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Linking BDS to antisemitism is a hoax perpetrated by those seeking to stifle growing Palestinian solidarity

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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.”

In short, BDS rejects Zionism — a settler-colonial ideology that demands a Jewish-supremacist state in Palestine — not Judaism or Jews.

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. 

David Letwin

David Letwin works with Jews for Palestinian Right of Return. He has been published online at Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, The Sabbah Report, and Socialist Worker.

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7 Responses

  1. Misterioso on February 13, 2020, 7:16 pm

    Why we must support BDS:

    http://www.palestinechronicle.com/palestinian-minor-reveals-harrowing-details-in-israeli-custody/

    “Palestinian Minor Reveals Harrowing Details in Israeli Custody” The Palestine Chronicle, Feb. 13/20

    “In a testimony made through his lawyer to the Committee of Prisoners and Former Prisoners Affairs, Palestinian teenage prisoner Mahmoud Thawabteh revealed details about the difficult conditions inside Israeli prisons.

    “Thawabteh, 17, was arrested from his house in Beit Fajjar in eastern Bethlehem when Israeli occupation soldiers stormed the neighborhood at dawn, the boy’s lawyer told the Committee.

    “According to the testimony, Thawabteh was harshly interrogated in the street, before army dogs were unleashed at him.

    “The boy revealed that he was brutally beaten and he had several dog bites on his legs.

    ‘They beat me up on my head and back using their rifles and sticks,’ Thawabteh said, as reported in Quds News Network.

    “After a harrowing journey in an Israeli army jeep, the teenage boy was taken to the notorious Etzion interrogation center, where dozens of Palestinian minors were held and reportedly tortured over the years.

    “Conveying Thawabteh’s testimony, his lawyer went on to say that the teenager was allowed to see a doctor just before his interrogation commenced. However, the Israeli doctor did little to stop the bleeding or to treat the bruises and bite marks, aside from taking Thawabteh’s blood pressure.

    “Thawabteh was held in the Etzion facility for three days, during which he was interrogated, assaulted, and beaten repeatedly, before being moved to the Ofer military jail, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

    “On January 13, Thawabteh was one of 34 Palestinian minors who were relocated from the Ofer prison to the Damon prison, inside Israel, without being accompanied by their adult overseers, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS).

    “Commenting on that experience, Thawabteh told his lawyer that the children were placed in a squalid section of the prison that was infested with insects. They were left largely alone, as the Israeli prison guards refused to provide them with basic services or needs.

    “The Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Samidoun had reported earlier that ‘every year, around 700 Palestinian children are brought before Israeli military courts after being arrested, detained and interrogated.’

    “’The vast majority report some form of torture and abuse, including kicking and beating in military jeeps as well as psychological torture during interrogation, including threats to arrest family members.'”

    • RoHa on February 13, 2020, 10:08 pm

      But remember that the only reason Palestinians protest against Israel is because they are a bunch of congenital anti-Semites.

      • Rosetta on February 14, 2020, 1:34 am

        Since Israel does not represent Jews or Judaism, how can they be anti-semitic?
        The Palestinians protest against Israel because Israel holds them under murderous occupation and continues to colonise their country, denying them human and civil rights.

        Who would not protest under such circumstances? I am sure they hate Israelis but that does not mean they hate all followers of Judaism, which is what anti-semitism is.

  2. CHUCKMAN on February 14, 2020, 12:18 am

    “Linking BDS to antisemitism is a hoax…”

    Yes, but it is more than that, too.

    It is a lobby literally shitting on people who disagree with what it advocates.

    • Ernie on February 14, 2020, 5:40 pm

      *Literally* in its usual sense of ‘figuratively’?

  3. Misterioso on February 14, 2020, 10:05 am

    From Canada, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

    https://thetalon.ca/academic-freedom-at-ubc-threatened-by-false-allegations-of-anti-semitism/

    “Academic freedom at UBC threatened by false allegations of anti-Semitism”
    By Paul Tetrault and Sid Shniad, Feb. 13/20

    “In 2018, six members of the UBC community were the subjects of an investigation based on allegations that they had engaged in antisemitic behaviour after they declared their opposition to holding the Geography Department’s year-end party at Hillel UBC.

    “Their email comments explaining this opposition became the subject of a six-month investigation that ended with an outside investigator finding there had been no expression of antisemitism. Although the 52-page report was completed in October 2018, UBC officials have refused to publicly acknowledge the fact that the case was dismissed. In addition, they have not released the investigator’s findings.

    “As members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), a grassroots organization that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine, we provided support to the students who were the subject of the investigation. Because we were participants, we were given redacted copies of the investigator’s report. After careful consideration, we have become convinced that the findings in this investigation are too important to be kept secret.

    “The redacted version of the report that was provided to us by the University, which had the investigator’s recommendations blacked out, can be found here. IJV’s response to the UBC report can be found here. In order to respect the privacy of everyone, we have removed the names of the faculty and students who were involved.

    “Here, in brief, is what happened. In February 2018, the executive members of the Geography Students Association (GSA) announced in a departmental email discussion group that they had decided to hold their annual party, the Geogala, at a rental space owned by UBC Hillel. After several professors and students objected to renting from Hillel because of its unqualified support of Israel despite the country’s horrific treatment of Palestinians, the GSA executive members chose another venue for the party.

