One of the ironies of progressive activism in the U.S. is the fact that so many leaders who supported the boycott of North Carolina over the so-called bathroom law oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel. The North Carolina boycott was widely backed by liberals, and it was effective: It isolated North Carolina for a law that denied transgender people the right to go to the bathroom of their choice and compelled the state to change the law (though advocates for transgender rights say that the new law the North Carolina government produced continues to allow discrimination against trans people).
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, issued an executive order last year barring non-essential state funded travel to North Carolina and Mississippi because of “hateful” anti-transgender measures. Cuomo said:
“Discrimination is not a New York value. We believe our diversity is our greatest strength, and we will continue to reject the politics of division and exclusion.”
Then a few weeks later Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order barring state business with those who advocate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel– though Israel openly discriminates against Palestinians inside Israel and deprives millions of Palestinians under occupation of the rights of travel, assembly, speech, and property.
Cuomo’s double standard was reflected by Chancellor James Milliken of the City University of New York, who banned official travel to North Carolina and Mississippi:
Employees… are also prohibited from traveling to North Carolina and Mississippi in their official capacities in connection with work they are doing for CUNY.
But that same week, Milliken came out against a graduate student council measure for the boycott of Israel, saying, “Other CUNY leaders and I have consistently and publicly opposed a boycott of Israel institutions of higher education.”
I wish people like Chancellor Milliken—and all the opponents of BDS at CUNY and elsewhere—would get off their high horse about the grave threat to academic freedom that would come from an academic boycott of Israel… and instead acknowledge that these are all legitimate ways of promoting the human rights and dignity, and indeed the academic freedom, of oppressed minorities and subjugated populations everywhere.
Opponents of BDS say that academic boycotts throttle the free exchange of ideas; but Milliken wasn’t the only academic to push a boycott of North Carolina. The Baltimore Sun reported on this one in December last year:
Business historians across the country have joined a boycott of North Carolina over the state’s controversial transgender law and moved their 2018 conference to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor…
[Secretary-Treasurer Roger] Horowitz said the Business History Conference may well have transgender members.
“We have to be concerned how they will be treated,” he said.
The Democratic Party 2016 platform contains the same double standard for North Carolina and Israel. It referred indirectly to the bathroom bill in a plank promoting transgender rights — “We will oppose all state efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals, including legislation that restricts the right to access public spaces”– but made it a point to condemn the BDS campaign.
[W]e will always… oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, said last year she was saddened by the North Carolina law because it was a step backward: “going against the tide of progress in our country for ending discrimination.”
But in March at AIPAC, Pelosi ascribed boycott of Israel to a “cancerous ideology” and called on Republicans and Democrats to “come together on efforts to counter Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions– we must.”
Democrats helped pass three anti-BDS bills in New York lately. One would expand Cuomo’s blacklist. “If enacted, state employees charged with compiling the blacklist could spend their days scouring your social media accounts for #BDS posts,” writes Rahul Saksena of Palestine Legal in the Albany Times Union.
Saksena notes that the crackdown is happening because of “growing public support” for BDS. Yes, liberal Democrats need to join with Republicans to tamp down those feisty progressives before this BDS thing gets out of control.
That seems to me the cruelest irony of the effort against BDS. When the boycott call was issued by Palestinians in 2005, transgender rights were far less widely understood in the United States than they are today; certainly it would have been impossible then to imagine so many states, organizations and individuals supporting a boycott of North Carolina over a law saying that people must use the bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates. But twelve years later transgender rights are at the forefront of progressive activism in the United States; and Palestinian demands are still being relegated. It isn’t consistent, and it is not fair.
BDS is also an urgent matter, because no one else is doing anything to support Palestinian rights in a meaningful way, and the only alternative for Palestinians who reject occupation is violent resistance. Israeli leaders fear BDS because it is the only pressure they are experiencing to change the status quo. BDS has real potential to force change. Just as boycott forced change on North Carolina.
P.S. Yes, donor considerations are obviously a factor in the Democratic Party’s support for anti-BDS. They are among academic leaders, too.
Thanks to Peter Belmont.