Last week’s decision by the U.S. State Department to formally designate the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic is a major shift in the fight against the anti-Israel movement. While perhaps common sense to those of us fighting this constant scourge against Israel and the Jewish people, it is not common sense to so many. This designation will hopefully help set a precedent throughout the globe that singling out the world’s only Jewish state is in fact, anti-Semitism. The U.S. State Department will review its funds to make sure none go to entities that support the BDS campaign, including foreign aid funding. On the heels of last year’s executive order by President Donald Trump granting Jews protections under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the significance of the new designation by the State Department cannot be overstated—because in order to effectively fight something it must be defined.
In October, U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism Elan Carr and the Kingdom of Bahrain’s King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence signed a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) to combat anti-Semitism. This groundbreaking MOU formally marks the first time that an Arab entity has backed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Bahrain’s Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence has pledged to eradicate anti-Semitism, and critically, anti-Zionism, promoting respect and peace between the Arab and Jewish peoples through educational and other programs. There may be no legal reinforcement to this MOU, but the partnership is emblematic of this ripe moment and signals a bright future for the region.
As some Arab institutions take steps to eradicate anti-Semitism in their societies and a new wave of Middle East peace unfolds between Israel and its once sworn Arab enemies, it is truly confounding to witness the disconnect between the reality unfolding in the region and the reality on the American college campus and cultural and political progressive sphere. While monumental progress unfolds in the Middle East, American college students, professors, cultural and political figures, sit on the opposite side of the world pontificating and declaring their continued commitment to delegitimizing the one Jewish state. Who might have imagined that some in the Arab world would make more of an effort to fight anti-Semitism than the U.S. college campus, which has encouraged and permitted the toxic climate of anti-Israel bullying for years?
This past summer, Rose Ritch, the vice president of student government at the University of Southern California, resigned over a relentless and anti-Semitic campaign of cyberbullying and public attacks on her as both a Jew and Zionist. The USC administration did nothing practical, though USC President Carol Folt did issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, which is more than State University of San Francisco officials have done on the multiple occasions their university has crossed the boundary into overt anti-Semitism under the guise of free speech. This past summer, SFSU’s cultural studies department hosted convicted Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled in a webinar event which has now brought the university under federal investigation for violation of civil rights rules and the conditions of federal grants the university receives. During the disgraceful Khaled debacle, which ultimately lead to Zoom and other social media platforms refusal to host, Lynn Mahoney, SFSU president said in a statement, “We cannot embrace the silencing of controversial views, even if they are hurtful to others…We must commit to (free) speech and to the right to dissent.” What’s more, last week SFSU’s student body passed a BDS resolution calling on the university to divest from over 100 companies that conduct business with Israeli settlements.
Of those groups at SFSU which identified themselves as voting in favor of the resolution were the Black Student Union, League of Filipino Students and the International Business Society. What this tells us is the global BDS organization is still very good at what it does, namely co-opting groups that have absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and drawing them in under the guise of social justice and intersectionality, the thought being that all oppressed peoples (in this case the Palestinians are considered to be in that category) need to “join hands”—against Israel.
IHRA, with over 30 member countries, includes in its definition of anti-Semitism, "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” something BDS has long espoused as a core tenant of its mission statement, amongst other anti-Semitic declarations. The BDSers have long sought to distance themselves from accusations of anti-Semitism, arguing their intention is to pressure Israel though “non-violence,” and they continue to balk at accusations of racism. Their bad faith arguments have unfortunately been very successful indoctrinating countless young and vulnerable minds. Using words, like, “freedom, justice and equality,” they continue to indoctrinate with their extremist agenda designed to demonize and isolate Israel.
For years, the pro-Israel community has fought tirelessly—through so many avenues—yet we continue to witness the BDS onslaught against Jewish students, waging war on their identities as both Jews and Zionists, as the two are intertwined. We have to wonder, are those of us fighting this poison losing the battles but winning the war? We continue to watch as more and more Jewish students across the U.S. confront this toxicity but finally, there are significant strides being made against the messaging of the so-called “peaceful protest” movement.
The U.S.’s formal designation of BDS as anti-Semitic is a knock-out punch and it may signal the end is near. For so long, universities across the U.S. could continue their hostilities against Jewish students unchallenged. It is telling that SFSU went so far as to think that it could freely host a convicted Palestinian terrorist under the First Amendment. For over a decade BDS on campus has had carte blanche to run amok—but those days are now numbered. Between last year’s executive order providing legal recourse to Jewish students to fight back and the designation of BDS as anti-Semitic, the tides are changing.
The time has long come for the architects and organizers of BDS to recognize that their agenda can no longer hide behind the concepts of “free speech” and “non-violent protest.” They must reckon with the fact that their organization is not a “vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements,” but in fact a global movement made up of anti-Semites. For far too long proponents of BDS have manipulated well-meaning progressive minded people, sadly even many Jews, through their language couched in human rights, drawing them deeper into their toxic world view—but enough is enough.
At this point, it no longer falls on the pro-Israel community to dispel the reasons BDS is anti-Semitic. The U.S. State Department declared it as such, as have other countries, such as Germany—a country that knows far too well the dangers of organized anti-Semitism. The debate about whether or not BDS is anti-Semitic is over. The BDSers can continue their tirades but they’ll have to do so living with a new label: anti-Semites.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
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