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June 2, 2019 5:53 am

BDS Continues to Normalize Antisemitism on Campus and Elsewhere

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avatar by Alexander Joffe


An ‘apartheid wall’ erected by Students for Justice in Palestine at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Photo: SJP at UIUC.

The most prominent aspect of BDS in May was the expanded policing on college campuses of pro-Israel support. At DePaul University, the faculty council officially condemned a faculty member after writing an op-ed in which he said that there should not be a Palestinian state, and voiced what some consider to be other controversial views on Israel. The university provost also condemned the op-ed.

Furthermore, the New York University Department of Social and Cultural Analysis voted to boycott the university’s Tel Aviv campus, on the basis of Israel’s laws barring BDS supporters from entry, and for its alleged discrimination against Arab and Palestinian students.

The department’s proclamation of noncooperation “seeks to protect the department from complicity with these forms of racial, religious, and political profiling.” Yet no evidence of Israel barring or harassing NYU students was cited, and the allegations regarding Arab and Palestinian students in general were vague. The university quietly expressed disapproval of the resolution. The university’s branch of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement in support of the department and criticized the university’s low-key disapproval, while over 140 medical school faculty members condemned the department and the university’s growing atmosphere of antisemitism. A student also filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging it had permitted antisemitic harassment and intimidation.

The NYU administration’s tolerance of anti-Israel sentiment was demonstrated by a graduate commencement speaker who lauded BDS, called Israel an “apartheid state,” and called President Trump a “fascist.” The university president, who was videoed applauding the speech, demonstrated NYU’s duplicity. The university president had earlier given the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter a presidential award and then denied involvement. The administration later issued a statement calling the commencement speech “objectionable” and reiterated the university’s opposition to BDS.

The speaker (whose antisemitic tweets were later exposed) will assume a position teaching journalism at Northwestern University in the fall, which in turn preemptively issued a statement defending his free speech rights but reiterating its opposition to BDS.

At the student level, there were a number of incidents in which Israel-related individuals and groups were subjected to discrimination and abuse. At Williams College, the student government voted not to recognize a pro-Israel group, a decision that was defended on the basis of Israeli “state violence.” The student recording the minutes of the meeting, however, indicated the tone of the discussion, noting “clearly anti-Semitic things I didn’t type down. I want to repeat them, but I didn’t type those things down.” The college president expressed disapproval, and the group was eventually recognized — but only after external pressure.

At Brandeis and the University of California at San Diego, pro-Israel displays were repeatedly vandalized with pro-Palestinian slogans. In contrast, there were no reports of “apartheid walls” being defaced. BDS supporters disrupted a public pro-Israel event at NYU, while at the University of Washington, the local SJP chapter protested the inclusion of Hillel at a campus-wide cultural festival. After running a pro-Israel op-ed, the editors of the Tufts student newspaper apologized in a follow-up piece. These incidents were in addition to a spate of “apartheid walls” and demands that Hillels cease Birthright trips.

More positively, a student judicial board at the University of California at Davis voted unanimously that the BDS resolution adopted by the student government was unconstitutional, while the student government at California Polytechnic passed a resolution condemning antisemitism and effectively banning BDS.

The University of Michigan also issued guidelines stipulating that faculty must write letters of recommendation solely on the basis of merit. After a bitter lead-up, faculty at the University of Cape Town voted to “defer” a decision on BDS pending further consultation. At Columbia University, a BDS proposal in the guise of “human rights” resolution was narrowly defeated in the joint faculty-student senate.

The impunity with which BDS efforts are proceeding was demonstrated by the weak condemnations of “eviction notices” distributed at Emory University by the local SJP chapter. The university characterized these as not being antisemitic, but the SJP chapter protested all criticism of its actions and demanded its critics be censured. The SJP chapter at Columbia University similarly called for its critics to be boycotted. At UCLA, the student government passed a resolution declaring that the SJP chapter was “not antisemitic.”

The policing of faculty and students by the BDS movement and the repeated examples of “deplatforming” are part of a larger movement towards censorship at universities. Examples include removal of a law professor from a housemaster position at Harvard after students protested his role as a defense attorney for Harvey Weinstein, student demands that cultural critic Camile Paglia be removed from her faculty position over her statements regarding transgender issues, demands that a Chik-fil-A franchise be removed from campus, the firing of a Cambridge University sociologist after protests regarding his research on human intelligence, and expanding fringe efforts to ban traces of “imperialists,” including Winston Churchill.

These destructive trends have meshed with the long term efforts to “decolonize the curriculum” by banishing Euro-Americans and Euro-American studies, and tarring such fields (and all critics) as “white supremacist,” “alt right,” or “racist.”

Parallel to this are explicit efforts by the BDS movement to describe Jews and Israel as “white” and “white supremacist.” In response to an op-ed that described how Israel was not comprised of “privileged and powerful white Europeans,” academic and prominent BDS supporter Marc Lamont Hill claimed that “Mizrahi Jew” was an “identity category” invented as part of “the racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.” This preposterous assertion is simultaneously historical revisionism that denies the history of Palestinian Arab hostility towards indigenous Jews, and bolsters the allegation that Israel is a “white,” “settler colonialist enterprise.”

Hill’s comments were echoed in a talk at UCLA by another BDS supporter, San Francisco State University Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who called Israelis “white supremacists” who want to “ethnically cleanse” the Middle East.

Not to be outdone, in an interview, leading BDS supporter Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) stated: “There’s always kind of a calming feeling when I think of the tragedy of the Holocaust, that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity and their existence, in many ways, has been wiped out … in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-Holocaust, post-tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that in many ways.”

Tlaib was attacked for her comments regarding the Holocaust but more substantively for her historical revisionism, which denied Palestinian Arabs’ abject hostility toward Jews, including Holocaust survivors.

The New York Times international edition also published two editorial cartoons, one of which showed a blind President Trump being led by a canine Benjamin Netanyahu. A resulting firestorm prompted a weak apology from the newspaper, but there is little evidence of fundamental rethinking of anti-Israel biases.

The other vector for legitimizing antisemitism remains the simultaneous covering up and celebration of statements by Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Tlaib’s ludicrous Holocaust statement was defended by political leaders including Nancy Pelosi and dismissed by media figures such as late night entertainer Seth Meyers.

Finally, in cultural news, the Eurovision competition took place in Israel despite intense pressure by the BDS movement. In the lead up to the competition, it was revealed that a small number of BDS supporters had orchestrated a large scale online campaign using fake accounts, bots, and other tools to attack Israel.

Dr. Alex Joffe is an archaeologist and historian specializing in the Middle East and contemporary international affairs. Educated at Cornell University and the University of Arizona, he is currently a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow of the Middle East Forum, a research scholar at the Institute for Community and Jewish Research, and a contributing writer for Jewish Ideas Daily. His web site is

A version of this article was originally published by SPME.

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