and Kiss have announced they will perform in Israel.