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May 2, 2022 11:18 am
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Efforts to Boycott Israel Grow on Campus

avatar by Alexander Joffe

Opinion

The New York University campus. Photo: Cincin12/Wiki Commons.

The spring semester approaches its end with a variety of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activities on campus. In the US, several student governments have passed BDS resolutions and protested pro-Israel and pro-IHRA speakers. In the UK, the National Union of Students has elected a BDS supporting Islamist antisemite as its president.

Underscoring the fundamental antisemitism behind BDS, during Passover, SJP members also protested outside a Jewish fraternity at Rutgers University, waving flags and calling Jewish students “baby killers” and terrorists. In a less overtly hostile event at American University, the Muslim Student Association pulled out of participation in an interfaith seder with Hillel, blaming “Hillel’s continued support for the state of Israel.”

A number of “Globalize the Intifada” demonstrations stated frankly that the goal of the BDS movement and its allied theologies is to eliminate Israel.

Protestors explicitly defended Palestinian terrorism, and threatened attacks on Jews and Israelis. One example in New York organized by Al Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition featured chants of “Smash the settler Zionist state”; “We don’t want two states. We want ’48”; and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

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One of the protest leaders, attorney Lamis Deek, also announced that “we say unapologetically and boldly: Hamas are freedom fighters! PFLP are freedom Fighters! Islamic Jihad are freedom fighters! Fatah armed forces are freedom fighters! All of our people in Palestine are freedom fighters.”

American Muslims for Palestine and SJP chapters organized anti-Israel protests in Chicago, Los Angeles — which was billed as a “defend Al Aqsa” rally and featured chants of “we don’t want two states, we want all of 48” — and New York, which featured chants of “we don’t want no two states, we want all of it!

A Toronto BDS protest cheered attacks on Israelis, with one organizer stating, “Israel has witnessed the deadliest attacks that it has seen in the last 15 years, all because the Palestinian freedom fighters have been putting their lives to fight for freedom,” to which protestors responded “allahu akhbar.”

Protests were also held in April in London and Berlin, and featured traditional cries of “death to Israel.” Violent protests have long been a feature of pro-Palestinian politics in Europe, and recent trends in the US points to the growing Islamization of the BDS cause.

Campus BDS campaigns also reflects Palestinian “anti-normalization” demands, where any contact with “Zionists” is deemed unacceptable.

The controversial appearances of BDS activist and The Nation’s Palestine correspondent, Mohammad El-Kurd  — who among other things has accused Israel of “harvesting the organs” of Palestinians — highlighted the manner in which antisemitism and calls for violence are being normalized on campus.

In a controversial appearance at Duke University, El-Kurd stated that he did not “give a f***” what happens to Jews if the Palestinian take all the land “from the River to the Sea.” At Arizona State University, he also stated “if you heckle me, you will get shot.

Concerns over student activity fees being used to pay El-Kurd’s $5,000-$10,000 honorarium were voiced at Duke and Arizona State, but with no result. His appearance at Georgetown Law School attracted outside attention thanks to his overt racism, but was defended by the administration.

Al-Kurd’s rhetoric was echoed in a seminar at CUNY Law School, organized by the local SJP chapter, which accused Israel of genocide, and which called for “the right of Palestinians as colonized people to resist the zionist (sic) occupation by any means necessary” in order to “liberate all of Palestine and for Palestinians to unite and overthrowing the settler colonial structure.”

Similarly, a public seminar by Rutgers University professor Noura Erekat made repeated charges that “Jewish superiority” is “fundamentally rooted in the belief that Jews are God’s chosen people,” and, “Whereas Zionism seeks segregation and does not want to assimilate Jews with non-Jews, it’s Nazism that doesn’t want to integrate and assimilate Jews with non-Jews.”

Her equation of Zionism with Nazism was sponsored by the University of Illinois’s Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CASMES). Other “Israeli Apartheid Week” speakers, such as at Harvard University, expressed similar approval of antisemitic violence.

Conspiracy theories are now also a feature of BDS. At New York University Law School, the SJP chapter drafted a statement claiming the “Zionist grip on the media is omnipresent,” and that “Palestinians are not obligated to engage in racialized ‘nonviolence’ theory and wait around for a United Nations action that will never come as their homes are taken from them.”

The episode came after a pro-Israel group at the law school circulated a statement noting, “The Middle East is big enough for all its indigenous peoples to enjoy self-determination, security, and prosperity.”

The SJP response, which was endorsed by 11 progressive groups, decried the creation of Israel and claimed “it is imperative to emphasize that the loss of any lives is a direct result of the Israeli occupation, not the resistance of those who are occupied. To call it anything else is, in fact, a technique of dehumanizing Palestinians.”

In response, the NYU Law administration claimed that it was investigating the antisemitic statements and harassment, while the SJP chapter complained it was being “smeared in the right wing press.

Standard BDS protests against Israeli and pro-peace speakers also continued in April. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a talk by Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog was disrupted by BDS supporters and culminated in a student walkout.

BDS related manipulations of student media also expanded in April. At the University of Chicago, editors of The Maroon newspaper removed an op-ed that criticized the local SJP chapter’s call to “stop taking sh***** Zionist classes,” alleging that it “flattened dialogue and perpetuated hate toward UChicago’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP UChicago), Palestinian students, and those on campus who support the Palestinian liberation struggle.”

