This past November, the Highland Park Borough Council in New Jersey voted down a contentious resolution condemning anti-Semitism. The reason? Israel supporters in the borough insisted the resolution specifically condemn the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
The council was right to reject the resolution with this stipulation. The alleged connection between BDS and anti-Jewish bigotry is a hoax perpetrated by those desperate to silence the growing movement for Palestinian freedom.
In reality, the 2005 BDS call, modeled on the earlier BDS call against apartheid South Africa, is a rights-based campaign for justice and equality that explicitly condemns anti-Semitism, along with all forms of racism.
BDS demands an end to Israel’s occupation of the 1967 territories, full equality for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (today, over 65 Israeli laws discriminate against Palestinians throughout historic Palestine), and the right of return for Palestinian refugees driven from their homes to make way for the Israeli state during the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) of 1948. These demands are the crucial first steps in dismantling an apartheid Israeli regime where, in the words of Israeli academic Ilan Pappe, “the value of ethnic superiority and supremacy overrides any other human and civil value.”
Unable to refute this distinction, Israel supporters are determined to erase it altogether through a sweeping set of laws, resolutions, and related measures, including several in New Jersey (see proposed senate “antisemitism” bills 4001 and 4169).
This lawfare campaign is undergirded by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) 2016 “Working Definition of Antisemitism” — adopted by the Trump State Department and Department of Education — under which anti-Zionism, or even lesser criticisms of Israel, are classified as inherently anti-Semitic.
Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order demonstrates with chilling clarity how the fabricated IHRA definition, which the order explicitly incorporates, will be weaponized to threaten constitutionally protected expressions. Under the ruse of “combating anti-Semitism” on college campuses, the order effectively reframes anti-Zionist advocacy as a violation of Title VI civil rights protections.
“The order,” writes Joshua Leifer in Jewish Currents, “makes a mockery of anti-discrimination law, laying the ground for the absurd yet all-too-imaginable scenario in which a granddaughter of a Palestinian refugee expelled from the Galilee in 1948 is held to have violated a fourth-generation American Jew’s civil rights for claiming that ‘the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor’— one of the IHRA’s specific examples of antisemitism.”
The rise of genuine anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence in this country is a frightening reality, as the Tree of Life massacre, the “Jews will not replace us” rally in Charlottesville, and other recent episodes remind us.
But responsibility for resurgent anti-Semitism lies with a white nationalist alt-right movement closely connected to, and emboldened by, the Trump regime. As diaspora Palestinian scholar and political commentator Nada Elia notes, some recent attacks may also result from others having picked up on this “energized antisemitic discourse.”
The Palestinian rights movement has repeatedly denounced these anti-Semitic attacks. Indeed, the alt-right draws inspiration from the ethno-nationalism of Israel and Zionism, not the anti-racist struggle of indigenous Palestinians.
Despite the movement’s denunciations, Zionists have exploited the current climate to further defame BDS. On January 9, congressional sponsors introduced pro-Israel H.Res.782, which falsely accuses BDS, with neither explanation nor evidence, of “exposing” students to “rampant anti-Semitism” on college campuses across the country. The message couldn’t be clearer: if you stand up to Zionist apartheid, you will be smeared as a Jew-hater.
Omar Barghouti, BDS co-founder, advocates “a single democratic state that recognizes and accepts Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and racial discrimination and separating church and state.”
BDS helps light the way for this vision of justice for all throughout historic Palestine. Those who slander it understand neither antisemitism nor justice.
This post first appeared as an op-ed at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey last month.