Monday, January 24th | 22 Shevat 5782

January 3, 2022 11:35 am

BDS Brings Antisemitism to Universities Across America

avatar by Alexander Joffe


An anti-Israel ‘apartheid wall’ on display at Columbia University during Apartheid Week in 2017. Photo: Facebook.

In December, a new report revealed the extent to which “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) officials are pervasively biased against Israel.

The study analyzed the Twitter feeds of 741 DEI staffers at 65 institutions, and found that 96% of Israel-related tweets were negative, while 62% of China-related tweets were positive. DEI officials routinely condemned Israel as an “apartheid state,” and accused it of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

The report noted the disproportionate attention paid to Israel, and concluded “university DEI staff are better understood as political activists with a narrow and often radical political agenda rather than promoters of welcoming and inclusive environments. Many DEI staff are particularly unwelcoming toward Jewish students who, like the vast majority of Jews worldwide, feel a strong connection to the state of Israel.”

In contrast, tweets about China were largely supportive, while expressions of disapproval did not include terms such as “apartheid.”

The role of DEI officers and the DEI ideology in shaping campus and broader culture cannot be understated, as demonstrated by 2021 incidents at Yale Law School, Stanford University, the British Cabinet Office, and others, where DEI personnel or “trainers” actively promoted antisemitism.

The role of DEI was also on display at the University of Southern California, where student Yasmeen Mashayekh, the senator in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion, tweeted that she wanted to “kill every motherf***ing Zionist.”

When the tweet was uncovered, along with others dating back a decade that expressed support for Hamas and the murder of Israelis, she was removed from her mentoring position, but retained her elected DEI position.

Mashayekh was widely condemned by the administration, including the president and the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and by Jewish faculty. Predictably, Mashayekh and her supporters depicted her as “an exploited and oppressed person.” She claimed further that she had not expected the reaction and that she did not “feel safe on campus.

The pattern of antisemites portraying themselves as the victims once their bias is exposed was also repeated at George Washington University.

There, the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter sought legal support after a university-created “virtual processing space” (apparently an Internet chat room) instituted after the 2021 Gaza conflict was taken down. The students and Palestine Legal, the lawfare arm of the BDS movement, filed a complaint with the District of Columbia’s Office for Human Rights claiming the university had deprived Palestinian students of mental health support.

The systemic, institutionalized nature of anti-Israel bias within entire swaths of academia was reinforced by the decision of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) to advance a BDS resolution to its full membership. The resolution excoriates Israel, ostensibly “recognizes the right of scholars to academic freedom as well as the right of scholars to choose whether or not to participate in an academic boycott,” but endorses the 2005 “Palestinian civil society” BDS call, and “Directs the MESA Board of Directors to work in consultation with the Committee of Academic Freedom to give effect to the spirit and intent of this resolution, in a manner consistent with MESA’s bylaws as well as relevant US federal, state, and local laws.”

The resolution thus requires the organization to support BDS in a manner consistent with stringent Palestinian demands for “denormalization.” This will inevitably entail personal and institutional discrimination, the institution of formal and informal litmus tests, and increased rhetorical and pedagogical hostility against Israelis and supporters of Israel.

The resolution was widely condemned by Jewish and other organizations, who assailed its attack on academics supportive or involved with Israel. The MESA resolution also sets up a conflict between academics and their institutions, including administrations and states, especially those with anti-BDS legislation.

The institutionalization of BDS among graduate students and future professionals was seen in a resolution adopted by the CUNY Law Student Government Association. The resolution demanded that CUNY divest from corporations invested in Israel, end associations with Israeli academic institutions, and “cut all ties with organizations that repress Palestinian organizing,” and named “Hillel, CAMERA, StandWithUs, Bulldogs for Israel, Israel Independence Day Committee, United 4 Israel, Israel Student Association, Students Supporting Israel at City College of New York.”

It also called on the school to end contracts with corporations associated with Israel, or contracted to the Department of Homeland Security. The resolution was sponsored by the “CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine, “CUNY Law Jewish Law Student Association,” and was endorsed by 20 other organizations.

