Duke University Hands a Big Win to Antisemites — and BDS
For the Duke University Student Government (DSG), campus pro-Israel groups, and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the last week has been tumultuous — to say the least.
The campus status-quo, which has been relatively calm since the May 2021 Israeli-Palestinian crisis, has been rocked by the DSG president’s decision to veto the recognition of a new student group, Students Supporting Israel (SSI).
The decision was later upheld by a DSG Senate vote. The final count was 37 votes to uphold it, 10 abstentions, 8 absent senators, and 3 against, with the last three being the only Jewish senators in DSG’s body.
The initial ban of the group by DSG President Christina Wang, came after she claimed that SSI “singled out an individual student on their organization’s social media account in a way that was unacceptable for any student group and appeared antithetical to the group’s stated mission to be welcoming and inclusive to all Duke students, and educational in mission and purpose.”
The tweet that SSI responded to came from a disgruntled student who thought that allowing an Israel advocacy group on campus equated to her school supporting “settler colonialism.”
SSI then responded by offering to educate the author of the tweet about what settler colonialism actually is, and how Israel doesn’t even come close to falling under that category.
Duke SSI offered to educate a fellow student, which could have led to an interesting discussion in which both parties learned something, but instead, DSG followed the rising tide of “cancel culture,” and squashed the group right at its birth.
The double standard that the pro-Israel group is being held to is horrifying.
In 2019, a member of Duke’s SJP chapter, Hadeel Abdelhy, posted the below picture, and later tweeted, “So I’m going to repeat myself again, f**k DIPAC and every Zionist on campus.”
Yet SJP has seen no backlash from DSG.
Jewish and Israel advocates on college campuses are no strangers to antisemitic tropes and double standards; many universities’ student governments, including Duke’s, fail to recognize the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism.
Equating the acceptance of SSI to promoting settler colonialism is factually wrong, and antisemitic. Settler colonialism is when an indigenous people are forced off of their land by an “invasive settler society” that is backed by an imperial regime. Comparing Israel to a settler-colonialist society is incorrect on two levels. First, it fails to recognize that Jews are native to the land of Israel — there has been a continued presence of Jews in the Levant for 2,000 years. Secondly, comparing Israel to a settler-colonialist society assumes a backing of the Jews by a powerful empire, which is almost laughable. Jews have been on the run for thousands of years, and were persecuted or treated as outcasts by almost every world power at the time of Israel’s creation.
During the public forum part of the DSG’s voting night, one student said there was no need for SSI, because there were already two recognized campus groups that dealt with this topic: Duke Friends of Israel and Students for Justice in Palestine. Claiming that an extra student group isn’t necessary because there are already enough is like claiming that it’s not worth publishing a new book on a certain topic, because there are already enough books on said topic.
Duke’s bylaws state that, “The University is committed to creating a rigorous scholarly community characterized by the generous hospitality toward diverse religious and cultural traditions.”
Erasing a student group for trying to correct a dangerous trope is the antithesis of the bylaws that Duke is built upon. There was no sanction or mediation — just cancellation.
The whole situation, which might seem like a farce to a bystander, is a huge victory for the anti-Israel and antisemitic Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement — which seeks Palestinian liberation through an economic and intellectual boycott of anything Israeli. On the economic front, this often comes at the expense of Palestinians: Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid said the “global BDS campaign has done the Palestinians more harm than good.”
The intellectual boycott has been spreading across American University campuses like cancer. The BDS movement is all about free speech — as long as it has nothing to do with putting Israel in a good light. This is scary news for Zionist students on Duke’s campus, as well as campuses across the country.
The author is a graduate of Duke University.