Amid Campus Battles, BDS Loses on the National Stage
The focus of July’s BDS activities remained firmly in the political sphere. Most notable were a series of BDS resolutions introduced in Congress, both opposed to and in favor of boycotts.
In July, a resolution passed the House by an overwhelming margin after being fast-tracked, with limited debate. A Senate bill, introduced in March and then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, reaffirmed support for a two-state solution and rejected the BDS movement. The House passed two additional security bills and an amendment addressing BDS activities attached to a Middle Eastern security cooperation bill that passed the Senate earlier this year.
The passage of the non-binding House resolution was a rebuke to BDS supporters in the House led by Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and it was a clear defeat in the ongoing confrontation between the far-left progressives and the Democratic leadership, particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The House bill introduced by Omar reaffirms the right to boycott, but rather than mention Israel by name, it lists boycotts against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and apartheid South Africa as precedents.
By design, Omar’s pro-BDS bill expropriates both Jewish and American history by citing the precedent of “boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.” The offensive equation of the Holocaust with the Palestinian experience is equally obvious. The bill was supported by J Street but also received surprising support from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who denied that Israel was targeted.
After filing her pro-BDS bill, Omar announced that she and Tlaib would be traveling to Israel and the West Bank on a fact-finding trip. The trip was clearly designed as a provocation to the Israeli government to ban them, but after brief speculation, it was announced that both would be permitted to enter.
BDS has also become part of the presidential campaign. After leading harassment of Jewish students and institutions such as Hillel, the BDS group IfNotNow (INN) has moved on to ambushing Democratic presidential candidates, asking them to state their opposition to the “occupation.”
Candidates Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg stated their support for INN’s position, while Cory Booker and Joe Biden offered more complex answers, with Booker refusing to use the word “occupation.” In response, INN accused Booker and Biden of “retreating” to “AIPAC’s anti-Palestinian & false talking points.” Reports also indicate that Warren has hired an INN co-founder for her campaign staff.
Support from the “red-green” alliance in Congress and by the increasing alignment of Muslim Brotherhood groups such as CAIR and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) with Jewish fronts like Jewish Voice for Peace has emboldened the BDS movement. Reports indicate that AMP has conducted trainings for INN activists. AMP’s public profile is also increasing. One sign was a Congressional briefing by AMP alleging mistreatment of Palestinians. Participants included several AMP officials who had been members of the Hamas support group Islamic Association for Palestine.
Another sign of the alliance are the growing attacks on pro-Israel groups, such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI). After weeks of planning, the “intersectional” alliance of Islamist-led activists protested the CUFI annual meeting in Washington, DC, and then characteristically depicted the smaller than expected turnout as a major triumph.
The manner in which the BDS movement has penetrated local politics was also seen in a boycott resolution proposed in the Ann Arbor City Council, the screening of an anti-Israel film sponsored by Takoma Park, Maryland with the added participation of CAIR, AMP, and Jewish Voice for Peace, the appointment of a prominent local Islamist antisemite to the Champaign (IL) Human Relations Commission,” the opposition to an anti-BDS bill in New Jersey from CAIR and other Islamist groups, and the continuing scandal of anti-Israel materials used in Newton, Massachusetts high schools.
Misleading reporting that downplayed the goals and means of the BDS movement continued in July. But the evolving attacks on Israel supporters also expanded in unexpected directions, as The Daily Beast published a vicious attack on retired Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera on the eve of his induction into the baseball Hall of Fame. Even more bizarre was an attack by BDS supporter Marc Lamont Hill at the Netroots Nation conference, where he accused news outlets such as ABC and NBC of being “Zionist organizations” producing “Zionist content.” Hill made his comments during a session dedicated to “embedding Palestinian rights in the 2020 agenda.”
The intensifying splits in the Democratic Party over Israel and BDS-instigated antisemitism have yet to reach a breaking point. In contrast, the antisemitism crisis in the British Labour Party reached a new level in July. The airing of a BBC television documentary revealed how complaints regarding antisemitism in Labour have been systematically ignored by the party leadership. This came at the same time that a government human rights body opened an investigation into the problem.
A number of prominent Labour supporters who had previously been silent spoke out forcefully, while others attacked the documentary and their critics. In response, party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged for the first time that there was a problem, even as other party members implicated in the scandal were reinstated and received standing ovations at meetings.
BDS also had an impact on academia in July. The European Networks for Mental Health Service Evaluation suddenly canceled plans to hold its 2021 meeting in Jerusalem, with organizers stating they wished to preempt protests that would have preoccupied the group for the next two years. They claimed further that the move was not an endorsement of Israel boycotts, and that no pressure had been brought on the organization. The capitulation stunned Israeli and other members. A BDS resolution introduced prior to the Society for the Study of Social Problems annual meeting has generated opposition, as has one at the American Political Science Association. A resolution condemning Israel at the National Education Association was defeated.
At the student level, attacks continued against Birthright Israel, including pieces in mainstream and Jewish media outlets that touted J Street’s alternative trip highlighting the “occupation” and its anti-Zionist impact.
Finally, in the entertainment sphere, the BDS movement has increased pressure on Jennifer Lopez after she announced plans to perform in Tel Aviv. In a related incident, during a performance in Tel Aviv, Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento publicly rebuked the BDS movement for its demands that he cancel his shows.
Dr. Alex Joffe is an archaeologist and historian specializing in the Middle East and contemporary international affairs. A version of this article was originally published by SPME.