SPME BDS Monitor: Divestment Stalls, But Antisemitism Thrives
March was a complicated month for BDS efforts, with divestment resolutions, “Israeli Apartheid Week” activities, outbreaks of campus antisemitism and important political developments.
Last month, BDS resolutions were rejected by student governments at the University of Illinois, Ohio State University and a branch of the University of Western Ontario. On the other hand, BDS measures were approved at De Anza College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. While the Georgetown University Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility rejected a student demand to divest from companies doing business in Israel, the student government at the University of Turin passed a resolution calling for that university to end all cooperation with the Israeli company Technion.
During March, Israeli Apartheid Week events were held at many colleges and universities. In a departure from its standard practice, however, the Columbia University student government declined support to the BDS group responsible for Israeli Apartheid Week and a ‘Zionism is racism’ event. And to counter Apartheid Week programming, pro-Israel students at Columbia held a Hebrew Liberation Week.
In Britain, one notable feature of “Apartheid Week” was a strong statement by Prime Minister Theresa May calling on universities to “investigate and swiftly address” antisemitism on campus. May’s comments should be seen in the context of an important British policy shift away from routinely supporting anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
These campus BDS developments came as antisemitic incidents continued to occur at colleges in the US and Europe. In March, incidents included the distribution of flyers decrying “white privilege” and “Jewish privilege” at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and flyers with swastikas at Virginia Tech. At the University of Texas, protestors harassed students at a pro-Israel event, and harassed Jewish students in general.
An unusual incident saw the Ohio State Hillel drop its affiliation with a campus LGBTQ group after the latter co-sponsored an event with the leading pro-BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace. The LGBTQ group then characterized Hillel’s move as anti-LGBTQ, rather than as consistent with Hillel’s longstanding policy of opposing BDS.
In an important faculty-related development, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) voted to drop the words “non-political” from its charter. The move was supported by twelve former MESA presidents, many of whom are BDS supporters. MESA has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment, and this change paves the way for BDS resolutions to be adopted by the organization in the future. It is unclear, however, whether the change will jeopardize MESA’s non-profit status.
In the political sphere, legislation opposing state investments in firms boycotting Israel were passed in Arkansas and Texas, while another bill is pending in Maryland. A separate bill condemning antisemitism was passed in South Carolina; that bill was strongly criticized by Palestinian and BDS supporters because it used the US State Department definition of antisemitism, which includes language regarding anti-Israel bias.
The New York State Senate passed legislation that would prevent New York from funding campus groups calling for boycotts of Israel, and “allied nations.” It is unclear whether or how this legislation would apply to student activity fees, which comprise a major source of income for campus BDS groups.
Opponents of the bill, including the legal arm of the BDS movement, said that the legislation would unfairly restrict the free speech rights of students. The bill has moved to the New York State Assembly, where strong opposition is expected.
More controversially still, legislation was introduced in the US Senate and House of Representatives that would fine companies that complied with United Nations or other international boycotts of Israeli communities across the Green Line. The bipartisan sponsors of the bill stated the legislation was not designed to protect ‘settlements,’ but to keep Palestinians from using international pressure to avoid final status negotiations on borders with Israel.
The fact that the American political elite now equates BDS with antisemitism was also on display at the annual AIPAC meeting, where House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the equation in precisely those terms. Haley said: “The effort to delegitimize the state of Israel being waged on college campuses and the anti-Israel obsession at the UN are one and the same.” She further noted, “We should boycott North Korea. We should sanction Iran. We should divest from Syria, not Israel.”
In political-legal news, BDS supporter and Palestinian symbol Rasmieh Odeh accepted a plea deal from Federal authorities. Odeh, who was previously convicted in Israel for a terror attack that killed two people, has now admitted to lying on her US immigration application. She will be deported, likely to Jordan. Odeh and BDS supporter Linda Sarsour were organizers of the recent International Women’s Strike; the group’s platform called for the “decolonization of Palestine,” and thus, Israel’s destruction.
In an interview, Sarsour also explicitly stated that being feminist was incompatible with Zionism, a viewpoint that elicited objections from both Zionist women and representatives of the far left. At the same time, Sarsour led an effort to raise money to restore Jewish cemeteries, which has been viewed by some as a useful cover for her BDS activities. Both Odeh and Sarsour were featured speakers at the Jewish Voice for Peace conference last weekend.
The Odeh and Sarsour controversies shows the manner in which BDS has colonized the American left through the “intersectional” elevation of Palestinians at the expense of interpretations of feminism. Embracing convicted terrorists like Odeh is becoming the litmus test for acceptance into ‘intersectional’ feminism.
Internationally, a United Nations-backed anti-Israel boycott effort was unmasked and thwarted. The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), comprised solely of Muslim states, undertook a ‘research’ effort on Israel’s “apartheid regime.” The effort was designed to lead to a global propaganda campaign against Israel, and eventually sanctions against Israeli settlements. The report’s authors were Richard Falk — a retired law professor, UN “human rights” functionary, BDS supporter and 9/11 truther — and Virginia Tilley, a law professor and noted one-state advocate.
When word of the report leaked, it elicited fierce responses from Israel and the United States. After pressure from the UN Secretary General, the official who commissioned the report, Rima Khalaf, resigned, and the report was removed from UN websites. The episode demonstrated, yet again, the extent to which the United Nations system, including obscure appendages, has been subverted to support the Palestinian and BDS causes. Another ESCWA report, this one comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa and slave-era America, is planned for 2017.
Elsewhere in Europe, a BDS conference in Rome was canceled after protests from the Jewish community. Similar pressure also caused the cancelation of BDS events in Vienna, Bonn and Frankfurt; hotels in Vienna also refused to host BDS events.
In Switzerland a series of reports showed that the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs was funding a variety of BDS groups in the Palestinian Authority and Israel. A bill banning such funding was then introduced and passed by the lower house of the Swiss legislature. The bill will be taken up by the upper house in May.
Finally, important BDS related developments also took place in Israel. In the first, the Knesset approved legislation giving the government authority to bar BDS supporters from entering Israel. The legislation was sharply criticized by Israelis and others as both unnecessary, and an effort that could be seen as criminalizing opposition to both Israel and Israeli communities in the West Bank.
Another important development was the arrest by Israeli authorities of BDS leader Omar Barghouti on charges of tax evasion. Barghouti, an Israeli citizen, is alleged to have hidden $700,000 in income, as well as the existence of foreign bank accounts. Barghouti’s arrest was condemned by other BDS leaders. The arrest suggests that the Israeli government is cracking down on illicit funding of the BDS movement.
This article was originally published by SPME here.