By Petra Marquardt-Bigman
Note: The following open letter by Laurie R. Josephs, Vice President and Secretary of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), was first published at The Algemeiner; it is updated here with an additional email message sent to Vassar’s Jewish Studies department. Some further context for the criticism is provided in a recently published Commentary post and a post at Legal Insurrection.
In a recent Ha’aretz op-ed, Brown University student Jared Samilow made the case that self-professed “pro-Palestinian” activists on US campuses are intent on cowing anyone who is “expressing or associating with pro-Israel views.” Even lectures on Israel-related subjects have been targeted, as Samilow noted with regard to two recent cases, when activists disrupted lectures at the University of Minnesota and at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Israeli journalist and author Ben Dror Yemini has a long record of writing and speaking out about the demonization of Israel. In a recent interview with the Voice of Israel, he explained his views about BDS, arguing that fighting BDS requires not just taking on an organization or a movement, but “an atmosphere” that fosters hate against Israel.
In a scathing op-ed marking the 10th anniversary of the founding of the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment) movement that targets Israel, the celebrated French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy reminds his readers that “the idea of boycotting Israel is not as new as it appears.” Lévy points out that the Arab League decided already in December 1945 to impose a boycott on the Jewish community in what was then British Mandate Palestine, and he notes sarcastically that “the promoters of this brilliant idea [included] Nazi war criminals who had settled in Syria and Egypt, where they gave their new masters lessons in marking Jewish shops and businesses.” Rejecting efforts to present the modern boycott campaigns against Israel as a fight for the rights of Palestinians, Lévy forcefully makes the case that “the BDS movement is nothing more than a sinister caricature of the anti-totalitarian and anti-apartheid struggles. It is a campaign whose instigators have no aim other than to discriminate against, delegitimize, and vilify an Israel that in their mind never stopped wearing its yellow star.”
In the summer issue of Democracy Journal, David Greenberg reviews “The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel,” edited by Cary Nelson & Gabriel Noah Brahm. Greenberg highlights that this volume “encompasses a broad range of opinions, with left-leaning contributors (Michael Bérubé, Martha Nussbaum, Mitchell Cohen) nestled alongside right-leaning ones (Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Richard Landes). The contributors’ differences suggest a raucous seminar more than a manifesto, and the diversity of opinion stands as a refreshing counterpoint to the propagandistic nature of so much literature on both the BDS left and the chauvinistic pro-Israel right.”
In an op-ed published by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Palestinian human rights activist and political commentator Bassem Eid outlines “The Palestinian Case Against BDS.” Eid emphasizes that “[as] a Palestinian dedicated to working for peace and reconciliation between my people and our Israeli neighbors, I do not believe that the BDS advocates are helping our cause. On the contrary, they are just creating more hatred, enmity, and polarization.”
As the BDS movement is currently marking ten years since its founding, there have been a number of articles outlining its history. At the popular Legal Insurrection blog, William A. Jacobson offers sharp criticism of a related and widely distributed article by the Associated Press (AP). Rejecting the AP claim that the BDS movement owes its existence to the efforts of “a small group of Palestinian activists” who “had a novel idea,” Jacobson makes the case that in reality, BDS “was the result of a multi-year organized effort for a global boycott of Israel, most prominently in a boycott call issued at the 2001 UN Durban Conference which was so anti-Semitic the U.S. walked out.” Moreover, Jacobson points out that “[while] the Durban conference gave birth to the BDS movement, the seed of that boycott strategy to replicate the boycott of South Africa was planted at a preparatory conference in Tehran.”
The BDS movement that targets Israel with boycotts, divestments and sanctions likes to claim that it fights for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. Idealistic young people on campus will easily be attracted by this message, even though it is an all too fitting coincidence that the acronym BDS could also stand for bigoted double standards.