You may have seen headlines in 2018: Two University of Michigan professors refused to write letters advocating for a student to study abroad in Israel. This was in tandem with an effort for an academic boycott of Israel. Barring students from academic freedom is the exact opposite of what a university should promote. The two professors were part of a larger effort of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement to suspend study abroad programs in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The BDS movement is a Palestinian-led movement which aims to meet its goals by economically, politically, and socially pressuring Israel. The movement aims to pressure college administrations and companies to divest from Israel whether it be pulling investments, joint ventures, or other measures.
Proponents of BDS claim that the measure’s primary goal is merely to economically pressure the state of Israel into adopting egalitarian policies that would benefit the wellbeing of Palestinian Arabs, a principle we should all support. This distracts from its more hostile and partisan goal: wiping Israel off the map. In fact, a strong proponent of the BDS movement, As’ad AbuKhalil, a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus, explicitly stated that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel ….” AbuKhalil, moreover, stated, “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” This sentiment is that of a professor who is an outspoken advocate of BDS.
Rather than covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am critiquing a movement that masks their objective with a fraudulently stated goal. BDS has an unstated desire to eradicate the state of Israel and demonize the Jewish people and the state, and unfairly treats Jews and Jewish organizations. This is a continuation of archetypal 19th-20th century anti-Judaic thought which saw the “Jewish problem” as something to strive to overcome.
As a result of the masked objective of the BDS movement, people can become fooled by the underlying truth of a deeply antisemitic movement. This movement undermines the Palestinian cause because rather than uplifting Palestinian voices, its aim is to muzzle Jews. A study by the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit combating antisemitism, even concluded that the strongest indicator of campus antisemitism stems from campuses with chapters affiliated with the BDS movement. Moreover, through the initiative of Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations released a report which linked antisemitism to the BDS movement. The report claims that the “activities and effects of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are fundamentally anti-Semitic.”
BDS’ antinormalization guidelines prohibit and restrict any dialogue regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless they first recognize Israel as an “oppressor.” They fundamentally oppose the building blocks of dialogue by denying debate between Israelis and Palestinians, and this type of ideology is pernicious to a college campus.
BDS frequently releases misleading referenda such as, “Do you think that the university should follow socially responsible investment practices and divest its funds from companies that profit from Israel’s discriminatory practices and human rights violations?” The question does not allow for a fair vote, as it negates the nuances of a complex and contested issue and immediately paints Israel as the villain. The movement develops a compelling narrative while eliminating any sort of discussion.
This messaging coerces students to sign and does not disclose what the referendum is actually doing. Just last February, CUNY School of Law passed a BDS resolution that went so far as to endorse the elimination of Hillel, the largest Jewish group on college campuses. The abolition of Hillel has nothing to do with Palestinian rights; it is simply shutting down a Jewish organization. It is once again masking an objective with a fake heading.
Unsurprisingly, Marc Lamont Hill joined the CUNY faculty after he was fired from CNN for advocating for the destruction of Israel. Hill has even gone so far as to praise Fatima Bernawi, a convict responsible for planting a bomb in a Jerusalem movie theater. Hill, in a tweet, referred to her as “a legend.” Hill is an upcoming guest speaker at Penn where his antisemitism and support for a convicted terrorist are masked, following the BDS’ goal.
Proponents of BDS may claim that it started as a grassroots movement in 2005. The movement’s origins, however, are unmistakably traced to a conference in Durban, South Africa at The United Nations World Conference Against Racism. Although its mission was to discuss methods of fighting racism and bias in general, the conference ironically degenerated into a festival of antisemitism from which the United States soon backed out. The conference laid the framework for the BDS movement with the statement that its goal is “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel.”
Congressman Tom Lantos wrote of his experience at this conference and detailed a flyer that showed a photograph of Hitler with the question "What if I had won?" The answer: "There would be NO Israel …." To date, 38 countries boycott the Durban Review Conference, citing that it is antisemitic.
As we can see, ever since the founding of the BDS movement, the members have masked the clear antisemitic nature of their purpose. The movement has constantly compared the BDS movement to boycotts of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. They draw upon the foundation of antisemitism which the Durban Review Conference created for them. Even the German government referred to the BDS movement as antisemitic, citing their comparisons of Jews to Nazis as hateful.
Another supporter of the BDS movement, Refaat Alareer, said in 2018, “Are most Jews evil? Of course they are.” There is clearly an undeniable relationship between people involved in the BDS movement and antisemitism, as Alareer had no mention of Israel; he solely targeted Jews as being evil. Alareer was also scheduled as an upcoming speaker at Penn and was only recently removed. Once again, his antisemitic nature is disguised behind a cloak of celebration.
In 2018, the founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, stated “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state.” Denying the Jewish people any claim to a Jewish state is de facto antisemitic. It is this rhetoric that the movement was founded on that draws in other antisemites. Roger Waters, BDS advocate and another upcoming guest speaker at Penn, has a lengthy track record of antisemitism. In past concerts, he displayed a huge inflatable pig and emblazoned it with the Star of David and dollar signs while images of Nazi swastikas were projected in the background screen. He even dressed up in a costume resembling an SS soldier at his concert in Berlin and was referred to as “one of the most widely known antisemites in the world,” by the City Council of Frankfurt.
We can all agree that the path to rectifying the Israel-Palestinian conflict begins with bringing Jews, Israelis, and Palestinians together and engaging in meaningful and well-informed dialogue regarding relevant issues. Proponents of BDS aim to do the exact opposite; rather than contributing to productive dialogue and taking into account both sides' hardships, they benefit from polarization, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of any perspective but their own. BDS, in short, uses the guise of advocacy for social justice, to which no one would object, in order to advance their partisan agenda.
Last year, the BDS movement hosted 665 events on college campuses, dominating Palestinian voices. This polarizing movement built on hate should not represent the Palestinian cause. The Israel-Palestine conflict should not be centered around the “us vs. them” sentiment. For us to achieve any progress in improving the lives of Jewish and Arab Palestinians, we must both recognize each other’s right to strive for prosperity and equality. To do so, we must listen to each other’s stories, accept them as legitimate, and work together for a solution.
Are the people who say Jews are evil, dress up as Nazis, and call for the elimination of a Jewish state representative of what this campus values? Penn, along with other college campuses, are welcoming and allowing this perverse and vile ideology to infiltrate its academic walls. The movement is a charade, which aims to fool the public. BDS is masking its antisemitism through a guise of social justice. We must critically think about what the true nature of this movement is, so to not allow this hate to enter like a Trojan Horse into our community.
EYAL YAKOBY is a College senior studying political ccience and modern Middle East studies from Princeton, N.J. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.