We must speak louder than ever against BDS

"The BDS activists’ message was clear: The only freedom of speech worthy of protection is their own. Those who disagree, or dispute their view of the world, would be violently disrupted."

Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement held its annual “Israel Apartheid Week” on Columbia University’s campus last week, spreading violent antisemitism and anti-Israel propaganda. Nevertheless, Apartheid Week is just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the year, the BDS movement has gained momentum across the United States, and life on campus is becoming increasingly difficult for Jewish and Israeli students who are being silenced by its lies, bullying and vicious acts.
Even before applying to Columbia Law School, I had heard about the anti-Israel atmosphere on American campuses and in my previous position as a senior adviser to an Israeli minister, was familiar with the BDS movement. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the anti-Israel propaganda and the actual experience of being an Israeli-Jewish student on an American campus.
When I got to campus, I decided to see for myself what BDS was really like and went to the first BDS event. We were told that all audio and video recordings were strictly forbidden. The facilitators then gave a presentation that was nothing short of propaganda and indoctrination. We were told that Israel 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 Israeli citizens were justified, adding that “this is what you get when you choke a people for 69 years.” All around me, the crowd of about 50 students clapped and cheered.
I left the lecture shaking, terrified. I knew that BDS spread lies and misinformation about Israel and Jews, but it was the first time I had witnessed firsthand a dynamic group of educated and ambitious young people cheering and celebrating the murder of innocent people. I knew then we must save our campus from this violent group and expose it for what it is.
The BDS movement claims to protect the rights of Palestinians, but its sole purpose it to delegitimize the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and to demonize what it calls “colonialist Jews.” Moreover, at Columbia, BDS activists cynically use Palestinian suffering to reach minority student groups and draw them to their cause. For instance, in discussing the plight facing LGBTQ people in Gaza and the West Bank, they only blame Israel for the suffering and persecution, rather than honestly reporting the horrific acts carried out by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Several LGBTQ groups at Columbia, as expected, then jumped into the BDS movement in support of its Palestinian brethren. The propaganda works.
The BDS movement claims that it opposes violence, yet has no qualms about attacking pro-Israel groups and students. Pro-Israel signs have been vandalized on campus grounds, defaced with graffiti such as “Zionism is Racism” and “Apartheid State.” Events hosted by Students Supporting Israel (SSI) are disrupted, its speakers heckled and attendees harassed. When Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Mr. Danny Danon, came to speak at an SSI event, BDS activists blocked the entrance to the auditorium, physically preventing people from entering and intimidating those who managed to get in. During the ambassador’s 25-minutes speech, the BDS activists disrupted him seven times with calls to Boycott Israel. The ambassador kept speaking, undeterred, but the BDS activists’ message was clear: The only freedom of speech worthy of protection is their own. Those who disagree, or dispute their view of the world, would be violently disrupted.
While there are brave pro-Israel student groups willing to stand up to the harassment of the BDS movement, such as SSI, they do so alone with almost no assistance. The BDS movement as such is free to continue with its violence and incitement, unfettered. Apartheid Week, and the propaganda that comes with it, has returned to Columbia University, and unless we stand up to the BDS movement, we can expect to see it again next year.
Those of us fighting the delegitimization of Israel and the accompanying intimidation and harassment must remember that if we work together and stand up to the BDS movement, we may one day be able to eradicate it from our campuses. In the United Kingdom, the University of Central Lancashire and University College London recently canceled Apartheid Week on their campuses, acknowledging that it violated a British law against anti-Semitism. The BDS movement has long flourished on college campuses in the UK, but there is a rising understanding that “the wheel must be rolled back.”
On March 29, the Israeli mission to the UN, together with the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and other pro-Israeli organizations, will hold their annual “Ambassador Against BDS” event, discussing ways to combat BDS and giving students tools for their daily battle. This event correlates with the WJC project of “Campus Pitch” trying to find new innovative ways to counter BDS and get students involved. These actions, together with grassroots students’ movements such as SSI, are leading the battle to protect American campuses against the BDS movement and the violence faced by Jewish and Israeli students. We must do everything in our power to reverse the damage done and make universities campuses safe for all students, and return them to being the institutions of free speech and academic achievement that they are meant to be.
The writer is a Graduate Student at Columbia Law School, a former senior advisor to one of Israel’s ministers, a member of the World Jewish Congress “Jewish Diplomatic Corps”, and a board member of Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University.