BDS Proponents Push for Publicity as New School Year Looms
The most important BDS incident in August was the refusal by Israel to admit two leading BDS supporters, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Their trip was to come after a tour organized by AIPAC that brought 72 bipartisan members of Congress to Israel, which had been strongly opposed by the BDS movement.
Shortly after being banned, a humanitarian visa was offered to Tlaib to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, but she refused. It was also revealed that Tlaib had been warned against ‘normalization’ by pro-BDS and Palestinian sources.
After the ban was announced, it was learned that the trip was to have been sponsored by a Palestinian NGO called Miftah, led by PLO stalwart Hanan Ashrawi. The itinerary only included references to “Palestine,” and meetings with Palestinian and NGO officials. Miftah is a leading BDS supporter. It has posted a variety of literal blood libels regarding Jews and Passover on its website and glorified Palestinian terrorists. Failure to publicize this information was a major Israeli public diplomacy failure.
In later statements, Tlaib and Omar refused to address any of these issues and lied regarding the “opportunity missed” to meet with Israeli as well as Palestinian officials. They later went on to share a cartoon by the antisemitic French illustrator Latuff, previously a finalist in the Iranian “Holocaust Cartoon Contest,” showing them being “silenced” by Trump and Netanyahu.
In a press conference, Omar demanded that the US cut aid to Israel and give “full rights to Palestinians.” Some left-wing Democrats demanded a halt to Congressional travel to Israel, and a wider group of Democrats were reported to be considering retaliatory action against the Israeli ambassador to the US. Unsurprisingly, Tlaib quickly used the incident in fundraising appeals.
The Democratic presidential candidates were challenged on the issue of Tlaib and Omar’s association with antisemites, but none responded. Some critics from the left expressed astonishment that Tlaib and Omar’s association with an antisemitic organization and sharing of antisemitic materials were not being challenged by fellow Democrats. But an arguably stronger reaction came from Jewish BDS supporters such as Peter Beinart, who claimed that the entire incident was designed to “silence” Tlaib and Omar and “hide the occupation,” among other things.
In a sign that the consensus on the left is not absolute, gadfly late night host Bill Maher stated that the BDS movement was a “b***shit purity test by people who want to appear woke but actually slept through history class.” In response, Tlaib called for a boycott of his show and compared Israel to apartheid South Africa. Maher then mocked Tlaib, saying, “Some people have one move only: boycott. Cancel. Make-go-away. … But here’s the thing, the house voted 318 to 17 to condemn the #BDS movement, including 93 percent of Dems. Does Tlaib want to boycott 93 percent of her own party?”
The entire incident was partially overshadowed by President Trump’s disturbingly garbled and perplexing statement regarding American Jews’ “disloyalty.”
In a sign that BDS is now a shared campaign by the far-left and the far-right, sometimes indirectly, a report demonstrated that neo-Nazis had coordinated an effort to impersonate religious Jews online and express opposition to the “occupation” and support for BDS and Jewish Voice for Peace. This went as far as to use photos of Jews from other social media sites. Within hours after being exposed, the accounts were erased.
In related news, the pro-BDS organization IfNotNow was caught deceptively editing comments by Senator Bernie Sanders, in which he condemned Palestinian leaders along with Israeli “racism.” Only the latter element was retained, even though Sanders had shared the entire exchange on his website.
In academia, the focus was on a proposed “ethnic studies” curriculum to satisfy a state requirement for California high schools. Among other things, the curriculum ignored the contribution of Jews to the US, and ignored the problem of antisemitism — while endorsing the Palestinian view of the conflict and tacitly supporting BDS. Reports also indicated that the drafters of the curriculum included a number of BDS supporters.
The proposal generated a firestorm of criticism from dozens of Jewish and other ethnic groups, as well as media outlets, which denounced the jargon-laden and ideologically skewed curriculum. Responding to the controversy, California Governor Gavin Newsom apologized and stated that the draft curriculum would “never see the light of day.”
The controversy about the California curriculum came as concerns were again being raised about the involvement of federally funded university Middle East Studies centers in creating anti-Israel education materials for high schools (such as a teacher training program that was also funded with backing from the Qatar Foundation International), a proposed ethnic studies requirement for the California State University system that omitted mention of Jews and antisemitism, as well as Islamist teacher-training materials aimed at K-12 that glorified Islam and denigrated Israel, Judaism, and the US.
In other news from academia, a BDS resolution proposed in the Society for the Study of Social Problems failed by a narrow margin. Only 71 of some 2,000 members bothered to vote altogether, reflecting the ability of extremists to hijack entire organizations with only limited support. Elsewhere, the European mental health association ENMESH also announced it was reconsidering its decision to not hold its conference in Israel. These incidents show that pushback against BDS can be successful. But a resolution that is scheduled to be discussed but not voted on at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association also shows how the process of subverting academic organizations begins.
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 at SPME.