Blurred lines: When BDS becomes blatant antisemitism.

Published with the permission of AIJAC – Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council

Written by Sharyn Mittelman

Advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) often argue that their campaign is not antisemitic, despite the fact that openly antisemitic statements come up frequently among activists and forums associated with the movement (see past examples documented by AIJAC here, here, here and here.) Once again, examples of where BDS activists have crossed the line into explicit antisemitism are piling up, including in Australia.

According to reports, an apparent example was Wednesday’s fiasco at Sydney University, when retired British army Colonel Richard Kemp’s lecture on military ethics, was disrupted by protesters that included students and Professor Jake Lynch, the director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), who publicly advocates for BDS. Lynch is pictured holding money up to the face of a Jewish student (Lynch denies having an antisemitic intention), and is reported to have shouted in the faces of students and screamed that attempts to remove the protesters by security guards were an attack on free speech. Never mind that Lynch denies Israeli academics free speech, as he endorses BDS for CPACS. AIJAC’s Glen Falkenstein was also there and you can read his report on what happened here, and can watch a video of the protest here.

Moreover, the protest began with a young woman stating:

“We are here to highlight amongst other things the absolute disgraceful hypocrisy of this university which recently banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, an outspoken Islamic organisation that is critical of… Australian, American foreign policy in the Middle East…”

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been in the news recently for its hate speech against Jews. The Australian reported today:

“THE top Australian cleric of extremist Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir has ramped up his hate speech in a rant referring to Jews as ‘the most evil creature of Allah’ who have ‘corrupted the world’ and will ‘pay for blood with blood’. In the latest tirade to surface, cleric Ismail al-Wahwah – representing an organisation whose stated aim is to take over the world – said recognising Jews constituted the ‘epitome of evil’ because that would ‘strengthen the cancerous entity’…

On Monday, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies wrote to the NSW Anti-Discrimination commissioner calling for Mr al-Wahwah to be prosecuted for a separate speech from the middle of last year in which he called for Muslims to engage in jihad to ‘rid’ the world of Jewish ‘hidden evil’.”

Regarding the protest, AUJS’ national political affairs director Julian Kowal said:

“[The protest] was undoubtedly intended to intimidate the largely Jewish student audience and make them feel unwelcome at the University of Sydney.”

AUJS called on the university to “have all options available in deciding how to discipline Professor Lynch”, who it said intimidated Jewish students by hurling verbal abuse and filming them without their permission “after he was repeatedly asked to stop”.  AUJS has registered a formal complaint with the University of Sydney.

There are other reported examples of antisemitism on campus in Australia. Last March the Australian reported:

“The start of the academic year was marred by alleged anti-Semitic incidents at four of the nation’s top tertiary institutions – the Australian National University, Monash, Adelaide and the University of New South Wales.”

In addition, last year the Socialist Alternative was deregistered as a club at Monash University for discriminating against Jews at one of its events.  Jewish students were also harassed at La Trobe University.  An AUJS statement in August explains what happened at La Trobe University:

“Posters have been placed around campus claiming Labor and Jewish students who opposed the [anti-Israel] motion support ‘genocide,’ including the full name and a photo of three students. Furthermore, there has been substantial ongoing verbal abuse… There have also been various hateful, untrue, and defamatory claims made through social media… During an anti-Israel rally at the La Trobe campus on Wednesday students were instructed to approach the Jewish student to undertake verbal abuse.”

A Jewish student took legal action, and La Trobe University eventually responded to AUJS’ concerns.

Meanwhile, around the world there are many more examples of antisemitic incidents. Take for example the BDS demonstration outside an Israel trade show in Johannesburg on March 8, where protesters chanted antisemitic slogans and threatened to kill Jews with protesters saying, “You think this is Israel, we are going to kill you!” and, “You Jews do not belong here in South Africa!”. The national coordinator of BDS South Africa, Muhammed Desai, denied that antisemitic remarks were made.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies condemned the abuse and wrote on its website:

“The SAJBD has repeatedly expressed concern that the BDS, by importing the Middle East conflict into South Africa, is creating a climate that encourages antisemitism while shutting down any possible and rational debate on Israeli-Palestinian issues”.

Earlier, also in South Africa, the Student Representative Council at Durban University of Technology, presumably prompted by BDS activists, last month demanded that “Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister” – that is, be expelled from the University.

There are also prominent examples of antisemitism coming from American universities. One incident at UCLA made headlines, including in the New York Times, when during the confirmation hearing of Rachel Beyda to the student council’s Judicial Board, she was asked whether her Jewish background would make her biased in her position. Beyda was asked, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

The council then debated for the next 40 minutes whether Beyda’s religion and affiliation with Jewish organisations, including her sorority and Hillel, meant she would be biased. The New York Times reported:

“The discussion, recorded in written minutes and captured on video, seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes – particularly about divided loyalties – that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries, students and Jewish leaders said.”

Eventually, a faculty member pointed out that belonging to Jewish organisations is not a conflict of interest and Beyda was elected to the Judicial Board.