The resolution was widely condemned, including by the CUNY chancellor, who objected to the resolution’s claim that the school was “complicit in war crimes.” The CUNY resolution followed a sweeping resolution by the student-run NYU Review of Law & Social Change.

Elsewhere on campus, the Brown University Graduate Labor Organization passed a BDS resolution demanding the university divest from Israel and establish “financial transparency and student oversight of the University’s investments.” The student government at London City University passed a BDS resolution, prompting a warning from a legal group that such a boycott would violate the terms of the union’s status as a charity. Meanwhile, at Goldsmiths, University of London, Jews and “whites” were banned from a meeting on “defending Palestine.” Meanwhile, the University of Illinois, at Chicago, SJP called for the boycott of local Israeli restaurants.

At the University of Toronto at Scarborough, the student union partially reversed a ban on using kosher food providers who “support Israel.” The sweeping BDS resolution passed in November stated that “efforts should be made to source kosher food from organizations that do not normalize Israeli apartheid.” After intense pressure, the union amended the restrictions on kosher food vendors.

As usual, BDS initiatives came against a backdrop of antisemitic incidents, such as vandalism at Dickinson College, the University of Wisconsin, and the erasure of the word Israel from a display at the London Natural History Museum.

One of the most important political developments in December was the denunciation of Jews and Jewish institutions by American Islamists involved with BDS. These included Zahra Billoo, former campus BDS activist and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco area director, who stated in a late November talk for the leading BDS organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) that American Muslims must, “Oppose the vehement fascists, but oppose the polite Zionists, too. They are not your friends … When we talk about Islamophobia and Zionism let’s be clear about the connections. … We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League, we need to pay attention to the Jewish Federation, we need to pay attention to the Zionist synagogues, we need to pay attention to the Hillel chapters on our campuses.”

Billoo added: “We have to connect the dots between the organizations that promote Zionist agendas — materials marketing and legislation — are the same ones that want to ban Muslims, are the same ones that want to pass anti-sharia legislation,” and claimed that the Israeli military trained American police to “kill unarmed black men, women, and children.”

After being publicized, Billoo’s comments were widely condemned by American Jewish organizations — but defended by CAIR, which assailed the “smear campaign” against her. Responding to the criticism, Billoo claimed the “Zionist onslaught” had “twisted her words,” but also that she was taking a “sabbatical.”

Speaking at the same conference, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad stated that “We have to fight. We have to take the fight to the other side. Moving the [US] embassy, our embassy, from Tel Aviv which is occupied, to a city [Jerusalem] that’s supposed to be protected under international law, to move that embassy we should not accept that as a de facto … We have to pressure the administration to take our embassy back to Tel Aviv. And inshallah, it will be free later.”

Awad’s call for the destruction of Israel was echoed by Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who stated, “And so whether in [Palestine] in ’48, in the occupied territories, in the refugee camps, or here in the US, we know we will continue to resist, we know we will continue to organize until one day we all go home.”

At the same time, AMP released a report on “Working with Zionist Organizations” to provide guidance for the Muslim community about “good” and “bad” Jewish groups. The report characterizes the majority of Jewish groups, including Jewish Community Relations Councils and efforts at interfaith dialogue, as bad, while treating fringe BDS organizations such as IfNotNow as acceptable.

Regarding BDS, the report states:

Finally, if the Muslim community is to truly stand with the Palestinians, it must follow the policies of the BDS- Boycott, Divest, and Sanction- movement. This global, peaceful solidarity movement sponsored and led by 170 Palestinian civil society institutions calls for institutional economic divestment from Israeli companies and the boycotting of their consumer goods, a cultural boycott, and an academic boycott of Israeli institutions that normalize or whitewash the crimes of the occupation. In short, the focus of BDS is not just on Israeli businesses and products, but also on organizations lending their support to the project of occupation. The principles of BDS clearly call for a withdrawal of support from institutions engaged in the violation of Palestinian human rights. This must necessarily include Jewish Zionist organizations who lend material, financial, and political support to the occupation.

The American Muslim community has thus been instructed by its leading organizations that Israel is inherently and irretrievably illegitimate, and that the vast majority of American Jews are enemies with whom no form of social interaction is possible or acceptable.

A version of this article was originally published at SPME, where the author is a contributor.

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