Here and There: BDS – the enemy within

The connection between the BDS campaign, Nakba Day and Tel Aviv University can be made through academics employed by the university.

Nakba day demonstrations at Tel Aviv University (photo credit: Ariel Ben Solomon)
Nakba day demonstrations at Tel Aviv University
(photo credit: Ariel Ben Solomon)
The connection between the BDS campaign, Nakba Day and Tel Aviv University can be made through academics employed by the university.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has stated that calls to boycott the Jewish State fall within the limits of free speech.
His statement comes in the wake of Israel’s annual State Comptroller’s report highlighting Israel’s abysmal failure to confront the ever-growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Blame is placed on the Foreign Ministry as well as the new Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Relations, set up in 2013 with a hefty budget to deal specifically with BDS. This campaign is making powerful inroads, especially in the world of academia – a matter that should be of deep concern, recognizing that leadership, both national and Jewish, will evolve via campuses.
It was interesting to read the recent front-page interview in The Jerusalem Post with Prof. Joseph Klafter, president of Tel Aviv University, who expressed concern about the spread of the BDS movement and its detrimental effect on students. He noted that a BDS campaign, which started in the UK, “was initially on a small scale, but now that it is widespread in the US, it has grown to be very worrisome.” However, he felt it had not affected Israeli faculty members.
Contrary to the views of his “boss,” Israeli anthropologist Dan Rabinowitz, who heads Tel Aviv University’s prestigious school of environmental studies, feels the cold wind of isolation.
He states that many Israeli professors are being shunned at a personal rather than a university level. They experience snubs at academic conferences and struggle to have their work published in professional journals.
This year, as in previous years on May 15th (the day after the State of Israel was declared in 1948), a commemorative demonstration took place at the entrance to Tel Aviv University for “Nakba” Day (seen by the Arab population as a day of catastrophe).
The connection between the BDS campaign, Nakba Day and Tel Aviv University can be made through academics employed by the university. Dr. Anat Matar, a faculty member in its philosophy department, is one of the first Israelis to endorse BDS as well as being a longstanding proponent of army refusal.
She launched Israeli Apartheid Week in Helsinki Finland in March of this year and participated in a conference on BDS that took place in Nazareth in February.
She told the Mondoweiss website, “Israeli academia is integral to the oppression of Palestinians, with strong ties between the universities and Israel’s various security industries.”
She went on to say, “Sympathetic academics should refuse to organize international conferences in Israel.” She prefers to participate in conferences abroad, claiming, “I am freer to say what I really think of BDS when abroad.” This statement in itself should make warning bells ring within Tel Aviv University.
Prof. Rachel Giora is head of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Linguistics.
She has been associated with the “BOYCOTT” website since its inception in 2008. An article she wrote in 2010 states, “Start practicing the boycott on a personal level immediately and make sure that the steps taken are known in the community” (for example tell your shopkeeper why you will not buy Israeli products; avoid leisure travel to Israel). Her article concludes by asking her readers to add their names to the signatures already at the bottom of her article. Of the 35 signatures, 22 were Israelis (the vast majority Jewish), plus others, such as Israeli Prof. Moshe Machover currently teaching at Kings’ College London. Machover appeared, last month, on the BBC program “The Big Question” where the topic was “Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism?” He was the most vociferous proponent for the delegitimization of Israel.
What is the attitude of Klafter to pro- BDS employees of his university? He has told members of his International Board of Governors who over the years expressed concern as to the views of BDS-supporting academics that it is important to retain freedom of speech.
Could this extend to academics conveying their overt boycott Israel message to their students? On one occasion when a member of the board, Mark Tannenbaum, attempted to bring a proposal to the vote on the subject of academics that use the university’s name while pursuing BDS activities, Klafter, who chaired the meeting, refused, saying he would not tolerate any infringement on academic freedom.
Tannenbaum’s response was, “While he was blathering on about the right of free speech, he ironically denied me, a member of the board of governors, a former student whose late father was one of the founding members of Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University, the right to free speech, and this is absolutely unacceptable.”
Tannenbaum resigned.
Prior to my aliya, I chaired the Hillel Foundation in the UK working closely with the UK’s Union of Jewish Students.
Then, as now, Jewish students faced challenging battles in defense of Israel.
With the advent of BDS, however, the battle has intensified, with the fear of turning today’s students into tomorrow’s anti-Israel leaders.
Yes, we do require our government to take meaningful steps toward combating this frightening phenomenon. It is not enough to form yet another useless committee. We must urgently begin defining free speech and root out those Israelis who use their university to call for boycotts against the very institution that pays their salary. We have many enemies outside, but there can be none worse or more destructive than the enemy within. 
The writer is co-chairperson of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. She is also active in public affairs.