Eliora Katz, a student at the University of Chicago, notes in Haaretz that three of the students who initially voted against Beyda are BDS supporters:

“Of course many identities could affect one’s impartiality – being gay, black, female. But Beyda’s Jewishness stood out for this committee. Perhaps because only a few months prior, in November, UCLA’s student government approved a resolution to isolate Israel, calling on the university to divest from a list of companies ‘that some say profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.’

And perhaps it’s because three of the four students who initially voted against Beyda’s appointment hold prejudices against Israel, supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), and/or Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed and Manjot Singh were among the co-sponsors of the BDS resolution, while Sofia Moreno Haq has publicly endorsed BDS on Facebook. Indeed one cannot help but wonder whether it was these students’ own biases that got in the way of their impartiality when considering this Jewish student’s appointment.”

The students who questioned Beyda and initially opposed her entry to the council have since published a letter of apology in the UCLA newspaper.

Katz’s article also highlighted other disturbing incidences of antisemitism on US campuses and social media:

“‘Gas them, burn them and dismantle their power structure. Humanity cannot progress with the parasitic Jew.’ This is not a line from a Goebbels film or Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but the University of Chicago’s Yik Yak, an anonymous, local social media app.

What began with a post about Northwestern University passing a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions motion against Israel turned into a discussion about Palestinian death tolls and those who ‘support slaughter of innocents on the basis that the killers have the same race/religion.’ It wasn’t long before jabs were made at individual Jewish students. A social media intifada had erupted.

The assaults spilled into posts on the moderated, anonymous UChicago Secrets Facebook page: ‘As a person of Palestinian descent, I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to hate Jews;’ ‘People are hypocrites. This is Fact. One example? The Jews at UChicago. Why? They all have grandparents who survived the Holocaust. This doesn’t stop them from denying the Holocaust in Palestine right now;’ and ‘There is no more backwards and conservative community at UChicago than the genocide apologists in hillel and other jewish organizations.’

It is shocking that students at one of the top universities in America – where liberal values are enshrined and Plato is a rite of passage – could hold such parochial views and express them behind the cowardly mask of anonymous social media. I wonder if the timing of these attacks – just a week after the BDS motion passed at Northwestern and days before ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’- had anything to do with the assaults.”

David Graham in the Atlantic noted that a study of American Jewish students concerning campus antisemitism released in February found that “a majority-54 percent-of respondents said they had been subject to or had witnessed anti-Semitism on campus.” Graham also commented:

“Some, though of course not all, opposition to Israeli policies is tinged with or rooted in anti-Semitism, but opposition to Israeli policies can also flow in the other direction, transforming into anti-Semitism. That’s particularly dangerous for American Jews in an environment where opposition to Israeli policy seems to be growing, especially on campuses. Jewish students find themselves called on to defend a government they may feel very little connection to, or may simply be associated with, as happened to Rachel Beyda.”

Meanwhile, the organisation “Step Up for Israel” has put together a documentary, “Crossing the line 2: The new face of anti-semitism on campus”, that interviews students on US campuses and looks at the relationship between BDS activity and antisemitism. The documentary discusses the use of aggressive tactics by BDS supporters on American campuses that have made many Jewish students, (especially those who support Israel and many do), feel unsafe. Chloe Valdary, an African-American Christian pro-Israel advocate, from the University of New Orleans commented:

“There are going to be moments where you feel scared to be frank, because its… large groups of people who seem intimidating, and who are very loud and who seem to have power in numbers.”

The documentary highlighted disturbing cases that received little attention. For example, last year at Michigan University Jewish students and student government representatives were reportedly harassed in the lead up to a divestment vote, which failed. The documentary shows one student at the hearing said, “To say that this [BDS] is a non-violent peaceful movement, I would seriously have to disagree. Especially with the number of emails and harassing texts and harassing voice-mails and harassing calls that have cause me to miss class for a week.” In another disturbing case, at Ohio University, four students were arrested when they spoke out against BDS in support of Israel at a Student Senate meeting.

Jewish students at universities really are on the front lines of not only BDS but at times blatant antisemitism. Some students have experienced harassment and racism that would never be acceptable in a workplace, and yet it is pervasive on campuses. It seems many BDS advocates are normalising a culture where it is considered acceptable to intimidate and harass Jewish students – whether or not they do express views in support of Israel. At a time of rising global antisemitism, these groups need to be exposed and their hateful messages and aggressive tactics condemned – with universities having a special responsibility to make sure their regulatory frameworks can effectively prevent discrimination, harassment, racial vilification and other forms of antisemitic abuse.

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  1. There can be no greater example than todays ban upon a jewish artistic group who wished to preform at a theatre in marrikville. i wonder what would happen if jews boycotted the arts in support of Israel and their own identity.
    As usual the Board of Deputies are sheep!

    • I picked this up online….The Marrackville Theatre, the Red Rattler obviously turning away a booking inquiry by a Jewish Artistic Group on the basis of the Theatre’s favourable regard towards the pro-Palestinian lobby. Will the Sydney/Australian Jewish community be calling for action to be taken per the prevailing Discrimination legislation. They should be…if what was reported is true and correct!