Annexation Proposal Leads to More Support for BDS
In contrast to June, when BDS was focused on alleged Israeli culpability for police violence in the US, in July anger was generated over reports that Israel would “annex” portions of the West Bank.
In San Diego the Palestinian Youth Movement organized a car caravan that drove past the county jail, a Federal courthouse, and then the University of California at San Diego Hillel, offices belonging to AIPAC, Friends of the IDF, ADL, Hadassah, and Birthright, and ended up at the county sheriff’s department. In Boston, the local BDS movement protested outside offices belonging to the local ADL branch and the Jewish Community Relations Council, while in Los Angeles protestors gathered outside the Israeli consulate.
A street protest in Brooklyn featured cries of “Intifada, intifada,” “Death to Israel,” “Death to America,” and “From Gaza to Minnesota, globalize the Intifada!” Speakers called for the abolition of Israel, the US, and the reunification of Korea under North Korean rule. In Ontario, a rally by high school students in Mississauga featured chants of “Palestine is our country, and the Jews are our dogs!” A few days later, the pro-BDS group IfNotNow also protested “annexation” at the Jewish Federation building in Bloomfield Township, Michigan.
The formal alliance between BLM and the BDS movement that emerged in 2014 has only deepened with the recent unrest. Elements in both now represent Jews and Israel as “white oppressors” and demand Israel’s replacement, along with that of the United States. The hijacking of the BLM message represents standard procedure for the BDS movement, which has long exploited Black and other indigenous issues despite inherent Islamist racism. Their intersectional synergies and cooperation, however, suggest that both should simply be viewed as part of a conjoined if inherently unstable red-green synthesis, in which all sides manipulate and jockey for revolutionary supremacy and the Palestinian cause has a uniquely privileged position.
As has long been the case, American Jews are presented with the choice of joining a prominent left-wing cause that also has BDS and destruction of Israel as a key principle. The explicit support given to “canceling” Israel as a Jewish state by left wing Jewish intellectual such as Peter Beinart is designed to further shift public opinion, including among Jews, by projecting a tiny fringe as both indicative of a major split within the community and a “moral imperative.”
The unfolding tension between Jews and Blacks was also exposed when several celebrities made explicitly antisemitic comments and were then condemned, including football player DeSean Jackson and media personality Nick Cannon. The barrage of criticism and partial apologies that followed were accompanied by both backtracking and defenses of their stances and attacks on “Jewish privilege,” particularly from Black celebrities who support Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Repetition of Farrakhan and “Palestine” memes by Madonna garnered close to one million views on social media. The BDS movement will expand this pattern of deflection and attack as it searches for “intersectional” allies against Israel, particularly on campus.
In campus news, a new report from the AMCHA Initiative documented the dramatic upswing in antisemitic incidents during 2019, the vast majority coming from Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace chapters.
Demands that Jewish and pro-Israel programs and persons on campus be canceled escalated in July. The graduate student union at New York University demanded the school eliminate its Tel Aviv program. In response, the university administration roundly condemned the demand. Students at Columbia University also called for the cancellation of a visiting faculty member and former New York Police Department official who has been teaching a course on terrorism, alleging he held “racist, Islamophobic, and violent beliefs.”
A member of the University of Southern California student government was also forced to resign in part because of criticism that she is a “Zionist” and was critical of Palestinians. Student media characterized her comments as part of a pattern of “Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, xenophobic, fatphobic, and classist rhetoric.”
Direct action against Jewish groups on campus also continued, for example when the words “Free Palestine” were spray-painted on the Hillel building at the University of Wisconsin. But at Florida State University, the student government passed a resolution condemning antisemitism and adopting the IHRA definition. The resolution was strongly opposed by the local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter and other BDS groups, as well as by the student government president, who attempted to prevent debate on the measure. In June the student government president narrowly survived a no confidence vote over his antisemitic statements.
In the political sphere, the BDS movement continued to make inroads in the Democratic Party. A new focus is the possibility of Israel “annexing” portions of the West Bank by extending sovereignty to communities there. BDS, American Muslim, and terror-linked groups also praised an internal letter circulated by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) calling for aid to Israel to be cut off in the event of “annexation.”
A progressive challenger supported by AOC, Jamaal Bowman, defeated long-time congressman and stalwart Israel supporter Eliot Engel of New York. Among the individuals putting themselves forward to replace Engel as chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee is Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who has expressed support for “leveraging” US aid to Israel to “end the occupation.”
In another development, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed leading BDS supporter Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for reelection rather than her Democratic challenger, an accomplished African-American lawyer.
Efforts to shape the Democratic Party’s stance also focused directly on the Biden campaign. The senior-most members of the party, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, remain explicitly opposed to BDS and any conditions on aid to Israel. The newly released Democratic Party platform mostly adhered to existing language regarding a two-state solution and opposition to BDS, but strongly advocated restoring the JCPOA agreement with Iran and aid to the Palestinian Authority. But its general tone of support raised objections from left wing critics, and Palestinian-Americans expressed disappointment regarding Biden’s overall positive stance on Israel.
J Street and IfNotNow also co-signed a letter to the Biden campaign demanding that it not exclude BDS supporters from a future administration, while at the same time calling on it to exclude opponents of the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran.
In the cultural space, the expansion of “cancel culture” from campus into politics and beyond continued. The resignation of Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan from The New York Times and New York Magazine, respectively, portends the removal of more voices from public spaces, including universities and media. A public letter in Harper’s magazine defending free speech and signed by hundreds of intellectuals was immediately met with an angry counter-statement. Not surprisingly, Weiss’ departure was strongly applauded by BDS groups such as IfNotNow and individuals such as Linda Sarsour who had long resented Weiss’ pro-Israel stance.
In international news, the antisemitism crisis in the British Labour Party that began with campus groups and BDS was partially resolved when the party’s new leaders offered an apology in court to whistle-blowers. The whistle-blowers had claimed that under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, the party had dismissed their allegations and defamed them prior to interviews in a BBC documentary. Corbyn and his ousted leadership group protested the apology. Reports indicate that lawsuits that could bankrupt the party are in the offing.
Dr. Alex Joffe is an archaeologist and historian specializing in the Middle East and contemporary international affairs. His web site is alexanderjoffe.net.
A version of this article was originally published by SPME.