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June 5, 2023 9:34 am

Anti-Israel Activity Thrived On Campus and Off in May

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avatar by Alexander Joffe


Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listen as Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on “Trump Administration’s Child Separation Policy” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Last month, the most important developments tied to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel occurred in the political sphere.

The keynote event was the unveiling of the Biden administration’s national strategy to combat antisemitism after many weeks of debate and public pressure. The majority of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations had lobbied strongly for inclusion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The definition explicitly discusses antisemitism as a unique phenomenon that includes demonization of Israel and double standards.

This definition has been strongly opposed by left wing critics. The final strategy states:

There are several definitions of antisemitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism. The most prominent is the non-legally binding “working definition” of antisemitism adopted in 2016 by the 31-member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which the United States has embraced. In addition, the Administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.

The administration endorsement of IHRA is indirect. But most pro-Israel groups nevertheless highlighted the positive mention of IHRA while critics noted the positive reference to the Nexus document canceled out the IHRA reference.

Critics also noted that many recommendations were not specific to antisemitism but rather directed at many forms of hate, including “antisemitism, anti-Muslim bias, anti-Sikh bias, and related forms of bias and discrimination.”

Indeed, the letter was praised by the lawfare arm of the BDS movement, Palestine Legal: “The national strategy document removes IHRA from the center of the conversation, de-emphasizes the role of a definition and declines to make it law.”

Concurrent with the release of the national strategy, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a “Dear Colleague” letter reminding colleges that a university violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “when it fails to take adequate steps to address discriminatory harassment, such as antisemitic harassment.” The letter did not mention the IHRA definition.

The other main event of May was a “Nakba Day” panel hosted by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) at the US Capitol. Originally scheduled for a space in the House of Representatives, the booking was canceled by Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). But it was relocated to a hearing room in the Senate at the invitation of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Tlaib lauded Sanders and gloated, “Let the headlines read ‘McCarthy tries to erase Palestine but fails.”” In her remarks, Tlaib accused Israel of being an “apartheid state” which was guilty of “ethnic cleansing.”

The event itself was attended by a variety of BDS and anti-Israel organizations but only one other member of Congress, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO). Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) claimed he was unaware the event had been relocated to the Senate. The event and Tlaib’s remarks were widely condemned by Congressional and Jewish leaders.

Tlaib also filed a bill “recognizing the Nabka and Palestine refugee rights,” which condemns “Israeli aggression.” To compound her claims, Tlaib invoked the Eli Wiesel Genocide Act of 2018, which is aimed at enhancing training for Foreign Service Officers and mandates reports to Congress on US efforts to prevent mass atrocities.

Reports indicate that Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), a longtime Congressional adversary of Israel, will introduce a bill prohibiting US military aid to Israel from being used in certain situations, particularly those involving “Palestinian minors.” The bill also requires the Government Accountability Office to report on other aspects of US aid to Israel. Five representatives are reported to co-sponsor the bill, which is supported by a variety of BDS organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, Al-Haq, IfNotNow, and J Street.

Other legislation related directly BDS was introduced at the Federal level. The Republican backed “Combatting BDS Act of 2023” was reintroduced in the Senate. The bill, first introduced in 2017, is designed to permit states and local governments to divest from entities that boycott Israel. Another bipartisan bill amends the Anti-Boycott Act of 2018 to make it easier for US firms to avoid boycotts organized by international organizations.

The bipartisan “Doxing Threat Assessment Act” was also introduced, specifically in response to the “Massachusetts Mapping Project,” which purported to map institutions supporting Israel, including corporations, schools, and communal organizations. Researchers suspect the project, which was publicized anonymously but promoted heavily by the BDS movement, has direct backing of the Iranian government.

The academic year ended with the BDS movement making high profile gains on campus. At the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, long a center for BDS related antisemitism indulged by the university, an anti-Israel activist gave the commencement address. Fatima Muhammad, leader of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter attacked “Zionists,” accused Israel of indiscriminately killing Palestinians, and impugned Jewish CUNY funders.

As reported by The Algemeiner, the school sought to distance itself from the incident:

“The remarks by a student-selected speaker at the CUNY Law School Graduation, unfortunately, fall into the category of hate speech as they were a public expression of hate toward people and communities based on their religion, race, or political affiliation,” CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez, as well as William Thompson and Sandra Wilkin, the president and vice president of the CUNY Board of Trustees, said on Tuesday.

Many New York politicians also criticized the talk and the university. Mayor Adams issued a gentle rebuke on social media, stating he was “proud to offer a different message at this year’s CUNY law commencement ceremony — one that celebrates the progress of our city and country….”

Prior to the commencement controversy, CUNY’s response to the ongoing BDS crisis was to create a Jewish advisory council, in association with the Jewish Community Relations Council, and to issue support for a state-wide hate crimes reporting system. Critics denounced this as a fig leaf.

“Nakba Day” commemorations were held on a number of campuses, including Northwestern University, Concordia University, the University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Tel Aviv University, and Ben-Gurion University, at one California high school, and in various cities such as London.

One notable event occurred at the United Nations, where “Nakba Day” was commemorated for the first time. In what appears to have been a largely ad-libbed address, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of perpetrating “holocausts,” and demanded a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders as well as a “right of return.”

Campus BDS activities were accompanied by the usual incidents of vandalism, including spray painting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on the pavement outside the University of California at Santa Barbara, Chabad house prior to a Shabbat event. In what has become the norm, swastikas were also found at a number of institutions including the University of California at San Diego, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Delaware, Susquehanna University, Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and at a number of high schools.

A BDS resolution has been proposed again in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and will be voted on by the membership in June. The resolution accuses Israeli academic institutions of being “complicit in the Israeli state’s regime of oppression against Palestinians, including by providing research and development of military and surveillance technologies used against Palestinians” and of failing to “provide protections for academic freedom, campus speech in support of Palestinian human and political rights, nor for the freedom of association of Palestinian students on their campuses.”

The resolution has generated widespread opposition from various groups, including Israeli anthropologists. A similar resolution was narrowly defeated in 2016.

One of the intended effects of BDS on campus has been to diminish Jewish student participation in and event attendance at universities. A new report by the British parliamentary Taskforce on Antisemitism in Higher Education noted Jewish students are increasingly reluctant to wear identifiable Jewish symbols or clothing for fear of being targeted, as well as to attend certain seminars or lectures “for fear of personal interrogation.” Among other things the report recommended embedding the IHRA definition in all university “processes.”

In the international sphere, the IHRA definition was adopted by the Latin American Parliament. The French National Assembly voted down a resolution that declared Israel an “apartheid state.” The legislation had been introduced by members of the Communist Party. A bill introduced in the British Parliament also aims to prevent local councils from adopting BDS.

In Ireland, however, new legislation demanding the state investment fund divest from firms with operations in the “West Bank” was debated. A report indicated that the fund had “€1.19 million, 0.01% of ISIF’s total equity investments of €799 million in 2021, into Israeli companies, according to the Ireland-Israel Alliance. Only €150,000 of that money was invested in businesses known to operate in the West Bank.”

Finally, the Belgian city of Liége passed a motion that called for “a temporary suspension of all relations with the state of Israel and the institutions that are complicit until the Israeli authorities put an end to the systematic violation of the Palestinian people.” The motion was introduced by the “Marxist Workers’ Party of Belgium.”

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

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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