BDS activists protest against the unloading of an Israeli ship at the Port of Oakland, June 4, 2021. (Facebook/Arab Resource & Organizing Center, via The Algemeiner) (Facebook/Arab Resource & Organizing Center, via The Algemeiner)
BDS protest

Indications are strong that the fall semester will see high levels of anti-Israel activism and harassment.

By Alexander Joffe, The Algemeiner

BDS activities in August were initially shaped by the fallout over the Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott decision.

Several US governors, state attorney generals, and comptrollers began investigations into whether the company’s demand to boycott Israel put its corporate owner, Unilever, in violation of local anti-BDS laws.

There are now 33 anti-BDS laws, resolutions, and executive orders at the state level. Cognizant that these laws have been effective, North Carolina Democrats passed a resolution calling for that state’s anti-BDS law to be repealed.

As the situation unfolded, it was revealed that the Ben & Jerry’s board had brought in BDS activist Peter Beinart to defend the move in a conference call with franchise owners.

One report indicated that Beinart “argued that Israel is illegally occupying territory that it seized from Jordan in an offensive war in 1967 and claimed that the Jewish state sends soldiers into Palestinian villages to abduct minors.”

Another BDS activist revealed that the movement had been pressuring the company for nearly a decade. These reports came as several dozen franchise owners complained to the company about the boycott decision.

Ben & Jerry’s chair and avowed BDS supporter Anuradha Mittal further stated that critics were “spreading lies and myths.” Reports also indicate that the company’s foundation gave $170,000 to the pro-Hamas and Hezbollah Oakland Institute, which is headed by Mittal.

With universities and K-12 schools poised to reopen, BDS remains a key issue. Indications are strong that the fall semester will see high levels of anti-Israel activism and harassment.

The University of North Carolina dismissed concerns regarding a BDS supporting graduate student who is teaching a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In a similar case, a BDS supporter is scheduled to teach a course on antisemitism at the University of Victoria.

At the University of Houston, the student government passed a BDS resolution supported by the local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. At the University of Toronto, the student government re-signed a letter by the Muslim Student Association demanding the school condemn the “Palestinian genocide.”

The student government had previously signed and then unsigned the letter after complaints. The student who proposed the move stated it was important because, “Our student union has constantly undermined the suffering of Palestinian Muslim students.”

The role of Muslim students working with progressive groups in promoting BDS and transforming campus environments was acknowledged in a survey of campus Jewish professionals.

This was also highlighted by the speaking invitation to Kuwaiti preacher Tareq Al-Suwaidan from Canada’s Muslim Student Leadership conference. Al-Suwaidan, who has been banned from Belgium and Italy and who was fired as the head of a Saudi TV network because of his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, has stated that “All the mothers of the Islamic nation … should suckle their babies on the hatred of the sons of Zion. We hate them. They are our enemies.”

He has also called for genocide — “We should instill this in the souls of our children until a new generation rises and wipes them off the face of the earth” — and claimed, “All the wars throughout history … were started by the sons of Zion.”

The case of Mohammad Abbasi, a former adjunct at the City University of New York (CUNY), illustrates another aspect of radical Islam in higher education. Reports indicate that in a sermon to the Islamic Center of Union, New Jersey, Abbasi stated, “With the help of Allah they will erase this filth called Israel.” His comments were condemned by the school and by various politicians.

Arab American and Muslim organizations have also been at the forefront of pushing “Palestine” to the center of all “critical race” approaches to education, particularly at the K-12 level. The antisemitism embedded in the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum soon to be mandated by the state of California was partially addressed by protests from Jews and others.

A new “Liberated Ethnic Studies Curriculum” goes further, and accuses Israel of “settler colonialism” and demands students see “connections between the struggle for Palestinian rights and the struggles of Indigenous, Black and brown communities, and other marginalized groups impacted by U.S. policies, both within and outside of U.S. borders.”

The California curriculum has been endorsed by the California Teachers Association, which also opposed revisions to the initial curriculum.

A group called “New York City Educators for Palestine” was also the focus of a letter from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who protested their statement on alleged Israeli “ethnic cleansing,” demands for adoption of BDS, and calling for the “teaching the history of Palestinian oppression, as we would the history of American slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, antisemitism, and South African apartheid.”

Faculty and teachers unions are a focal point for BDS. Pushback against union calls for BDS were reported at CUNY, with more than 100 faculty members resigning. A faculty group at the University of Southern California also issued a letter condemning the school’s “Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies” statement against Israel.

The original statement accused Israel of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing,” and was co-signed by 120 departments and programs. A letter to the University of California at Davis administration from faculty protesting the Asian Studies department’s condemnation of Israel was not answered.

The damage from faculty resolutions against Israel was acknowledged in a Los Angeles Times editorial against the city’s teacher’s union. It called the anti-Israel resolutions “neither needed nor wanted,” adding, “One thing is for sure. UTLA is not well-situated to answer these and a multitude of other questions raised by the movement in any expert or nuanced way, and the world is hardly waiting to hear what a California teachers union thinks of the matter.”

Anti-Israel litmus test spreads

At the same time, the conversion of university faculty and other professional organizations to the cause of “Palestine” continued.

The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies launched a new campaign in support of BDS, casting it in terms of a “more liberated Middle East Studies, a popular pedagogy that links research and theory to democratic practice, wider public and private understandings, and egalitarian politics across borders. We oppose the many ways in which Middle East Studies, on and off campus, is implicated in injustice and domination — racism, colonialism, Orientalism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, authoritarianism, (neo)liberalism, and elitism. We believe in transnational solidarity and global justice, and support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the unjust regime of occupation and apartheid imposed by Israel.”

By linking “Palestine” with a slew of unrelated causes, the campaign demands reciprocal support. And the anti-Israel litmus test has spread rapidly into areas such as counseling and psychiatry.

In the sphere of politics, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) commented in support of legislation that would forbid municipalities from shutting off water and other utilities to customers who don’t pay bills, saying “You know, I always tell people cutting people off from water is violence from Gaza to Detroit. And it’s a way to control people, to oppress people. And it’s those structures that we continue to fight against.”

Tlaib added, “And I tell people … that if you open the curtain and look behind the curtain, it’s the same people that make money and, yes they do, off of racism, off of these broken policies. There is someone there making money and you saw it!”

Tlaib, along with other notable BDS supporters among House Democrats, also urged the US Treasury Department to review and possibly revoke the non-profit status of several US groups that support Israeli activities across the “Green Line.” The letter accused the charities of “fueling the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians to make way for Jewish Israeli settlers.”

The direct impact of BDS at the street level was seen in a number of protests. In Brooklyn, marchers chanted, “We don’t want no two states, we want all of it.” In Manhattan, Black Lives Matter protestors outside the Fox News building chanted, “You’re all racist, you’re Nazis, you’re Zionists, you’re KKK.” The Brooklyn march was supported by Jewish Voice for Peace.

The author is a contributor to SPME, where a version of this article first appeared.

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