BDS comes to Penn

on 12 Comments

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.

About Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a PD Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of Twitter: @ahmedmoor

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12 Responses

  1. Boycott Israel on Campus
    December 25, 2011, 9:19 am

    Thank goodness BDS is here.

    The only thing missing is to march into your student government… demanding a Boycott-Israel resolution now.

    That would really energize the PennBDS conference!

    A total divestment resolution was actually approved by the Wayne State University Student Council in 2003 —

    link to

  2. HarryLaw
    December 25, 2011, 9:52 am

    These smears and lies are so predictable that any advertising put out before the event should anticipate the smears with preemptive warnings about them thereby ridiculing any subsequent attack.

  3. HRK
    December 25, 2011, 10:27 am

    She is a renowned moral philosopher who’s written about multiculturalism and democracy – corrosive ideas if you’re a modern-day Zionist.

    Of course, the get-around for many American liberals is to be pro-multiculturalism here on our shores, but then view the “Jewish state” as some kind of exception. And then not talk about the two subjects at the same time. . . .

    • Inanna
      December 26, 2011, 7:03 pm

      Or the other defence is that Israel is one of the most multicultural places in the world….with Jews from every corner of the world. Too bad if you’re not a Jew!

  4. patm
    December 25, 2011, 12:02 pm

    Ahmed Moor, thanks for this BDS project report.

    Here are contact details for the Univ. of Pennsylvania President. Mondoweiss readers may wish to drop her a line and encourage her to be more supportive of her students’ BDS initiatives.

    Dr. Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania

    Email: [email protected]
    Snail Mail: President’s Office, 1 College Hall – Room 100,
    Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380

    Website: link to
    Work tel: 215-898-7221

  5. Philip Weiss
    December 25, 2011, 12:10 pm

    Thanks Ahmed.
    In a fundraising letter, she signed, President Gutmann has described Marty Peretz as a “seminal force” and suggested that he was a mentor to her
    link to
    Peretz’s contribution in recent years has been almost wall-to-wall Israel support. I wonder whether Gutmann shares his views?

  6. tokyobk
    December 25, 2011, 12:10 pm

    If there are American liberals who hold Israel to a different or special standard that is completely wrong and hypocritical.

    But BDS is not about condemning “militaristic ethnocracies” its about pressuring Israel to at least 1967 if not 1948. The organizer of BDS who studies at Tel Aviv U calls Hamas, “resistance fighters” meaning he is not against militaristic ethnocrats, he thinks Israel is an illegal colonizer and occupier and wants to dismantle it to achieve, as he says “two states: Palestine next to Palestine.” If that Palestine for indigenous Palestinians and their descendants decides to be open to one ethnicity only and bar Jews, there will be no BDS from the same quarters. If Palestine in a two state solution decides it wants “separateness” from Israelis and Jews, there will be no discussion of Apartheid.

    Penn would probably not officially sponsor boycotts of Saudi Arabia for their religious Apartheid roads etc… BDS for Egypt for militarism and encroaching ethnocracy, or China for its human rights abuses either.

    Free speech but no endorsement is the same treatment Penn and like institutions give any similar movement.

    • HRK
      December 25, 2011, 1:39 pm

      American high schools teach that diversity is our greatest strength. Literally, I once read a sign prominently posted above the entrance to a high school: “Diversity is our greatest strength.”

      I actually have some issues with that pronouncement given how ubiquitous fighting between various ethnic groups has been historically, and given how that often creates societies which are anything but strong (think Iraq). But to the extent that American liberals have pushed this proposition, I can’t think how they also can reconcile it with the idea of Israel being a demographically Jewish-dominated state much less with an official “Jewish state.” (Even I wouldn’t support the latter position, incidentally, since it seems to relegate 20 percent of the Israeli population to second-class citizenship.)

      I’m looking for consistency. (I only support a limited BDS, by the way–BDS of products made in the Occupied Territories.)

      If one has issues with multiculturalism, then one can argue that having a state with two ethnic groups of approximately equal demographic strength might not be such a great thing. But if one doesn’t express any concerns about multiculturalism (and, typically, American liberals act very cavalier/carefree about the subject), then how can one possibly support an expansionist Israel which even treats the Palestinians within its own borders (to say nothing of those in the Occupied Territories) in a way which many commentators have likened to Jim Crow?

      You write, “If there are American liberals who hold Israel to a different or special standard . . . .”


      Almost everyone in the mainstream liberal establishment does that. Why do politicians from both sides of the aisle seek to outbid each other with offers to ship truckloads of our money (80 percent of our foreign aid budget) over to Israel? I mean, I think we’re too broke at this point to offer aid to anyone at all at, but if we could offer aid, it seems to me that people living in countries experiencing famine, for example (think of children starving to death, their bellies hanging out), deserve the aid much more than Israel–an expansionist state (which provokes payback by those states around it) and whose people have a first-class standard of living.

    • Hostage
      December 26, 2011, 4:13 am

      But BDS is not about condemning “militaristic ethnocracies” its about pressuring Israel to at least 1967 if not 1948.

      In fact, the aims of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee are ending the
      occupation, achieving equality for Palestinians now living in Israel, and recognizing Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Many groups, like JVP, share those aims while concentrating on boycott and divestment campaigns that directly target Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

  7. Boycott Israel on Campus
    December 25, 2011, 1:46 pm

    The criticisms of the Penn BDS conference are essentially this:

    Because Saudi Arabia/Phil Weiss/Abu Mazen is bad — Palestine will just have to die.

    Well, I say boycott Israel anyway, before Palestine dies, not after.

    I say follow the example of Wayne State University’s Student Council:

    link to

  8. DICKERSON3870
    December 25, 2011, 4:24 pm

    RE: “So if you’d like to support the students’ intrepid efforts you can donate here.” ~ Ahmed Moor

    MY COMMENT: I just made a contribution via Paypal as a Festivus present to myself. It is a better gift than even a donation to ‘The Human Fund’! The best Festivus ever!!!
    DONATIONS – link to

  9. iRevolt
    December 25, 2011, 8:30 pm

    I’m planning on flying down for the conference; extremely excited! Spots are limited so spread the word, sign up and let’s get the ball rolling!

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