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May 1, 2019 11:36 am

BDS Expands on Campus After ‘Apartheid Week’ and Other Incidents

avatar by Alexander Joffe


A pro-BDS demonstration. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Anti-Israel activities reached a peak in April, with BDS resolutions being considered at a number of schools, and with “Israel Apartheid Week” events at several dozen institutions.

BDS resolutions were narrowly defeated at Cornell University, and, after a marathon 10-hour debate that ended at 4:30 AM, at UC Santa Barbara. After the Cornell vote, BDS supporters complained that the voting procedures were unfair. Another BDS resolution was defeated at the University of Maryland, with the vote taking place during Passover. A student referendum at Dublin City College, however, approved an Israel boycott by a wide margin.

Fallout expanded after the approval of a BDS resolution at Brown University, with supporters disrupting a ceremony for newly admitted students. At Pitzer College, where the college president vetoed a joint student-faculty resolution to cut off a study abroad program with Haifa University, the student government passed a resolution of “censure” but failed to pass a resolution of “no confidence” that called for the president’s resignation.

“Israeli Apartheid Week” agitation was undertaken at many campuses. Op-eds advocating for BDS appeared in many campus newspapers, and “apartheid walls” were constructed on several campuses. Jewish students at a variety of institutions as diverse as Harvard and Occidental College were subjected to BDS protests, and news reports indicate that harassment was widespread. At Harvard, the student government provided financial support to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for “Apartheid Week,” and the student newspaper lectured that this “should be rooted in the goal of sparking meaningful and constructive dialogue.”

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Among the most egregious events were “mock eviction” notices distributed in dormitories at Emory University by the local SJP branch. Compounding the situation was that after Jewish groups expressed outrage, the SJP branch called for those groups to be boycotted for “smearing student activists.” For its part the university found that the flyers were not antisemitic, but criticized the SJP branch for placing the flyers on students’ doors without permission, violating their right to privacy and potentially confusing “students with limited English skills, who might not initially realize they were fake.”

The broader impact of BDS on campus life was seen at the University of California at Berkeley, where a student judicial committee meeting on an unrelated subject was marked by a variety of antisemitic and anti-Israel statements including “being friends with Zionists means one is complicit in oppression, the prison-industrial complex, and modern-day slavery.” Campus Jewish groups condemned the incident. At several institutions, such as at the University of Oregon, candidates for student government were questioned on BDS.

Other incidents included shouting down a speaker at the University of Chicago Law School, boycotting an ‘Israel Shabbat’ at the Princeton Hillel, protesting an Israel fair at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and protesting an Israel innovation fair at the University of Chicago. The Vassar SJP chapter demanded that the city of Poughkeepsie end its economic connections with Israel.

Protests extended beyond campus, aimed particularly at Birthright Israel. This included opinion pieces in college newspapers, from both SJP and IfNotNow. The latter also held a protest outside of Birthright’s New York office, blocking traffic and prompting a number of arrests.

In a related development, Palestinian BDS leader Omar Barghouti was suddenly barred from entry into the United States. US authorities did not reveal the reason that Barghouti’s visa was revoked but it is likely related to the fact that the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), which he co-founded, includes a number of terrorist organizations.

Barghouti had been scheduled to speak at a number of “Apartheid Week” events, including at Harvard, the University of Virginia (where the student government had provided funding), and New York University. In several cases Barghouti addressed BDS events remotely, including one at New York University organized by Jewish Voice for Peace.

Predictably, BDS advocates and Barghouti himself claimed he was a victim of repression organized by Israel.

As the school year ends, Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel students and faculty find themselves subjected to continuing attacks and being forced to pay for it, in the form of their student activity fees and events supported by departments and thus tuition money (such as at the University of Massachusetts). At New York University, the SJP branch even received a presidential award for its “service to the community,” with the university president notably absent from the ceremony. At DePaul University, a student groups demanded that a faculty member who authored a pro-Israel op-ed be censured and sent to sensitivity training, calling him “Islamophobic.”

Lawmakers and others have begun to take notice about the misuse of university and state funds to support BDS events, such as the recent joint anti-Israel event at Duke and the University of North Carolina, which featured an unapologetically antisemitic rapper.

In the political sphere, lines continue to harden. Pressure has increased on the Democratic presidential candidates to align themselves with the progressive wing on BDS and the Palestinian issue, particularly in the wake of the Israeli election that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain in power. Describing Netanyahu as a “racist” has quickly becoming a standard talking point among some candidates.

Centrist Democrats and donors have expressed dismay regarding the divisiveness of the Israel question. The left wing of the party, however, continues to push further on BDS. Reports indicate that Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), an outspoken BDS supporter, met with members of the leading BDS organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) during “Palestine Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill.

AMP is the umbrella organization behind SJP, and is the successor to the Islamic Association for Palestine, which was shut down in 2004 after a lawsuit held it liable for a suicide bombing in Israel that killed an American citizen. During those meetings Tlaib also met with a leading American supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah.

A version of this article was originally published by SPME.

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