The past few years have seen the BDS movement electrify campus activism – a bright spot on the landscape of Palestine advocacy. The movement has enabled students around the country to engage constructively with the big moral question of our era – apartheid in Palestine. Thanks to BDS, thousand-mile expanses no longer stand in the way of direct non-violent action.
Still, the movement has some way to go before it can boast the levels of support that the South African call once enjoyed. That’s part of the reason that students at the University of Pennsylvania are organizing an on-campus BDS conference there. The two-day event will take place on the weekend of February 4th and 5th and will examine ways to strengthen campus-based activism.
As you can imagine Zionist groups have reacted badly to the news. The Jewish Exponent picked up the story, while the Israeli Foreign Ministry-affiliated Stand With Us organization has already posted a smear targeting Penn BDS on its website (see here and here for Ali Abunimah's and Alex Kane’s posts about SWU’s fabricated quotes). Other groups have also contacted university officials in an attempt to abort the conference and silence dissenting voices.
The University – my alma mater – has been clear in its unequivocal support of Israel, but it has also emphasized its commitment to free speech. So while no moves have been made to block the conference the administration hasn’t been supportive either.
As an aside, it would be nice to hear President Gutmann’s reasons for standing with Israel. She is a renowned moral philosopher who’s written about multiculturalism and democracy – corrosive ideas if you’re a modern-day Zionist. I wonder what she thinks about race-based privilege and apartheid in general. Perhaps she’d be interested in making the moral case for militaristic ethnocracies; Danny Ayalon could put her talents to good use.
In any event, the lack of administration support has meant that Penn BDS has had to appeal to individuals for funding. So if you’d like to support the students’ intrepid efforts you can donate here. Conference spaces are also filling up quickly so be sure to register soon if you’re in the Philadelphia area.