The BDS campaign knows no bounds. Individuals, even college students, apparently are fair game for the aggressive effort to punish those who engage with the State of Israel.
Lauren Rogers, a UCLA junior, recently found herself targeted by a well-organized, malicious campaign spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Rogers could not have imagined that her visit to Israel last December on an AJC Project Interchange (PI) educational seminar would lead to the kind of abuse by fellow students that she was forced to endure. The SJP took her and another student, Sunny Singh, who visited Israel with ADL, to the campus-based student-run Judicial Board, a quasi-court that holds trials and renders opinions.
The alleged “crime” was a purported violation of a conflict-of-interest code that is supposed to bind elected members of the UCLA student council. What was the violation? Well, by coincidence, in February, barely two months after Rogers and other California college students returned from the PI trip, the UCLA student council on which Rogers and Singh served as elected members considered a resolution to divest from American companies doing business with Israel.
Such student BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) resolutions have no impact on university policy. As my AJC colleague Steven Bayme has observed, “No university – either in America or in Europe – actually supports BDS.” The American Association of Universities and the American Association of University Professors have long opposed the BDS movement.
If the UCLA student measure had passed, the SJP and like-minded groups would have claimed nothing more than a moral victory in their battle against Israel and her supporters. But, after a 12-hour debate, the motion failed by a vote of seven to five. Though voting was secret, a bitter SJP introduced a new tactic, claiming that Rogers and Singh should have recused themselves because they had visited Israel. SJP was determined to convince the Judicial Board to nullify the divestment vote and reprimand the two.
Rogers, who is pursuing a double major in psychology and communications, got a sudden first-hand experience in both psychological warfare and crisis public relations. Excelling in classwork, enjoying the campus life UCLA offers and having received the Daily Bruin’s highest marks for her service in student government, Rogers now had to endure undue stress and anxiety generated by the zeal of SJP and its vehemently anti-Israel allies on campus.
The campaign against Lauren used social media bullying. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts were filled with vile messages claiming she has “blood on her hands” and is a “human rights violator,” implying that somehow this UCLA student is responsible for aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rogers was particularly distressed by attacks from students she did not even know, and who certainly did not know her. At times she even felt unsafe walking on the campus she loves so much. This ordeal continued for months.
The nightmare began to abate on May 21, six days after the Judicial Board hearing, where both sides presented their cases. The decision absolving Lauren and Sunny of any wrongdoing was explained in detail in an impressive 14-page decision released last week that debunks the SJP claims.
“The actions of Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers did not constitute a conflict of interest,” concluded the Judicial Board. There was “no evidence” of a “lobbying relationship” between the two students and the organizations that sponsored their trips to Israel.
Moreover, the trips took place before the divestment vote was held and, in any event, the Judicial Board emphasized, “The vote was taken by secret ballot; how Singh and Rogers voted is unknown.”
Lauren originally applied to visit and learn about Israel with AJC’s Project Interchange out of interest in global affairs. “I have an interest in Israel from my own personal faith,” she adds. Her trip with 11 peers was the fourth annual delegation of California students.
University students from across the US regularly travel to Israel with PI and other educational programs. None has experienced the vengeful consequences that befell Lauren.
Lauren is looking forward to completing her degree next year, and Project Interchange is planning to take more groups of university students to Israel. The unique approach of PI is popular because participants are exposed to a broad range of Israel’s diverse and dynamic society, and each visit includes meetings with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
But, to be sure, BDS proponents also are hell-bent on using campuses to delegitimize Israel. Perceptive students will recognize that BDS does not support efforts to achieve sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace, but instead seeks a one-state solution in which Israel no longer exists. Pro-Israel activists will need to remain ever vigilant for new tactics from those who seek to harm anyone interested in engaging – or even simply learning about – Israel.
The author is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.