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Not surprisingly, where groups like the MSA, MSU, and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have managed to gain a foothold on campuses, where they have been given a platform to promulgate the incendiary invention of Israeli apartheid, racism, and genocide, the hostility toward Jewish students and speakers has dramatically risen. The message of these groups can often be directly associated with incidents of violence and harassment toward Jewish students. In 2010, a young Jewish student at the University of California – Berkeley named Jessica Felber was physically attacked by a member of SJP. She is currently taking legal action against the university for failing to protect students like herself, despite the fact that extreme anti-Israel hostility on the campus has been on the rise. Gary Fouse, a teacher at the University of California – Irvine, which has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hotbed of anti-Semitism, has spoken out about similar incidents of hostility and bigotry related to the university’s anti-Israel events. The pattern here is not difficult to recognize for anyone with eyes to see: the same Israeli apartheid agitprop that is used by Palestinians to justify violence and terrorism is also what motivates belligerence toward pro-Israel Jewish students on campuses — the supposed proponents of this alleged oppression.
Moreover, the extreme message of these groups and of the BDS movement itself — that Israel is an apartheid state, is the new Third Reich, and so forth — is the same as message as some of the worst anti-Semitic Islamist leaders of the Muslim world. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Iranian Islamic Republic, has called Zionists (Israelis) the “racist perpetrators of genocide.” This same rhetoric could have easily been leveled by any number of BDS organization and Palestinian “human rights activists.” In fact, Ahmadinejad’s message on Israel (Zionism is racism, Israel is racist and oppressive, etc.) is virtually identical to the message of the BDS movement.
Why is this so important to point out? Because individuals like Ahmadinejad, who promote the fiction of Israeli apartheid, racism, persecution of Palestinians, etc., do so to delegitimize the state of Israel and to diminish its support in the international arena (Iran does not even recognize the state of Israel, but refers to it as the “Zionist regime”). This serves a very important purpose in extreme anti-Israel designs: if Israel is delegitimized and seen as oppressive, then sponsorship of terrorism against the Jewish State gains justification, and so does the larger objective of wiping it off the map. BDS activists play a special role in this process: they help promulgate the subterfuge of Israeli oppression and bring it into the mainstream.
What is perhaps most disturbing about the BDS movement is that it is so deceptive. Not only is BDS predicated on malicious lies, but it is typically festooned in the mellifluous rhetoric of “peace,” “dialogue,” and “bridge-building.” BDS activists are often invited to college campuses, for instance, under this pretext. This, too, falls apart under scrutiny. It is impossible to dialogue with BDS activists and others engaged in the delegitimization of Israel. The reason is simple: one cannot promote BDS against Israel unless one accepts that Israel engages in practices befitting measures as extreme as BDS. But these alleged practices — Israeli oppression, racism, and apartheid — are lies. Those who aren’t knowingly perpetuating the lies for the purpose of dismantling Israel, are helping to perpetuate the lies and their end game nonetheless.
At this point, someone like Mr. Eshman might naturally object with the following: although it’s true that anti-Semites incorporate BDS into their violent agenda, many genuine human rights activists view BDS as a legitimate way to deliver a message of disapproval to Israel. Israel, like any other country, is not above reproach, after all. Thus, we can’t put these two very different camps of people into the same category and, furthermore, we can’t blame the nonviolent BDS advocates for the crimes of the violent, anti-Semitic ones.
The response to this ill-considered concern is clear: it is difficult to say what is in anyone’s heart. A nonviolent BDS activist might not engage in violence himself, but might view violence against Jews as just — as activist of the ISM do. On the other hand, perhaps it’s true that some people are naive and genuinely believe anti-Israel lies without thinking critically. Or perhaps they have legitimate criticism of Israel and believe BDS is an appropriate expression of that criticism. Ultimately, neither of these excuses are defensible. There is no justification for the boycott of Israel unless one believes Israel is an apartheid state or otherwise deliberately abuses human rights. If one believes the latter, then either they do so out of ignorance, in which case they are helping to popularize anti-Semitic falsehoods and weaken the Jewish State, or they genuinely believe the mythology promoted by like likes of Idi Amin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and their followers. The upshot? In either case, reasonable criticism of Israel is certainly unproblematic, but when criticism is based on falsehoods created for the purpose of inciting hatred toward Jews, this has crossed the line and cannot be abided in any form.
We should also note that the demand for dialogue is a two-way street. Yet, because the demonization campaign against Israel has been so successful, the contribution of pro-Israel dialogue is slowly being delegitimized as well. Dee Sterling, a member of the Irvine, California community, has devoted herself to exposing Jewish funding of an anti-Israel student program known as the Olive Tree Initiative, which is involved with many BDS activists. Sterling has been publicly defamed by supporters of the Olive Tree Initiative, and she has been prevented from speaking out about her experiences. Also at Irvine, in a now infamous incident, a 2010 speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UCI was shouted down by student protesters. Protesters hurled terrible invective at the ambassador, including accusations of Israeli-perpetrated genocide, and had to be forcibly removed. The examples go on and on. For all of the lip-service on the importance of dialogue and the freedom of speech by BDS supporters, their ability to actually engage in it is seriously in question.
The price for ignoring the power of the BDS movement is not only being felt in our college campuses, but in the international community as well. On February 18th, the UN moved to condemn Israeli settlement policy as illegal and an obstacle to peace, essentially singling out and shifting the blame for the continued failure of the peace process onto Israel — not Palestinian terrorism, not the promotion of anti-Semitism by Arab autocrats, Hamas, or Palestinian schools. More disturbingly, although the US ultimately vetoed the resolution, UN ambassador Susan Rice stated publicly that the US sided whole-heartedly with the spirit of the resolution. The propaganda war is being lost.
It is being lost because whether one naively helps to empower the misinformation campaign against Israel or one disseminates its propaganda with the intention of destroying the Jewish State, the result is the same. It is a difference without a difference. It is therefore incumbent on any individual and organization that cares for the welfare of Israel to disassociate from the BDS movement as much as possible. It is far from difficult to do so. The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties has set an excellent example by incorporating protocol into its funding guidelines to prohibit money from being used to support BDS-related activity. All it took was a simple clause. Of course, language of this kind can never be formulated perfectly, but this should not stand in the way of organizations who wish to send a clear message of dissent to the BDS movement. There should also not be a worry over compromising one’s commitment to free speech in adopting such protocol. If boycotting Israel is a legitimate expression of free speech, then surely boycotting the boycotters of Israel is as well.
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