BDS Advocates Try to Split the Jewish Community From Israel
In July, the BDS movement accelerated its efforts to divide the American Jewish community from Israel and intensify internal divisions in the latter. Two incidents in which Birthright participants walked off their tours in protest over “not being told about the occupation” illustrate how this uniquely successful Jewish institution is under sustained assault precisely because it has brought American Jews closer to Israel. The Jewish connection to Israel is the latest target of the BDS movement, particularly for anti-Zionist Jews.
Some of the most significant BDS developments in July came in the Jewish arena. On two occasions, Birthright participants walked off their tours and joined BDS group tours. It was later revealed that these actions were not spontaneous, but that the individuals were members of the pro-BDS group IfNotNow. In one case, Birthright canceled the individuals’ return tickets, prompting them to solicit funds.
Despite the recent incidents, Birthright officials have announced that they will not vet applicants. This decision also demonstrates the impossible dilemmas that BDS creates for Jewish institutions. If vetting is done and applicants are rejected, the organization will be accused of exclusion and censorship. If applicants are not vetted, BDS groups will continued to exploit and subvert the organization from within.
The results of the provocations were predictable condemnations and applause, divided along political lines. Despite its proven track record of decreasing distance between young American Jews and Israel, Birthright is simultaneously accused of being insufficiently Zionist, not inclusive enough of anti-Zionism, and sometimes captive of “right wing donors.”
In other news, Israel has barred a number of prominent BDS activists from entering the country, including a South African celebrity, a Spanish BDS leader, and American BDS figure Ariel Gold. The South African was later invited to Israel by the government, which stated that she was effectively being blackmailed by the BDS movement into making expressions of support for anti-Israel boycotts.
These efforts have revealed a new dimension to the BDS movement’s Jewish strategy — deliberately creating a political problem for the Reform movement by alleging Israel’s actions are anti-democratic. Targeting the most politically liberal wing of American Judaism, which already feels slighted over its treatment by the Israeli rabbinate and the government, is transparent — but clever.
Overall, beginning with campus provocations over “Open Hillel,” BDS has thrust itself fully into the much discussed problems of Israel-Diaspora relations by attempting to undermine mainstream Jewish institutions. These are typically cast in terms of young American Jews’ supposed alienation from Israel’s “nationalism,” seemingly illiberal behavior towards Palestinians, treatment of the non-Orthodox, and, most recently, the passage of the nation-state bill defining Israel as the Jewish state.
Specific criticisms of various policies may be well founded, such as protests against the Rabbinate. But most Israeli policies are disaggregated and ad hoc responses to contingent situations, such as the lack of any historical or cultural resonance for Reform and Conservative Judaism, even among non-religious Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Not surprisingly, however, the mainstream media valorizes the rejection of Israel and the American Jewish consensus by a small Jewish minority.
As the anti-Israel left intensifies its messaging, it is not surprising that the Democratic Socialists of America adopted a BDS plank, as did the Socialist International. The rapid takeover by “democratic socialists” is already having an effect on the Democratic Party and will pose significant problems for American Jews in coming elections.
The normalization of Israel-hatred and BDS through “intersectionality” and “wokeness” was also demonstrated by an article in Teen Vogue, which blamed Israel for the alleged wave of police violence in the United States. This accusation is now reaching ever-younger audiences, in part because platforms such as Teen Vogue must continue to find the edgiest perspective on an ever-expanding range of issues in order to stay relevant in the hyper-competitive media market.
Pushing BDS and antisemitism on to younger audiences is complemented by the expansion of anti-Israel programming into high schools and middle schools. This occurs through the employment of BDS supporters as teachers, as was the case at elite private schools in Philadelphia and New York City; the use of anti-Israel teaching materials, as in Newton, Massachusetts; and through direct partnerships with Islamic and Arab groups, as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Signaling a school’s “tolerance” by celebrating Islam and denigrating Israel has long been a feeding mechanism for BDS, which is now achieving new synergies with the mass media.
There were also several noteworthy BDS-related developments in academia. San Francisco State University refused to take further action against a faculty member, Rabab Abdulhadi, who declared on social media that Zionists were not welcome on campus and that she was ashamed of the apology offered to Jewish students by the university president over past harassment.
