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December 1, 2022 11:58 am

Anti-Israel Hate Spreads Beyond the College Campus in November

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avatar by Alexander Joffe


The UC Berkeley campus. Photo: K. Oliver.

November’s BDS news was shaped by the results of the midterm elections that saw the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives while Democrats retained the Senate. As expected, key BDS supporters easily re-elected included Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MI), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the “Squad” was also strengthened by the addition of some members. A few BDS supporting challengers, such as Nina Turner, were defeated. Despite the overall gains, an arm of the leading BDS group American Muslims for Palestine complained of “rightwing Zionist interference” in the midterm elections, referring specifically to support for moderate Democrats.

The announcement that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) would step down from Democratic leadership roles raised some concern about support for Israel. But the probable appointment of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as Minority Leader allays some of those fears. Jeffries had previous characterized the BDS movement as “inherently antisemitic.” The announcement that Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) would lead a delegation of Bronx community leaders to Israel may also be seen as pushback against the BDS caucus.

BDS was also in the background of politics completely unconnected to Israel or foreign affairs, such as the Los Angeles City Attorney race, where progressive Democrat Faisal Gill, former spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood associated American Muslim Council, was defeated by fellow Democrat Hydee Feldstein-Soto. Elsewhere at the local level, in Boston the Mapping Project of the local BDS movement undertook a series of protests against the Jewish National Fund.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism remains a contentious issue. A group of 120 Jewish studies faculty issued a statement calling on the United Nations not to adopt the definition, which was characterized as a “vague and weaponized trap” due to its discussion of Israel. The statement also lamented the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel.

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On campus, November was marked by a series of events and provocations. At Case Western Reserve University a BDS resolution passed by a large margin. The resolution was condemned by the university president, who called it “profoundly anti-Israel and antisemitic.” The student newspaper then declared the response was “unbecoming of a university president.

The domination of student media by individuals from or sympathetic to the BDS movement was also seen at Ohio State University, where a Jewish student alleged that the newspaper had rejected all pieces that protested spring Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) events that vilified Israel.

At McGill University the student newspaper was forced to retract a BDS activist’s op-ed that alleged that Canadian Jewish philanthropist Charles Bronfman’s gift to the university was part of a conspiracy to suppress academic freedom. An SJP authored op-ed calling for the boycott of Sabra hummus ran several weeks later.

The University of Connecticut student newspaper also editorialized against an Israel trip being sponsored through the local Hillel, while a Harvard student newspaper editorial endorsed the Wellesley newspaper’s support of BDS and the Mapping Project. For its part, the Princeton student newspaper appended a note to an op-ed on rising antisemitism, which stated it “could not independently verify” the statistics included.

In another telling incident at Northwestern University, a sign with the words “From the river to the Sea Palestine will Be Free” was painted on pages of the school newspaper containing an op-ed condemning antisemitism. The SJP chapter then all but claimed responsibility, stating incoherently that the slogan did not call for genocide and that “Our work opposes the oppressive reality of Zionism, not the original ideal of a Jewish homeland.” The same slogan was painted on a campus landmark and disingenuously defended in the student newspaper.

The SJP chapter at the University of Chicago renewed its “Boycott Shitty Zionist Classes” campaign, calling on students to boycott classes with “Zionist narratives.” Carlton University’s SJP chapter held a panel to demand removal of the name Azrieli from the university’s School of Architecture and Urbanism. Canadian-Israel David Azrieli is a graduate of the school and has been involved with Jewish and Israeli philanthropies. Panelists complained that the university had failed to respond to their demands.

The ongoing antisemitism crisis at the UC Berkeley Law School deepened in November, with the announcement of a civil rights complaint about the student government’s policy of excluding ‘Zionist’ speakers. The complaint charges that the university administration did nothing to prevent or rescind the discriminatory policy. Reports indicate that 14 of approximately 100 student groups have now pledged to exclude ‘Zionist’ speakers. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) also urged the Department of Education to launch an investigation.

The background of exclusionary policies in student organizations was reflected in a poll of Middle East Studies Association (MESA) members, which showed overwhelming support for academic boycotts of Israel. The organization had voted to formally endorse BDS earlier this year.

Overall, the cases reflect the increase in campus antisemitism, as documented in a new report that detailed 254 incidents on 63 different campuses.

The impacts of this new antisemitism is being felt not simply in politics but increasingly in the economic sphere. A survey of US hiring managers revealed that roughly one quarter already discriminate against Jewish candidates, while one third say that antisemitism is acceptable in their company. The top three reasons for discrimination were the beliefs that “Jews have too much power and control,” that Jews “claim to be the chosen people,” and that “Jews have too much wealth.”

The poll received almost no media coverage except from Jewish sources.

In the cultural sphere the mainstreaming of antisemitism continued, particularly within the African-American community, notably through comments from Kanye West (“Ye”), Kyrie Irving, and then Dave Chapelle. The problem was compounded by a  dinner between West and former President Trump, along with right antisemite and agitator Nick Fuentes.

These incidents, and the heightening far right and neo-Nazi threats, exemplified by the arrest of two individuals in New York en route to an attack, formed the backdrop to the warning from FBI director Christopher Wray that 63% of all hate crimes in the US are aimed at Jews and that “It’s a community that deserves and desperately needs our support because they’re getting hit from all sides.”

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

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