(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
It’s that time of the year when the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement launches its infamous “Apartheid Week” on university campuses. “Apartheid Week” is just the climax of a yearlong activity on campuses where BDS is most active in promoting an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agenda, which calls for a widespread boycott of Israel. While many view BDS as mostly “Israel’s problem,” its antisemitic roots and rhetoric should worry Jewish communities across the world and especially American Jews.
The concept of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is not new. Even before the BDS movement’s creation, Jews and Israel had to fight for their place in the global economy while being boycotted by the world's Arab nations.
Nevertheless, Israel was able to establish a thriving economy, join leading intergovernmental economic organizations such as the OECD and become one of the world’s innovators in Hi-Tech, Bio-Tech and Security. However, the danger with BDS is not only the potential economic damage to Israel but rather its deep-rooted antisemitism that spreads through its activism across campuses. Where BDS goes, antisemitism follows. Naturally, this is a cause for concern for Israel but, the danger doesn’t stop there.
According to the ADL’s recent Anti-Semitic Incidents report, in 2017 in the US alone, there was an 89% increase in antisemitic incidents on college and university campuses, where BDS is most active. 90 reported incidents constituted actual harassment and another 114 were antisemitic vandalism. It’s important to remember that these figures were compiled from reported incidents, so the real numbers are in all likelihood much higher. Just a year ago, the universities of Central Lancashire and University College London in the United Kingdom canceled “Apartheid Week” on their campuses, acknowledging that it violated British laws against antisemitism. The BDS movement has long flourished on college campuses in the UK, but the acknowledgment that BDS equates to antisemitism was the most effective challenge to the movement so far. In the United States, the increase in antisemitic incidents on campuses is enough to suggest a worrying emerging picture.
Besides the BDS antisemitic strategy to delegitimize the only Jewish state and to put it to different standards from the rest of the world, the BDS hides behind its argument that it is not antisemitic but “anti-Zionist”, all the while seeking to blur the distinction between the two concepts. On the one hand, it disregards Jews’ right to self-determination, despite promoting its distorted definition of Zionism as a “colonialist” power that seeks to “take over control of land and resources and forcibly remove Palestinians” and engages in “ethnic cleansing.” Even more so, it seeks to rewrite any manifestation of Jewish identity that does not fit its propaganda. In doing so, all Jews are referred to as “Whites” in an attempt to align Jews with colonialist powers, the South African apartheid regime, and the white supremacy movement. The only time that Sephardi Jews or Ethiopian Jews are mentioned, is when propagating the lie that the “White” Jews are “also” committing genocide against Sephardi Jews.
When I did my Master of Laws at Columbia University, I experienced the BDS’ antisemitism first hand. Just after arriving at Columbia’s campus, I came across a pamphlet titled “BDS 101.” I decided to go and see for myself what all the fuss was about. At the beginning of the event, we were told that all audio and video recordings were strictly forbidden. Then, we heard a lecture about Israel and how it was established by “colonialist Jews” who destroyed the existing Palestinian state.
One of the organizers from Students for Justice in Palestine told us that terrorist attacks against Israelis are justified because “this is what you get when you choke a people for 69 years”. All around me, a crowd of about 50 students clapped and cheered. The atmosphere was full of violence. I was shocked. I knew that BDS spreads lies and misinformation about Israel and Jews, but this was the first time I had witnessed a group of educated young people cheering and celebrating the murder of innocent people. Unfortunately, this was one of many examples.
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Following the event, my fellow Jewish students and I sent a letter to Columbia University’s President expressing our concern that the hosting of such on-campus activities could send the message that activities that compromised other students’ security were sanctioned by the institution. Our hope was that the university would act in defense of all its students’ safety. We wrote that “we support and will protect the right of genuine groups to exist, whether we agree with their views or not. Nevertheless, we believe that this platform cannot, and should not, be used to justify violent acts towards innocent people”. In response, we were told that the BDS activists’ words did not pose a “clear and present danger of bodily harm” or a “clear and present danger that actually incite others to [cause bodily harm or property damage]”. This example, and others like it, of leniency across American educational institutions to the threat of incitement, can only be considered a contributory factor in the huge increase in antisemitic incidents on American campuses.
About 24 States across the United States have already adopted different legislation against BDS after acknowledging its antisemitic roots and impact. On a federal level, anti-BDS initiatives that seek to broaden the existing U.S. anti-boycott laws command massive bipartisan support. Among the examples are initiatives such as S. 720 introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin [D-MD] and co-sponsored by 54 Republican and Democrats Senators, and H.R. 1697 introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam [R-IL-6] and co-sponsored by no less than 278 Representatives from both sides of the aisle. Nevertheless, more action is needed on the ground to improve the atmosphere on campuses. Students organizations like Students Supporting Israel are working hard to redress the balance, but their chances of success are limited without the support of the universities themselves and other organizations. During this year’s “Apartheid week”, the American Jewish Congress, under the leadership of its President Mr. Jack Rosen, will be partnering with Student Supporting Israel for an inaugural national event to take place simultaneously on different campuses across the United States under the title – “BDS is anti-Semitism – United against BDS”. This is an important step in eliminating the increase in anti-Semitic incidents on American campuses.
The author is the Director of Programming and Operations at the American Jewish Congress, a Columbia Law School graduate and a former Senior Advisor to an Israeli Government Minister. Assaf also served as a board member for Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University.
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