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October 29, 2021 12:16 pm

Amid BDS Push, ‘Ethnic Studies’ Curricula Spread Anti-Israel Hate

avatar by Alexander Joffe


The California State Capitol in Sacramento. Photo Credit: Wayne Hsieh / Flickr

In October, BDS saw key developments related to “ethnic studies” curricula and “critical race theory” (CRT). California governor Gavin Newsom signed the controversial bill requiring the state’s high school students to take “ethnic studies” before graduating. Long criticized for its emphasis on dividing ethnic groups into victims and victimizers, the current curriculum was modified after the backlash from Jewish and other organizations that objected to its overt hostility toward Israel and support for BDS.

The final version discusses the diversity of the Jewish community and includes “Holocaust education,” but remains hostile towards Israel, particularly in the context of “Arab-American” ethnic studies. The curriculum is also being supplanted by teachers using the earlier version, and an even more radical “liberated ethnic studies” curriculum in which ‘Palestine’ is central.

A bill mandating an “ethnic studies” requirement in K-12 education was also proposed in Massachusetts. The bill would create a “Commission for Anti-Racism and Equity in Education” and mandate “a social justice perspective” in which “ethnic studies, racial justice, decolonizing history, and unlearning racism is taught at all grade levels.”

Elsewhere in academia, BDS efforts continued to isolate Israel, in part by condemning calls for debate and declaring that supporting Israel was an issue beyond discussion. There were also more demands at universities to adopt BDS policies.

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At the University of Illinois, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter strongly protested a statement from the school president that declared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entitled “Respectful engagement around difficult issues,”with SJP saying, “we utterly reject your call for ‘respectful engagements around difficult issues’ because ethnic cleansing and genocide are not complicated issues.”

The SJP chapter at the University of Minnesota also issued a statement protesting a new study aboard program with the Technion Institute in Haifa, stating that they were “disappointed at the insistence of the University of Minnesota to persist in active cooperation with the Israeli state, the violent occupation of the Palestinian homeland, and the eradication and ethnic cleansing of its people by use of force.” An SJP campaign was also launched at the University of Virginia, demanding that the school “1. Stop the sale of all Sabra Hummus products on Grounds by the University and UVA affiliated vendors; 2. Terminate all contracts with G4S; 3. Divest public funding from any and all defense technology research supporting the Israeli Defense Forces.” Protestors at Trinity College Dublin made similar demands.

Elsewhere, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate at Virginia Tech passed a BDS resolution. During the debate on the vote, the student government president stated that “If we’re going to start with antisemitism, we need to start with the [antisemitism of the] Zionists.” He added that the Hillel chapter at the school was not consulted regarding the bill, saying, “[w]e did consult many Jewish graduate students but not the ones who have an institutional rule [for] Israel because we know your stance already.”

At the University of California at Berkeley, the student government unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the university community to lobby Congress in support of legislation that would restrict aid to Israel. The resolution also stated that the student government would actively lobby in favor of such legislation. A university representative categorically rejected the resolution, while Jewish students complained that the resolution contributed to a heightened climate of harassment.

The fruits of campus BDS are seen in the harassment of Jewish students, such as at George Washington University and Brooklyn College, as well as incidents such as antisemitic posters and vandalism at other institutions including Indiana University, the University of Maryland, UCLA, and Tufts University, and on social media platforms. Overall, a new survey indicated that some 30% of Jewish students had antisemitic experiences last year.

In the UK, however, noted BDS supporter and antisemite David Miller was dismissed by his university for abusing Jewish and Israeli students. The BDS movement and a number of British academics characterized Miller as another ‘victim of the Israel Lobby,’ just like former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In the cultural sphere, Irish writer Sally Rooney announced that she would not permit her most recent novel to be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publisher. Since there is no market for translating and publishing in Hebrew outside of Israel, she is effectively boycotting Israel and Hebrew-speaking Jews as a whole, despite the fact that her previous two books were translated and published there. As many commentators have pointed out, Rooney’s books are translated into Russian and Chinese, seemingly without difficulty — proving her true cause isn’t “human rights,” but anti-Israel hatred. Her boycott can also be seen in the context of a new report on pervasive Irish antisemitism.

Rooney’s boycott also came as reports emerged of an Internet campaign against singer Billie Eilish, who had promoted her new album on Israeli TV. An analysis showed that Eilish’s Instragram account was targeted by accounts that generated thousands of anti-Israel comments. Most of the accounts were unnamed, which indicates they were automated and probably connected to a state actor, such as Iran.

The appearance of leading Congressional BDS supporter Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and The Nation magazine’s ‘Palestine correspondent’ Mohammad el-Kurd at a ‘Gaza is Palestine’ event demonstrated the continued orientation of the progressive grassroots towards anti-Israel hatred. A panel discussion at the ‘San Diego Democratic Party Central Committee’ at which members accused Israel of complicity in the murder of George Floyd, suggested the amount of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on the hard left.

Elsewhere, in the international sphere, Israel designated six Palestinian NGOs, several with BDS associations, as terror groups due to the presence of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine personnel.

Finally, a number of incidents demonstrate the manner in which BDS has penetrated into social and economic life. One example was the refusal by the anti-fossil fuel and anti-police “Sunrise DC Movement” to participate in a Washington D.C., statehood event due to the presence of “Zionist organizations.” The group stated that, “given our commitment to racial justice, self-governance, and indigenous sovereignty, we oppose Zionism and any state that enforces its ideology.” It then went on to accuse Israel of “violent oppressive tactics,” including treating “all Palestinians, as well as Black and brown Jewish-Israelis, as second class citizens.”

A letter in the Guardian claiming to represent several hundred employees of Google and Amazon demanded the companies refuse to work on projects connected with Israel. The letter was then endorsed by a “coalition” of BDS organizations, including ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ and MPower, which is run by BDS leader Linda Sarsour

Research showed, however, that the websites associated with the letter were registered months before the letter appeared. A number of the employees who signed the letter are BDS activists, including some formerly associated with SJP. The letter was thus an example of infiltration and provocation, a now standard BDS tactic that has been extended to the virtual world.

The author is a contributor to SPME, where a version of this article first appeared.

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