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May 30, 2022 10:41 am

As Semester Ends, the BDS Movement Picks Up Gains on Campus

avatar by Alexander Joffe


Members of the Trinity BDS Campaign holding Palestinian flags. Photo: Trinity BDS Campaign.

The spring semester ended in May with the BDS movement making strides on campus, but being pushed back in primary elections and in the cultural sphere.

On campus, one of the most notable episodes was the endorsement of BDS by the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson. The bizarrely written editorial stated that “desire for rightful justice spreads, like wildfire, moving us to act, to speak, to write, and right our past wrongs”; expressed “our sincere support to those who have been and continue to be subject to violence in occupied Palestine, as well as to any and all civilians affected by the region’s bellicosity”; and lauded student BDS supporters for their “potent form of resistance, … we are humbled by our peers’ passion and skill.”

Continuing this obsequious tone, the editorial board stated, “the extraordinary abuses and our privileged ability to speak to them and face comparatively less unjustified retribution — compel us to take a stand. Palestinians, in our board’s view, deserve dignity and freedom. We support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement as a means to achieving that goal.” It also explicitly repudiated previous editorials that rejected BDS.

Pushback against the endorsement was swift from students (including dissenting members of the editorial board), faculty, and alumni, as well as Jewish groups.

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Observers noted that the putative cachet of Harvard gave the endorsement greater weight than an average college newspaper. It was also significant for representing the antagonism toward Israel of aspiring members of the American ruling class.

The student governments at the University of California at Riverside, Louisiana State University, the Marquette University, and the University of Sydney passed BDS resolutions. The student union at the University of Liverpool rejected a BDS resolution.

At the University of Melbourne the student government approved a BDS resolution that declared Israel a “settler colonial apartheid state” that was guilty of “massacres, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”; deemed Zionism “a racist, colonial ideology”; and supported the right of Palestinians “to engage in self defence against their occupiers.”

The adoption was followed quickly by a class action lawsuit by a student alleging that the union had “acted outside of its purpose as a student union (violating the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012) and … violated the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.” University officials had previously expressed opposition to the resolution, along with Jewish groups. The Australian National Student Association, however, expressed support for the Melbourne resolution. After a series of deliberations, the resolution was rescinded.

Elsewhere, the student government at McGill University decided not to ratify a previously adopted BDS resolution, after the university administration made it clear that it would take action against the body.

One notable BDS resolution — passed by the student government at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School in 2021 — was endorsed in May by the school’s faculty, who then joined students at a “Zionism out of CUNY” rally. The endorsement was noted with disapproval by mainstream media, and represents another step in the politicization of academia.

The CUNY faculty move came in the midst of a series of tit-for-tat moves against the administration. The CUNY chancellor had traveled to Israel with a group of university presidents, provoking the ire of BDS-supporting students. Elsewhere, a Nakba Day campus event, provocatively entitled “Palestine Lives 2022: By Any Means Necessary,” was canceled by John Jay College for security reasons.

Further antisemitic incitement occurred during a speech at the CUNY Law commencement by Nerdeen Kiswani, leader of the violent Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) breakaway group Within Our Lifetime.

In her talk, Kiswani, who has a history of making threats against Jewish students, alleged that she had been “been facing a campaign of Zionist harassment by well-funded organizations with ties to the Israeli government and military.” She also condemned CUNY leaders’ travel to Israel, alleging that it “normalizes Israel’s colonization and murder of the Palestinian people.”

Kiswani had previously called for and celebrated violence against Israelis on social media and at “globalize the Intifada” rallies.

The CUNY developments came as Nakba Day protests were held across the country, including in New York. Additional harassment of Jews and Israel-supporters took place during New York’s Israel Day parade.

Overall, antisemitic hate crimes in New York City are up dramatically, compared to previous years.

At Brooklyn College, the local SJP chapter disrupted Israeli Independence Day celebrations. One protestor stated, “In actuality, they’re celebrating their independence, but it’s actually like the genocide for the Palestinian people.”

The role of BDS in American politics was displayed in a series of Democratic primaries. Over the past few years, anti-Israel politics emerged fully as an organizing principle for far-left candidates. In response, pushback has emerged from centrist Democrats. And progressive candidates fared poorly in the May primaries.

But a sign of the growing (if possibly misplaced) confidence of the House BDS caucus was the introduction of a resolution by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and endorsed by members of “The Squad,” recognizing the “Naqba,” condemning the founding of Israel, and celebrating Palestinian “refugeedom,” and endorsing the “right of return.”

In an unsubtle equation with Holocaust denial, the resolution also instructs the US government to combat “Nakba denial.” The resolution has little chance of passage, but represents the effort to have Congress formally endorse the revisionist Palestinian narrative of victimhood, and casting Israel as evil.

The resolution is also another opportunity to propagandize the Palestinian narrative to Americans who remain largely unaware of the BDS movement.

Elsewhere, controversy dogged the British Labour Party, which continues to be immersed in an antisemitism crisis that began with affiliated campus organizations.

In May, Jewish leaders called on Labour head Keir Starmer to condemn two Labour Parliament members who spoke at a “Palestine Solidarity Campaign — Stop the War Coalition” rally where speakers accused Israel of “apartheid,” and urged sanctions while the crowd chanted in Arabic for a Hamas leader to “blow up Kiryat Shemona.”

Elsewhere in Britain, the government has cut its ties with the National Union of Students (NUS) over the organization’s treatment of Jewish students and newly adopted support for BDS. The role of newly elected NUS president Shaima Dallali, a vocal BDS supporter and participant in anti-Israel protests, was highlighted along with allegations of long-term abuse of Jewish students by the union.

In a predictable if still shocking twist, NUS and Goldsmith College student leaders then accused academic David Hirsch, a sociologist and leading scholar on British antisemitism, of being a “far right white supremacist.”

Finally, in a development that straddles politics and culture, the ADL has taken a strong stance that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. In a speech, ADL leader Jonathan Greenblatt stated, “anti-Zionism as an ideology is rooted in rage” because it aims for “the negation of another people, a concept as alien to the modern discourse as white supremacy. It requires a willful denial of even a superficial history of Judaism and the vast history of the Jewish people. And, when an idea is born out of such shocking intolerance, it leads to, well, shocking acts.” The implications are that the ADL will “act against the anti-Zionist extremists just as we have against other extremists from the white supremacists and alt-right ilk.”

While the ADL has long been a target for Muslim and progressive groups, the BDS movement was clearly taken aback by the unequivocal equation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. In a later interview, Greenblatt refused to back down from the assertion, saying, “if you peel back the layers in anti-Zionism, it is a historic form of delegitimization targeting Jews.”

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

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