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March 12, 2019 8:30 am

BDS at Swarthmore: A Shameful Display of Antisemitism

avatar by Matt Stein /


Members of Students for Justice for Palestine and their supporters demonstrate at Swarthmore College on Dec. 12, 2018. Photo: Screenshot.

JNS.orgThe Student Government Organization (SGO) at Swarthmore College passed a resolution on March 3 supporting Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Everything about the entire process was shameful and absurd — the “discussion,” the response to it, and the ultimate vote and statement in support of BDS. After initially voting no on BDS two weeks earlier, the SGO decided to hold a “discussion” about BDS the following week. But “discussion” was only a euphemism for a meeting that brought forward the ugly face of antisemitism, and was one long session of baseless character assassination.

Rather than hold a civil, arguments-based discussion about the merits of a BDS resolution, the SGO oversaw a bullying session in which many SJP members locked arms and labeled Jewish and pro-Israel students “fascists” and “racists” for opposing BDS and the so-called Palestinian “Right of Return.”

The specific label of fascist on these students, beyond its total baselessness, was also quite ironic given the underlying antisemitic basis of white supremacy here. In fact, actual white supremacists — people like David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan — use rhetoric nearly identical to that of these SJP BDS “activists.” Duke is a big supporter of BDS, and constantly uses the age-old antisemitic trope of Jewish financial power (the “Jew Gold”) by accusing AIPAC of running Washington. Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also tweeted such a trope a few weeks ago, and Duke rose to her defense. What links the support of BDS from antisemites like Duke and “anti-Zionists” like Omar? In many cases, they both hate Jews.

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In fact, anti-Zionist antisemites and classic antisemites often use almost identical rhetoric. One refers to Jews by name; the other refers to Jews with the “Zionist” stand-in, but we know what they mean.

The Swarthmore “discussion” exposed the antisemitism of this campus in a grossly tangible way, and it was so rabid and overwhelming that effective push-back was nearly impossible in such a setting. One Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) member stated matter-of-factly that Zionism is a Nazi idea. Only a morally corrupt person could accuse proud Jews, who support a Jewish state with democratic values, of being equivalent to one of the worst ideologies to ever enter the world stage, and that led to the murder of more than a third of the entire Jewish people.

Instead of condemning this bigotry, the SGO encouraged it. They sent an email proudly stating that the meeting should be a “precedent” for future meetings, and “an example of what SGO should strive to be.” What could be more disturbing to a Jewish student than to read that the SGO should “strive” to hold spectacularly uncivil meetings that contain overt elements of antisemitism? If any other common form of bigotry was similarly propagated at that meeting, the SGO certainly would not have responded in this manner.

The effect of this rhetoric is that it is driving away students who hold Israel as part of their identities, Jewish or otherwise. I know multiple bright students who were admitted to Swarthmore and declined to attend the school because they are afraid of being harassed and bullied. The SGO’s passing of a BDS resolution makes this environment far worse, and SGO members should feel personally responsible if this campus is entirely devoid of any Jew that connects Israel to his identity. The fact that SGO pointed to JVP (a group whose members openly reject Israel as a Jewish state, and whose views represent a tiny fringe of the American Jewish community) as the main Jewish resource to excuse the implications of BDS, is just icing on the cake of absurdity.

But Jewish students need not worry, according to the SGO. The resolution is “not a repudiation” of Jewish students.

Here, a story about antisemitism that former Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz told when discussing BDS comes to mind: In the 1920s, Harvard and other top universities set quotas to limit the number of Jews on campus. A judge inquired to Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell about the reason for the quotas, to which Lowell answered that “the Jews cheat.” The judge pointed out that Christian students at Harvard also cheat. The president looked him in the eye and said, “You’re changing the subject. We are talking about Jews now.”

The SGO just passed a resolution that condemns alleged human-rights violations by a Western-style democracy — and the world’s only Jewish nation — that do not even begin to approach the horrific records of dozens of murderous dictatorships. But the SGO is, apparently, only “talking about Jews now.”

Matthew Stein, an honors economics major at Swarthmore College, serves as the president of Swarthmore Students for Israel and of Swarthmore Chabad. He is a currently a CAMERA fellow and a former fellow with StandWithUs.

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