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BDS and Palestinian Propagandists Seize the Moment to Attack Israel

avatar by Alexander Joffe


A BDS protest in front of Carnegie Hall. Photo: Liberate Art.

In a sudden shift from blaming Israel and Jews for the coronavirus pandemic, BDS news in June was dominated by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

This outrage was immediately hijacked by the BDS movement and its allies, including the Democratic Socialists of America, which stated on social media that “The police violence happening tonight in Minneapolis is straight out of the IDF playbook” and “US cops train in Israel.” The BDS group US Campaign for Palestinian Rights also explicitly identified Palestinians as “people of color” on social media, stating, “The Israeli military trains US police in racist and repressive policing tactics, which systematically targets black and brown bodies.” Situating Palestinians as “people of color” while characterizing Jews as “white” has been a long-term project of the BDS movement and the Arab lobby in the US.

Accusations that Israeli police training programs undertaken by organizations such as the ADL and JINSA are responsible for police violence in the US goes back at least to the 2014 unrest in Ferguson. The Deadly Exchange campaign run by the BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace has worked at the campus and grassroots political levels to disseminate the idea that Israeli police training programs are uniquely violent and evil. In fact, the programs are oriented toward counter-terrorism and community relations and not street level tactics and methods. Comments from Israeli police sources also emphasized that the techniques used against George Floyd are not taught or authorized in Israel.

In the wake of the protests, JVP tried to walk back its claims, and said that its arguments needed to be viewed within the correct “context.”

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The protests that followed in the US and Europe featured signs blaming Israel for police violence, and Palestinian flags were common. Social media campaigns featured the slogan “Palestinian Lives Matter” and Palestinian social media also depicted Floyd in a kaffiyah, while in Iran he was depicted as a Shia martyr alongside Qassem Soleimani.

The connections between the resulting protests and the BDS movement were more than conceptual. One of two lawyers arrested for attempting to throw a Molotov cocktail into a New York police vehicle, Urooj Rahman, interned with the anti-Israel group Mada Al-Carmel and spent a summer in the West Bank. Bail for Rahman and fellow accused Colinford Mattis was paid by lawyer Salmah Rizvi, whose legal education was funded by CAIR and was a fellow with the BDS group Al-Haq before working on intelligence matters at the Defense and State Departments.

Both left- and right-wing groups capitalized on the rioting and blamed Jews and Israel. Among the right-wing conspiratorial theories that circulated was that billionaire philanthropist George Soros was responsible for funding protesters. In fact, Soros was a key funder of a national effort to elect progressive district attorneys.

In the media, the New York Review of Books echoed the allegations regarding Israel police training, while the BDS movement’s platform Electronic Intifada targeted an editor at Newsweek, alleging he was “racist” for supporting Israel and the possibility of “annexation” of the West Bank, as well as for calling for “law and order” in the US.

The usurpation of other aspects of black American life also continued with BDS supporter Linda Sarsour headlining a Juneteenth rally hosted by Muslims for Abolition — which proudly excluded “cops & Zionists.” A “day of rage” planned by BDS groups to protest Israeli “annexation” demanded “the defunding and dismantling of US police alongside the defunding and dismantling of Zionist colonialism and racist Israeli apartheid.”

Allegations against Israel related to the Floyd incident and “defunding the police” quickly emerged on campus. SJP chapters across the country alleged that:

Systemic racism and oppression are central to the function of the US and Israel as settler-colonial and carceral states. The struggles for Palestinians and Black liberation under the institutional regimes of apartheid and segregation, mass incarceration, racial capitalism, and white-supremacy are deeply intertwined. In 2018, Jewish Voice for Peace launched the “Deadly Exchange” campaign to raise critical awareness about the harms of military exchanges and trainings conducted by the Israeli military to equip US police with tactics that reinforce racial profiling and excessive force.

More ominously, a series of statements circulated by students in the University of California system claimed:

This complicity goes beyond domestic policing. We also call on the UC to divest from companies that profit off of Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine, investments that uphold a system of anti-Black racism in the US. We know the Minneapolis police were also trained by Israeli counter-terrorism officers. The knee-to-neck choke-hold that Chauvin used to murder George Floyd has been used and perfected to torture Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces through 72 years of ethnic cleansing and dispossession. Police departments view Israeli Defense Force tactics as models for responding to “public health and safety crises.” … Neocolonial state violence extends from the US, to Israel, to the Philippines, to the UCs. The complicity of the UC system with Israeli settler colonization is directly tied to its complicity with the American lynching, settler and imperial state. We demand an end to this complicity. … We live and work in the communities of California, brutalized by police and state violence. We demand the UC act on our demands. … UC, the time is now: 1) End all police contracts, abolish police departments on campuses, and redistribute those resources to those in need. 2) Divest from companies that profit off Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestine. 3) Return Indigenous lands and material relatives to their Indigenous communities.

The statement was signed by the usual anti-Israel groups, but also dozens of other groups unrelated to politics, including the Bone Health Initiative and the UC Davis American Sign Language Club, as well as hundreds of graduate students. The signatories demonstrate that intersectional pressure demands conformity as the price of admission to campus life.

While the presence of “cancel culture” is hard to miss, observers note that explicit expressions of antisemitism, such as from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) or rapper Ice Cube, do not result in “cancellation.” The relative impunity of antisemites to cancellation was also displayed on campus in the case of the incoming student government president, Palestinian-American Ahmad Daraldik, at Florida State University. Discovery of his antisemitic social media postings resulted in a meeting of the student government at which his presidency was reaffirmed. This came two weeks after the student government ousted a white Catholic as president for statements critical of Black Lives Matter, abortion, and “transgenderism.”

The local SJP chapter characterized efforts to remove Daraldik “as racially and politically motivated to smear and silence Palestinian students and critics of the state of Israel.” But a statement from another student government official, Rawan Abhari, “The fsu zionist community is a bunch of rich white hypocrites who looked the other way when black people were being murdered by the police and now are tryna dig up old shit bc they don’t like seeing a Palestinian person in a position of power,” did result in an apology.

In a bland statement, the university’s president took “this opportunity to unequivocally state that we will not tolerate discrimination against groups or individuals” and reassured Jewish students that “FSU remains a community that embraces them.”

A similar situation emerged at Pomona College where the student government president, Palestinian-American Malak Afaneh, posted that “6 million people died in the Holocaust, we still commemorate it to this day. 18.4 MILLION people are dying in Yemen RIGHT NOW. That’s 3 holocausts at once…SILENCE IS COMPLIANCE!!!” and added, “once again, zionist-Israel-birthright-vacation-stuck-on-comparing-holocaust-to-racism-WW2-worshipping bitches, this should be right up ur alley. Oh wait u hate brown ppl.” The student offered a weak apology and was defended by the administration.

Demands for demonstrations of loyalty to what is in effect a Puritanical belief system onto which BDS and antisemitism have been long grafted place supporters of Israel, Jews, and others in impossible situations. Failure to condemn all the intersectional enemies targeted is to risk cancellation.

In the international sphere, European threats to implement certain sanctions on Israel should it “annex” portions of the West Bank escalated, while the United Nations Human Rights Council called for an arms embargo. Despite UN Secretary General António Guterres’ description of annexation as being “calamitous” for the region, the extent of potential European sanctions remains unclear, with some sources predicting only symbolic measures as a result of European divisions and American opposition.

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.

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