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Boycott Calls Against Israel
BDS, anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism: Searching for a Dividing Line?


Editorial Note

As reported by IAM, in February the Stanford University Student Senate passed a BDS resolution.  The BDS motion was hailed as a victory for the pro-Palestinian cause since the university was considered non-political, as opposed to Berkeley or UCLA and other hotbeds of Palestinian activism.  

A month later a group of senior professors, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter to the authorities urging to disregard the students’ resolution.  The move is highly interesting. Until quite recently, it was normally the pro-Palestinian faculty that have been engaged in BDS.  The Stanford professors, many of them leftist themselves, felt compelled to get involved because of the popularity of the BDS drive. As Larry Diamond, a professor of sociology and political science, explained, there was something unsettling about the way BDS conflates anti-Israeli and anti –Semitic themes.  Diamond stated that he was not to look for the proverbial anti-Semite hiding under every bed, but recent events made him note how permeable the line between BDS and anti-Semitism is. Some of the incidents such as painting of swastikas on a Jewish fraternity house are quite clear-cut and have been roundly denounced. 

But it is the more insidious cases of anti-Semitism that worries Diamond the most.  One of it pertains to Rachel Beyda, who run for the UCLA Student Council Judicial Board.  Instead of focusing on her merits, the meeting turned into a debate on whether a Jewish student involved in Jewish campus life is “kosher” enough to serve on the board.  Rachel's nomination was defeated, but after prodding by faculty advisers, the UCLA Student Council apologized and Beyda was elected.

The case received broad national exposure, including a front-page article in the New York Times.  As the article, Diamond and numerous critics point out, it would be inconceivable to apply the same standards to African Americans, gays or other “politically correct” minority students.   But after decades of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist discourse on campus, Jews are now painted with the same broad brush of “colonialism, imperialism, and apartheid” as Israel is.  For the pro-Palestinian purists, Jewish ethnicity is enough to disqualify a person, whatever their political opinions are.  This was a lesson that Amira Hass, the Haartez journalist and an extravagant defender of Palestinians, has learned when she was banned from speaking at the anti-Israel panel at Birzeit University.  

For the less zealous, a Jew (or an Israeli) is acceptable if he or she embraces a politically correct position on the conflict.  For instance, members of the Jewish Voices for Peace – a small group that advocates a unitary state and the right of return of Palestinians, are normally sought after by pro-Palestinian activists. 


Sadly, these two trends reflect historical patterns of anti-Semitism.  One is based on ethno-religiosity in its most immutable form: a Jew is a Jew and as such, is not acceptable.  The other is more flexible: Jews can embrace a politically correct position - a price of admittance.   In other words, only “good Jews” need to apply.


Stanford faculty members sign anti-divestment petition

A month after student senate passes resolution calling for university to withdraw investments from certain Israeli firms, 135 teachers express opposition to measure.

By Omer Shubert | Mar. 15, 2015 | 1:33 AM

Well over 100 senior faculty members at Stanford last week signed a petition urging the administration of the California university to reject calls to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

Among the 135 faculty signatories were four Nobel Prize laureates and prominent Israeli professors such as Anat Admati, Avner Greif and Yoav Shoham.

The unusual demand came in response to a resolution passed in February by the student senate that calls on the university to divest from companies involved in “maintaining the illegal infrastructure of the Israeli occupation.”

What makes the petition unusual is, first of all, the identity of the signatories, who include not only professors prominently affiliated with the left, but even some who actually support economic sanctions on Israel. Moreover, until now, faculty opponents of the boycott, divestments and sanctions movement have generally refrained from taking steps to actively counter BDS activities on college campuses, on the grounds that such activities are mere student politics devoid of influence, and that any countermeasures would merely grant BDS increased legitimacy and media exposure.

In recent weeks, however, there has been a change in this approach, as many universities have started to realize that BDS campaigns are in fact gaining influence.

“We understood that it’s impossible to continue separating the student votes from the BDS movement,” explained Larry Diamond, a professor of sociology and political science and one of the driving forces behind the faculty petition. “Granted, the students only voted to refrain from investing in certain companies, and the university won’t adopt this, but the movement takes every such victory and uses it in international campaigns that advance the broader goals of BDS.”

“We aren’t devoid of criticism of Israel,” Diamond continued. “I, admittedly, am against an economic boycott, but at least one of the signatories told me he could have supported a narrow economic boycott of Israel. What bothered him, and others, is the movement’s anti-Israel campaign.”

This new approach comes against the background of several recent anti-Semitic incidents on California campuses. Last month, swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity at the University of California, Davis, in northern California, and a confirmation hearing for a Jewish student’s position on the UCLA Student Council’s Judicial Board turned into a debate over whether her participation in Jewish organizations constituted a conflict of interest.

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