BDS Harms Palestinians and Assaults Jewish Identity
Many people get their information about the Middle East from their local papers and websites, and advocates for Israel need to be heard in those venues. I offer this piece as a resource for others who wish to do just that.
On Oct. 25, Dr. Mohammed Dajani spoke to LIME, an Israeli-Palestinian student dialogue group that I mentor at Syracuse University (SU). Dajani, a Palestinian peace activist, garnered international attention in 2014 when he was vilified for taking a group of Palestinian students to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in present-day Poland.
After an assassination attempt, Dajani was forced to resign his Al Quds University position. Now he speaks to university audiences about his family history, the radicalization of Palestinian society and his transformation from an Israel-hater into an admirer of Israel’s pluralistic democracy.
At SU, Dajani also voiced his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) — the global propaganda campaign designed to erode support for Israel.
BDS is often presented as a nonviolent social justice movement. But the movement’s origins and tactics tell a more sinister story.
Contrary to popular accounts, BDS wasn’t initiated in 2005 by West Bank civil society groups. In fact, the platform was developed a few years earlier in Iran. Then, it was rolled out at the 2001 UN-sponsored Durban conference on racism— an anti-Semitic hate-fest so despicable that the US delegation walked out.
Today, what discredits BDS as pro-peace is the fact that some of its leaders once worked for the now defunct Hamas-supporting Holy Land Foundation. BDS activists continue to partner with terrorists — including PFLP members. Murderers convicted of heinous attacks on the innocent, like Rasmea Odeh — responsible for the deaths of two college students in a 1969 bombing — are also hailed as heroes, and BDS activists are currently rallying on her behalf.
BDS activists often champion Palestinian terrorism as legitimate freedom-fighting, while downplaying radical Islamist calls for Israel’s destruction, and the Palestinian Authority’s incitement to violence and rejection of multiple peace offers.
But BDS isn’t only anti-Israel; it also harms Palestinians. It is insensitive to the fact that boycotts of Israeli companies rob Palestinians of their livelihoods. And by holding Israel responsible for Palestinian suffering, BDS diverts attention from their mistreatment by despotic Arab governments.
In my experience, many who gravitate to BDS are caring people who harbor no ill-will toward Jews. But there can be no denying that BDS has now successfully mainstreamed antisemitism.
Recent reports show that on university campuses, BDS is strongly correlated with a rise in antisemitic rhetoric and harassment. At colleges where there are active boycott campaigns, Jewish students report hiding their Jewish-Zionist identities to avoid being ostracized from progressive groups — feminism, Black Lives Matter, LGBT and others — which are now infiltrated by BDS.
On many campuses, coursework and guest speaker series are being perverted in the propaganda war against Israel.
But the intimidation isn’t confined to students.
At Syracuse University, in a recent incident that garnered media headlines, a prominent Israeli filmmaker was disinvited by a faculty member who feared what her BDS-supporting colleagues would say. Now, BDS faculty at SU are demanding that all collaboration with Israeli universities be stopped.
Off campus, BDS activists are also infusing America’s community spaces with a virulently anti-Israel agenda.
In Syracuse, the BDS contingent manages to find one extremist guest speaker after another who demonize Israel while trafficking in negative stereotypes of Jews.
Last year, they hosted Alison Weir at the local public library. Weir’s antisemitic crackpottery — including claims that wealthy American Jews have conspired to push the US into wars, and that Israeli Jews harvest the organs of Palestinians to avenge the Holocaust — is so repulsive that the Anti-Defamation League has a 10-page dossier on her.
In September, this local BDS group brought Miko Peled to speak to two Syracuse-area Methodist congregations, calling him a human rights activist. You be the judge: Peled defends Hamas rocket attacks as “therapy” for colonial subjects; claims many of the recent Palestinian knife attacks are fabrications concocted by Israel; and deploys antisemitic canards, calling Israel and American Zionists “sleazy thieves” and equating Israel’s counterterror policies to Nazism.
The BDS binary of Israelis as evil oppressors and the Palestinians as blameless victims prevents an honest debate about the conflict, and how it can be resolved. But no matter how impoverished its message, Americans have a free speech right to advocate for it.
Government officials also have a duty to act against unlawful practices. Because BDS discriminates based on national origin, 13 states have now passed legislation that bar the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. Nearly twenty more such bills will be introduced in 2017.
These laws don’t infringe on First Amendment protections as BDS activists falsely proclaim. Nor does Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order. The only reason he issued it was because similar legislative action was stalled in committee. Had the anti-BDS bill been released to the full body of New York legislators, it certainly would have passed.
Embargoes of Israel are nothing new. The Arab League has boycotted Israeli goods and products since the 1940s, as part of its strategy to rid the world of the lone Jewish state. But even before Israel’s founding, Jewish businesses and professionals were boycotted by those who would later do the Jews far greater harm.
BDS is merely the contemporary expression of the oldest prejudice.
A version of this essay originally appeared at Syracuse.com and is reposted with permission.