Progress on Antisemitism and BDS at the UN and Women’s March
In the war against BDS, the most recent development in academia was the Department of Education censure of Duke University and the University of North Carolina for the misuse of Federal Title VI funds, prompted by complaints over a BDS related event in the spring. Title VI of the Higher Education Act is intended to support foreign language instruction and US national security needs, but has become a slush fund for tendentious Middle East Studies education and programming aimed at college students and K-12.
The Education Department’s letter to the Duke-UNC Center for Middle East Studies complained that fewer than 1,000 students were taking Middle East language courses, while almost 7,000 were enrolled in Middle East Studies courses with “little or no relevance to Title VI.” The complaint also criticized the lack of focus on religious minorities in the Middle East and the near exclusive emphasis on Islam, particularly for K-12 teachers.
The schools were instructed to respond with a compliance plan. In the interim, however, predictable complaints were voiced by academics regarding the alleged “chilling effect on academic freedom” and by BDS advocates, who characterized the move as “anti-Palestinian.”
The investigation comes after a recent study demonstrated that Arab and Muslim countries had donated billions of dollars to American colleges and universities in the past decade, with over $1.5 billion from Qatar alone. The impact of these donations is difficult to measure, but the deference and obsequiousness shown by universities and academics to donors generally is well known.
Underscoring the impact of BDS and biased pedagogy on campus, another report also indicated that Israel-related antisemitism on campuses increased dramatically between 2017 and 2018. Strong increases were seen in accusations of “genocide” against Israel, along with justifications for terrorism. Most important were dramatic increases in faculty-led BDS activities including sponsored events and individual boycotts of Israel and supporters.
Finally, it was announced that the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference would be taking place at the University of Minnesota at the beginning of November. The announcement also touted the election of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The conference is designed to train BDS activists, many of them already on record espousing violence, as well as expand “intersectional” alliances of those “who struggle against state violence, settler-colonialism, and imperialism — from Palestine to Turtle Island, from the Philippines to Mexico and beyond.”
The connection between “intersectional struggles” and BDS and antisemitism was seen last month with the replacement of three of the original Women’s March organizers — Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Bob Bland. One of their replacements was a local CAIR official, Zahra Billoo, an especially vocal BDS supporter who has compared Israel to ISIS. Because of those views, she was also forced out of the Women’s March.
Sarsour and the others had been accused of financial mismanagement and abuse, and had systematically manipulated the Women’s March to turn against Israel supporters and Jewish women. The incident demonstrates how BDS supporters have colonized progressive politics and organizations.
BDS support continues to percolate in other parts of the political system. For example, Representative Omar claimed in an interview that BDS — which explicitly seeks to dismantle Israel through the “right of return” — will lead to a “peaceful process” in the region and a two-state solution. But the lack of any Congressional action against Israel — and the sudden disappearance of Israel from Democratic political messaging — also suggests that most Democrats don’t agree. This was also indicated when candidate Cory Booker made a forceful statement against BDS at a campaign stop.
But other incidents in September were troubling. In Britain, the Trade Union Council (TUC), an umbrella group representing over 50 unions and 5.4 million members, voted to reaffirm its support for BDS. The resolution also called on the TUC to work with Britain’s leading BDS organization, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The centrality of anti-Israel bias to the political process in Britain was also demonstrated at the annual Labour Party conference, which featured a BDS resolution calling on Britain to boycott products from “settlements,” endorsing the Palestinian “right of return,” and calls to “free Palestine.” Labour had invited Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to address the conference, but they declined.
While a Labour official claimed that the party was addressing “Jew hatred,” other Labour events featuring individuals suspended or expelled from the party for antisemitic statement went forward; yet the Labour Friends of Israel group was not represented, reportedly due to safety concerns.
The Labour experience has immediate implications for politics globally. BDS is a key part of larger “intersectional” mobilization strategies that threaten to transform political parties and politics as a whole. For example, contrary to its claims of being a grassroots project, a recent study demonstrated how the BDS group IfNotNow was one of a series of groups created by graduates of a training program by the far left Ayni Institute and the Momentum Community, and facilitated by the online marketing and fundraising website The Action Network.
Members of IfNotNow were among those who created the group Never Again Action (NAA), which purports to be a grassroots Jewish response to the US border and immigration crisis. The deliberate and insensitive coopting of Holocaust language and imagery (calling immigration facilities “concentration camps”) gave NAA immediate visibility.
The connection between BDS and antisemitism, including violence, was underscored in a report from Israel’s Strategic Affairs ministry, which detailed antisemitic displays by prominent BDS supporters. Elsewhere, BDS supporters in Berlin assaulted attendees of an Israeli film festival after refusing requests to leave the theater. Synagogues in Barcelona and Los Angeles were defaced with the words “Free Palestine,” the latter of which BDS supporters defended on the basis of an Israeli flag flying at the building.
These connections were underscored by a draft report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the unprecedented report on “Combatting Antisemitism to Eliminate Discrimination and Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief,” the rapporteur noted regarding BDS that while “legitimate speech” should be protected, “expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion should be condemned.”
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.