Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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New Reports on Antisemitism Shed Light on BDS


Israel released a new report on September 25 exposing the antisemitic nature of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

It came just two days after the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, released a report to the Human Rights Council noting with concern the claims that the objectives, activities, and effects of the BDS movement are fundamentally antisemitic. Both used an internationally accepted standard definition of antisemitism to make their case.

All Americans, especially university students and administrators, should read these reports.

BDS works to disrupt the economic and financial stability of the State of Israel, and to cause direct harm to the economic interests of persons conducting business in and with Israel, or with people deemed to be affiliated with Israel in some way. Especially in its accompanying “cultural and academic boycotts,” BDS targets people who are Jewish or who do business with Jewish people.

That is how the movement describes itself. Others will point out that it is not nonviolent, that it has been a significant factor in the recent trend of antisemitic incidents, that its unambiguous goal is the elimination of the State of Israel, and that it has been repeatedly and demonstrably linked to radical terror groups, including in congressional testimony and state filings.

The special rapporteur correctly notes that “nonviolent expressions of support for boycotts are, as a general matter, legitimate speech that should be protected. However, … expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion should be condemned.”

It was these sentiments that led the German parliament to pass a resolution this year branding BDS antisemitic.

While there is no one definition of antisemitism, for the purpose of monitoring the phenomenon both reports utilized the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition along with its illustrative examples. This is the definition used by the US federal government; the 31 governments that are members of IHRA; all 50 countries, except Russia, that comprise the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and the governments of the UK, Romania, Austria, Germany, and Bulgaria.  At the end of his report, the special rapporteur encouraged all UN member states to adopt this definition.

The Israeli report just walks through the definition while providing evidence that the BDS movement is antisemitic at its core.

Highlights include:

  • The co-founder and leader of the movement repeatedly denying Israel’s right to exist, the Jewish people’s historic ties to its homeland, and, lest you think this is about settlements or borders, the Jewish right to self-determination in any part of Israel;
  • BDS leaders using classic antisemitic motifs while attempting to spread various forms of surprisingly unoriginal medieval blood libels; and
  • Leaders from around the world (including the leader of the American Muslims for Palestinian and Students for Justice in Palestine groups) calling for Israel to be, among other things, dismantled, buried, and erased.

These reports are important for two reasons.

First, because universities hesitate to admit that there has been a major spike in pro-Israel students being targeted for hate speech and violence, or that one of the strongest predictors of a hostile climate toward Jews on campus is the presence of a BDS organization. But the evidence that BDS is antisemitic and promotes violence is just too clear now, and administrators need to reckon with these facts. Hate speech may be protected but it is still hateful, and conduct codes that forbid student groups from engaging in discriminatory activities should be enforced across the board. That is why all universities, public and private, should adopt the IHRA definition, so that schools cannot simply shrug and say they don’t know what antisemitism looks like.

Second, because not all BDS supporters are antisemitic. Many would be horrified to learn that the nonprofit umbrella group for US-based BDS organizations funnels money to terrorist organizations; that some of the leaders are actual violent terrorists; that BDS hurts the Palestinian people more than it hurts Israel, or that the rabid antisemitism at its core often breaks through the “nonviolent” veil, leading to people getting hurt. Supporters of BDS should know who and what they are dealing with.

As the IHRA definition makes clear, not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and those who want to protest Israeli activity should feel free to do so.

Universities should still be aware of the difference between legitimate criticism and antisemitism, and students should still act responsibly. This includes not promoting a demonstrably antisemitic movement that is run by and supportive of terrorists and terrorism.