In their fulsome apology, the editors went on to state “we recognize that The Maroon as an institution has a history of publishing and contributing to anti-Palestinian sentiments on campus and beyond, and SJP UChicago has compiled and protested articles they see as fitting this pattern.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Michigan, BDS supporters assailed the student government for archiving Instagram posts from 2021 that had expressed “solidarity” with Palestinians, deeming it a “betrayal” and “silencing.”

The aim of permanently dominating student government social media through emotional blackmail appears to have been successful and student government representatives “responded with apologies and said they have every intention of either republishing the original statement or writing a new statement that aligns with the current wishes of the Palestinian students on campus.”

After a contentious lead up, a BDS referendum calling on the university to boycott Caterpillar and other firms, was held at Princeton University. The results, however, were not immediately obvious. Reports indicate that the student government representative responsible for the election had counseled pro-Israel students that abstentions would be counted in the total votes cast. Pro-Israel student then created their campaign around this principle, leaving students the option of simply abstaining from a contentious issue. The result was that 16% of students abstained, while 44% voted yes, and 40% voted no. But after the referendum the student representative reversed his position and indicated that abstentions would simply not count and that only yes or no votes would indicate the result. By this metric, the vote passed.

The result was a predictable series of claims and accusations from both sides, with the student election representative claiming a “miscommunication” had occurred and BDS supporters decrying both the premise of abstention and the “antidemocratic” manner in which the vote was appealed. The student government then held a special session to discuss the issue. It was conceded that the process was “unfair and incorrect,” but the result was upheld since doing otherwise would “eliminate trust among the student body.” Puzzlingly, pro-BDS and anti-BDS supporters then applauded the result, which now includes developing a “paper” in support of the referendum to “demonstrate the will of the student body.”

In response, the university president stated, “At Princeton, any disassociation decisions are ultimately within the jurisdiction of the Board of Trustees, not the Undergraduate Student, Government or, for that matter, the University administration.” He added, “There is quite obviously no consensus on campus or in the broader University community about issues of Middle Eastern politics or what to do about them,” but “Arguments about who is in the majority, or which side ‘won’ a contested student election, are not material to Princeton’s decision-making.”

The student governments at the University of Houston and Loyola University in Chicago passed divestment bills in the guise of “anti-war” statements, while BDS bills were approved at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.

Elsewhere, however, BDS resolutions were thwarted. At Ohio State, the student government president refused to sign an “emergency resolution” targeting investments in Caterpillar and other companies approved by the student government.

At the University of British Columbia (UBC), the administration condemned the student BDS bill, saying that “constructive and respectful debate cannot occur when members of one group are made to feel personally attacked for their identity or where tolerance and inclusiveness are not fostered in productive discourse,” and that “We work to avoid polarization on the basis of student identity, religion, or political beliefs so that students are safe and free from harassment.” The UBC statement came after administrators at the University of Toronto cut funding to the student government after passage of a similar BDS bill targeting Israeli firms and Jewish students.

Meanwhile, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a bill calling for a student referendum on BDS was approved by the student government but was overruled by the student judiciary on a variety of procedural grounds. A university representative had already notified the student government that students would not be permitted to vote on the issue. In response, the local SJP chapter cut its ties with the student government and accused “Zionist senators” of manipulating “the flaws of student government in order to advance their insidious anti-Palestinian, settler-colonial ideologies.”

The impact of BDS on national level student politics and on national policy continues to be felt in Britain. The National Union of Students (NUS), a steppingstone into national politics, is embroiled in an antisemitism crisis. The incoming president of the organization, Shaima Dallali, is on the defensive after discovery of her social media history. Old postings including “Khaybar Khaybar O Jews … Muhammad’s army will return Gaza,” in addition to more recent organizing appearances by Islamist preachers and participating in anti-Israel demonstrations.

Reports indicate that hundreds of Jewish students signed a letter stating they were “scared, distressed and upset and feeling that NUS is not a safe place for them.” In response, more than 20 former NUS presidents sent a message to the organization’s trustees urging them to address Jewish students concerns with an investigation and apology, or risk local student groups disaffiliation and government de-recognition. Individuals signing the letter include several current and former cabinet ministers, journalists, and other leading figures. The NUS responded by announcing an investigation.

For her part, Dallai — the student leader — has predictably accused her opponents of “gendered Islamophobia” and harassment. But the crisis reached new proportions when the British Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, expressed concern over “systemic antisemitism” within the NUS and warned that its charitable status and links to the government were in jeopardy.

The unfolding NUS situation partially replicates the antisemitism scandal that began several years ago with BDS student clubs affiliated with the BDS in Labour Party. This reverberated into the party itself and exposed a pervasive culture of antisemitism and abuse from a hardcore group of activists that eventually lead to the ouster of Jeremy Corbyn and his Momentum faction from Labour.

Finally, reports indicated that a Vice Presidential Seder overseen by the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris included wine from the Psagot winery, located in the “territories.” When Jewish media pointed this out, a Harris spokesman issued a “clarification” stating, “The wine served at the Seder was in no way intended to be an expression of policy.” BDS activists were infuriated over the incident.

The author is a contributor to SPME, where a version of this article was previously published.

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