Abdulhadi remains director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program, and adviser to the school’s General Union of Palestine Students, the predecessor of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has orchestrated the harassment of Jewish and Israeli students. The university’s refusal to take action, such as removing her from a leadership role or cutting funding to her program, creates a hostile learning environment.
Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled that the lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) may proceed. The suit alleges that members covertly planned to take over the organization for the purpose of subverting its mission and adopting BDS. Takeovers similar to that of the ASA have been attempted in numerous academic organizations by BDS supporters.
The attempted recall of the newly elected president and vice president of the UC Davis student government failed. The individuals were accused of being “racist, homophobic, sexist, trans-antagonistic, Zionist, conservative, etc.” and of having committed voter fraud. The local SJP branch then published an op-ed stating that peace is impossible “so long as the state of Israel exists.”
The Tulane SJP chapter also warned the university not to collaborate with Israeli institutions, and a Stanford SJP member threatened that he would “physically fight zionists on campus next year.” The student later changed the wording of his social media posting to “intellectually fight.” These incidents were a small reminder of the harassment and intimidation regularly used by SJP chapters, but also their vulnerability to embarrassment when such behavior is publicized.
In international news, the most important development was the British Labour Party’s rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in favor of its own version, which demands proof of an individual’s “antisemitic intent.” The party’s version excludes virulent expressions of anti-Israel bias — including equating Israel with Nazi Germany — claims that Israel is inherently racist, and accusations that Jews have dual loyalties. Observers have noted that if Labour had adopted the full definition of antisemitism, it would have been compelled to sanction or expel countless members, possibly including party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour move, which was supported by the party’s ruling organs dominated by Corbyn’s far-left and antisemitic Momentum group, effectively puts antisemites in charge of defining antisemitism. Unlike any other minority group in Britain, Jews are thus barred from defining what constitutes prejudice against them.
The Labour Party stance enraged British Jewry, and produced protests that expressed fear that Corbyn was an “existential threat” to the community. The party quickly censured members critical of its new stance. In contrast, antisemites, about whom numerous complaints have been made for over two years, remain largely untouched. The decision also touched off a storm of antisemitic abuse directed at the Jewish community and its supporters for their “disloyalty” to Corbyn and Labour. These attacks have included bizarre allegations that the Mossad had conspired with the editors to British Jewish newspapers to attack Corbyn. Critics warn that Labour is effectively institutionally antisemitic and that Britain is courting disaster should Corbyn be elected prime minister.
The Labour Party’s trajectory continues to be a warning, or harbinger, of developments within the US Democratic Party, particularly with much promoted candidacies of anti-Israel figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar for the House of Representatives, Maria Estrada for the California State Assembly, and Abdul El-Sayed for Governor of Michigan. Ocasio-Cortez’s forthcoming appearance alongside BDS activist Linda Sarsour at an Islamist conference is a worrying sign.
Elsewhere, the High Court in the Spanish state of Asturias ruled that Israel boycotts by municipalities and states are unconstitutional. After legal action, Israel boycotts have been ruled illegal and reversed in dozens of Spanish states and municipalities, but more localities continue to adopt motions regardless, most recently the city of Valencia and a nearby town.
The defiance of court rulings suggests that Israel-hatred is a supra-legal issue in Spain, which is undermining the rule of law. The announcement by the Spanish Justice Minister that it expected to reinstate the policy of universal jurisdiction that allowed foreigners, particularly Israelis, to be tried in Spanish courts, also indicates that Spanish foreign policy will be aligned with supra-legal norms.
Finally, the Irish Senate approved a bill criminalizing trade with Israeli “settlements.” The legislation demands heavy fines and prison sentences for individuals and companies importing, selling to, or providing services to entities located in the “settlements.” Observers warned that the wording of the bill was so broad that it would criminalize purchase of souvenirs and taxi rides across the “Green Line.” More substantively, the legislation will jeopardize American corporations based in Ireland by putting them in violation of US laws regarding politically motivated Israel boycotts, as well as European Union regulations. The bill, which was praised by Palestinians and BDS supporters, including Hamas, must still pass through other levels of the Irish legislature.
Dr. Alexander Joffe is the editor of the SPME BDS Monitor and a Ginsburg-Ingerman Fellow at the Middle East Forum. This article was originally published at SPME.org.