On American university campuses, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is different in many ways and stronger than it was just a few semesters ago. Here are 10 ways that things have changed lately:
1. There’s blood in the water
After years of defeat, the BDS campaign scored victories recently at the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Irvine and San Diego, among others. BDS resolutions are still mostly losers. These victories have been largely symbolic, since universities inevitably reject such student resolutions. Still, the wins license anti-Israel extremists to smear Israel with falsehoods and distortions. With each victory, extremists are emboldened.
2. Professors are engaged
Worse, four academic associations have now also endorsed anti-Israel boycotts, including the American Studies Association (ASA). Fortunately, several faculty organizations oppose them. The American Association of University Professors, hardly a pro-Israel organization, opposes all academic boycotts. Three other faculty groups now forcefully advocate against BDS: Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the Israel on Campus Coalition’s Center for Academic Engagement, and the new International Grass Roots Faculty Committee For Academic Freedom and Integrity.
3. The map is wider
This is not just a West Coast issue anymore, if indeed it ever was. More East Coast and Midwest campuses are involved. Indeed, there has been recent notable anti-Israel activity at colleges and universities in nearly every corner of the United States.
4. The groups are smarter
Instead of just hosting an “apartheid wall,” BDS activists will now typically host a series of anti-Israel events. This requires better organization, more manpower, and greater resources.
They are also less likely to use explicit anti-Jewish epithets like “kike,” instead derogating pro-Israel Jews as “Zio-Nazis” or “ZiZis.”
5. The battle is moving to the law schools
Increasingly, anti-Israel groups are moving beyond the main campus and conducting BDS events at law schools. Fortunately, some law students are now organizing to oppose this. The Louis D. Brandeis Center, for example, has recently established active law school chapters at UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania and American University, with more in formation.
6. The backlash has begun
Over 200 university presidents denounced the ASA’s boycott resolution, and they were joined by several important academic organizations.
The BDS campaign’s recent successes have been pyrrhic victories in the sense that they have galvanized opposition against them.
7. Pro-Israel groups are ready
There are now several organizations fighting campus anti-Israel activity. To name just a few, StandWithUs, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Zionist Organization of America, the Amcha Initiative, CAMERA, Hasbara Fellowship, Hillel, and the Israel on Campus Coalition are all active.
8. Legislatures are taking action
Congressmen Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski have introduced legislation to deny federal funding to universities that boycott Israel. Similar legislation in New York and Maryland would restrict the use of state funds to support academic associations that boycott Israel. These developments show that the ASA resolution has activated lawmakers against anti-Israel boycotts.
9. The US department of education is available
In 2004, when I headed the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the agency announced for the first time that it would pursue campus anti-Semitism cases on behalf of Jewish students. This was a major about-face, but my successors refused to enforce the policy for several years. In 2010, the Obama administration reaffirmed it. Unfortunately, few cases brought under the policy have succeeded. OCR however has recently signaled that its anti-Semitism policy remains viable and that Jewish students with strong cases will face a sympathetic audience in Washington.
10. Lawyers are preparing
Some national legal organizations have been raising funds and hiring staff to support the BDS campaign. At the same time, other prominent lawyers support Jewish students and oppose BDS. The Louis D.
Brandeis Center, for example, was founded to protect Jewish students, and our lawyers are active nationwide. The Zionist Organization of America is pursuing cases at UC Irvine, Rutgers, Brooklyn College and elsewhere.
Private attorneys, such as Joel Siegal and Neal Sher, have represented Jewish students. The war is coming, but the lawyers are ready.
The author is president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (www.brandeiscenter.com) and former staff director of the US Commission on Civil Rights.