“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife . . . for any end, or under any pretense whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world.” So proclaimed the Quaker Declaration of Pacifism, delivered to King Charles II of England in 1660.
Times have changed among the admirably peaceful Quakers who maintained their commitment to pacifism even in the aftermath of 9/11. As an official of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia then declared, the jihadi perpetrators see “the United States – and economic and cultural powers of the West – as forces of violence, oppression and injustice.” Who were the Quakers to condemn al-Qaeda terrorists? As their faith teaches, “in the long term love will somehow win over hatred.”
With their passion for peace, it may seem curious that leaders of the American Friends Service Committee, the organized political voice of the Quakers, would have dined with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad in New York five years ago. Then, last year, the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation divested from Hewlett-Packard for providing technology consulting to the Israeli Navy. The AFSC website provides helpful hints for educating Americans about “Palestinian nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation” and organizing lobbying efforts “to end/condition US military aid to Israel.” All else failing, they must be sure to boycott SodaStream refills, “which are manufactured within an Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory” and even have the chutzpah to bear the label “Made in Israel.”
None of that sounds like fun, so the AFSC is inviting college students with suitably anti-Israel credentials to participate in a five-day summer training institute in pastoral upstate New York. There they will participate in an “intensive program” focusing on “what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” the better to develop Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions programs on their campuses.
Promising “fun in a summer camp-like environment,” the AFSC will offer “anti-oppression analysis workshops” and “non-violent direct action planning” – presumably accompanied by campfires and folk dancing (but certainly not the hora). It assures applicants that “meal and other accommodations will be made for those observing Ramadan.”
Comparing themselves – preposterously – to protesters against Jim Crow laws in the American South and apartheid laws in South Africa, organizers of the BDS summer-camp frolic see “nothing inherently anti-Semitic” in “these proven nonviolent tactics nor in the BDS movement as a whole.”
But the BDS movement has a revealing history. It originated with Francis Boyle, an international law professor at the University of Illinois whose demonstrable hostility toward Israel included allegations of “Zionist control and domination of the American judiciary.” Boyle, an adviser to the PLO between 1987-89 and 1991-93, accused Israel of “genocide” and proposed a divestment movement based on the “anti-apartheid model.” Insisting “God had no right to steal Palestine from the Palestinians and give Palestine to the Zionists,” he suggested that Israel change its name to “Jewistan” and predicted that “this Bantustan for Jews” would “collapse of its own racist and genocidal weight.”
The movement proliferated on university campuses, with the University of California leading the way in venomous denunciation of Israel. Initiated by Students for Justice in Palestine at Berkeley, an emerging academic hotbed of anti-Zionism, it sprouted chapters at Irvine, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Barbara. At their rallies and conferences, Muslim imams routinely praised suicide bombings targeting Israel civilians while identifying Israeli Zionists as “the true and legitimate object of liquidation.”
Even at tiny Oberlin College (my alma mater), renowned for its liberalism ever since it became the first college to admit female and African-American students, Students for a Free Palestine recently voted to divest from six companies “that profit from the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.” It was enthusiastically supported by La Alianza Latina, the South Asian Students Association, the Queer Wellness Coalition and the Center for Women and Transgender People. Oberlin, according to one proud student, “lives up to its progressive history and reputation.”
The contagion of delegitimization is widespread. Annual conferences in dozens of North American campus locations have provided popular forums – under the protective cover of academic freedom – for the laceration of Israel as “imperialist,” “colonial,” and “apartheid.” But, as former Harvard president Lawrence Summers warned when the BDS movement wound its way through the Ivy League, “serious and thoughtful people” in “progressive intellectual communities . . . are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.”
So it is with the American Friends Service Committee, as rustic and inspirational as its summer camp experience may be. But the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin), a ten-year-old civil-rights organization, with a history of successful litigation efforts representing victims of Palestinian terrorism and challenging banks that funded terrorist organizations, is monitoring the situation. It has given notice that its American office is investigating whether the camp violates federal and New York state anti-boycott laws and its organizers and participants may be subject to legal action.
If so, it could be a short hot summer for aspiring BDS organizers in upstate New York.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain: A Historian’s Journey (Quid Pro Books, 2012).