    “The email discussion leading to the decision to change venues included reference to Hillel’s ‘ongoing role and politics,’ mention of the ‘controversial nature of Hillel,’ ‘being all too familiar with Hillel’s politics,’ and the statement that ‘I found article …that outlines growing Zionism in organization (and its fervent opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)’.

    “Much of this is not contentious. Hillel’s website prominently declares that ‘Israel is at the heart of Hillel’s work.’ Hillel is so dedicated to supporting Israel that it proudly declares it will not host organizations, groups or speakers that ‘support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.’

    “It was Hillel’s political stance that the Geography students and faculty were opposing when they made their critical comments. There was never any evidence that either these comments or the GSA decision to change venues had been motivated by hatred of Jews, which is the standard definition of antisemitism. Nevertheless, the local chapter of the pro-Israel group known as the Center for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) waded into the matter, responding to the decision to change the party venue by setting up a special website and launching a letter writing campaign targeting the UBC administration to take action against what they alleged to be a blatant instance of antisemitism at the University. It is no coincidence that CIJA is promoting a ‘new’ definition of antisemitism which targets activists who criticize or organize against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. More on that below.

    “What happened next was that the Ubyssey reported in March 2018 that a UBC geography student, a member of Hillel, had filed a UBC Policy 3 complaint against certain members of the Geography Department faculty, alleging that the behaviour of those who had argued against holding the departmental party at Hillel constituted discrimination, harassment and antisemitism. UBC responded by appointing an outside lawyer, Lindsay M. Lyster, to investigate the charges.

    “When Ms. Lyster issued the report of her investigation in October 2018, she found that there had been no violation of UBC’s Policy 3 and no expression of antisemitism on the part of the respondents.

    “Ms. Lyster wrote that ‘The participants on the list serve were expressing their opinions about the advisability of the Geogala being held at Hillel House, in light of their understanding of Hillel House’s political opposition to the BDS movement. Expressing concern about an event being held at a location as a result of one’s understanding of the political beliefs of the operator of that location is not discrimination.’

    “The students we represented were greatly relieved that the accusation of antisemitism was dismissed, but the process took a heavy toll on them. Both found that their academic work suffered during the six-month investigation. More than a year later, they continue to feel anxiety about the potential impact of having been accused of antisemitism on their future careers. They are also concerned about a wider chilling effect: that members of the UBC faculty might react to this investigation by steering clear of hard discussions around Israel/Palestine in order to avoid being accused of antisemitism.

    “Unfortunately, the situation that arose at UBC is far from unique. Internationally, pro-Israel campaigners are lobbying national, provincial and municipal governments as well as universities, school boards and police departments, to adopt CIJA’s ‘new’ definition of antisemitism. Known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, it includes a list of 11 examples of antisemitism. Seven of these relate to Israel and/or Zionism. The campaigners hope that the IHRA definition will focus the conversation on instances mislabelled as antisemitism in order to discourage criticism of Israel’s egregious behaviour.

    “We agree with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which declared that the IHRA definition is “extremely vague, open to misinterpretation and a threat to freedom of speech because it conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism”. Independent Jewish Voices notes that the supporters of the IHRA definition are using society’s concern about real antisemitism to suppress criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights. In so doing they are actually undermining the fight against genuine antisemitism, which is increasing with the spread of the Alt-Right and white nationalism.

    “Regrettably, Canada’s Liberal government chose to include the IHRA definition in its anti-racism strategy adopted this past year. But when the IHRA definition was brought before Vancouver’s city council in July 2019, the council referred the matter to the city’s Racial and Ethno-Cultural Equity Committee, asking the committee to make recommendations on how to oppose all forms of racism, including antisemitism. Recently, the Calgary City Council was asked to simultaneously recognize January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day and adopt the IHRA definition, but the IHRA definition was deleted when the final version of the resolution was passed. (See item 10.1 in the November 18, 2019 Combined Meeting Minutes.) And most recently, when the IHRA definition was brought to the Montreal City Council, it generated sufficient opposition that demands were made to give the matter further study. Instead, the motion’s sponsor withdrew it altogether.

    “We believe that it is legitimate to voice criticism of an organization that provides unqualified support to Israel and its mistreatment of the Palestinians. That graduate students at an institution like UBC were investigated for expressing such critical views constitutes a violation of the very fundamental purpose of the university.

    “In a time when concern for the plight of Palestinians suffering repression at the hands of Israel is growing dramatically, it is incumbent upon university officers and administrators to resist demands to investigate specious charges of antisemitism that are designed to suppress the expression of these legitimate concerns.”
    ________________________________________________________________
    To support Independent Jewish Voices Canada, visit their Facebook page or contact them at [email protected]. To get in touch with the UBC chapter, contact [email protected].

  4. CHUCKMAN on February 18, 2020, 5:10 pm

    Of course.

    It’s so unfair.

    It was BDS-type efforts that ended apartheid in Nationalist South Africa.

    It didn’t mean anyone hated anyone, only hated injustice.

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