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November 20, 2014

Anti-Israel Activity Prevalent On Massachusetts Campuses This Year

With recent anti-Israel activity at multiple universities in Massachusetts,the state has become a hotspot for campus events promoting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns and the use of confrontational tactics to protest pro-Israel events.students-for-justice-in-palestine-2014-national-conference

Nine anti-Israel events have been held in Massachusetts so far this academic year, more than double the four events that took place last year during the same timeframe. This academic year’s events follow the nine anti-Israel demonstrations that were held in Massachusettsover the summer during Operation Protective Edge, some of which featured signs with slogans like “Not even the Holocaust gives you the right to do this!” and “Do you think that Israel is a victim? Zionism = Nazism.”

In October, the fourth annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Conference took place at Tufts University.SJP, a student organization with over 110 chapters at American universities, held the conference so that students from around the country could unify for a weekend to learn about SJP’s stance on the conflict. The conference was titled “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the U.S. to Palestine,” a reference to SJP activists’ efforts to connect varying struggles and movements to the Palestinian cause, and it featured workshops such as “Nothing Normal about It: Countering Normalization of Israeli Oppression on Campus,” and “Israeli Apartheid: Reality on the Ground after the Protective Edge Massacre and Ending Genocide in Gaza.”

Open Hillel, a student-run campaign calling on Hillel International to alter its “Standards for Partnership,” held its first conference at Harvard University, calling on Hillel International to allow “free discourse” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Organizers claimed that the conference would allow certain viewpoints to be voiced that would be excluded from a Hillel building because of Hillel International’s “Standards for Partnership,” which do not allow for speakers that delegitimize Israel or deny its right to exist. The Open Hillel conference featured discussions such as “Unpacking Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” and “Anti Normalization Workshop: Open Discourse in the Context of Power Differentials.”
Both the SJP and Open Hillel conferences focused on topics such as BDS campaigns and the tactic of anti-normalization, which advises students against dialogue and rejects any attempt to engage in a debate of the conflict with pro-Israel students.

Speakers at the conferences represented a network of groups that have worked to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State. Those speakers included Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) who spoke at the Open Hillel conference; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and an Advisory Board member of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation who also spoke at the Open Hillel conference; and Sara Kershnar, a cofounder of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network who has made false allegations including that Israel uses “Nazi tactics” against Palestinians, spoke at the SJP conference.

Other recent anti-Israel events in Massachusetts organized by students include:

  • A panel discussion about the BDS movement took place during the Harvard Arab Weekend, which is sponsored by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association and several corporate sponsors, including Bank Audi, Shell, and the Boston Consulting Group. The BDS discussion, which took place to “highlight recent successes from the BDS movement, discuss approach, and examine its trajectory,” featured Noam Chomsky, an American scholar who has a history of making anti-Israel statements; Andrew Kadi, a member of the US Campaign’s Steering Committee; and Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund; as guest speakers.
  • On November 1, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a group that works to bring about a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel,delivered a presentation about BDS campaigns to students. In past statements, Barghouti has used sensitive Holocaust imagery to condemn Israel and its supporters and has alleged that an “Israel lobby” controls U.S. policy and suppresses debate.
  • In late October, members of various Boston SJP chapters protested a Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) fundraiser outside of the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel where the event was taking place.  Protesters led chants and held signs that read, “The IDF is GENOCIDAL,” “From Ferguson to Palestine racism is a crime,” and “Friends don’t let friends commit war crimes.”
  • At Smith College in Northampton, the “Festival of Resistance” featured an anti-Israel rally outside of Northampton City Hall that led directly into a day-long teach-in about the BDS movement in late September.

In addition to organizing such events, anti-Israel students also oppose pro-Israel programing through confrontational tactics. This past Monday, students from the Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, conducted a die-in to protest a presentation from a pro-Israel speaker. In a more extreme example of protesting against pro-Israel programming on campus,anti-Israel sentiment crossed the line to anti-Semitism when swastikas were drawn on flyers advertising a pro-Israel event at Northeastern University.  Northeastern University’s swift condemnation of the incident was clear, timely, unambiguous, and served as an important reminder of effective university responses to acts of hate and intolerance on campus.

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February 7, 2013

Free Speech Is A One-Way Street For The BDS Movement

In response to the controversy surrounding a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) event taking place tomorrow at Brooklyn College, numerous pro-BDS public figures, activists and groups have labeled concerns about the event as a “smear campaign” designed to get the event canceled and suppress the expression of legitimate viewpoints.

A statement by the national coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) referred to opposition to the event as an “onslaught of intimidation.” Al-Awda and American Muslims for Palestine, two off-campus anti-Israel organizations, condemned the pro-Israel community’s reaction as a “smear campaign” designed to suppress free speech. Jewish Voice for Peace went so far as to call for Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz to be fired for arguing that Brooklyn College’s political science department should not sponsor anti-Israel events.

Similarly, Roger Waters, the founder and lead singer of Pink Floyd, issued a statement of solidarity with the SJP chapter at Brooklyn College, the group organizing the event, that conspiratorially claimed: “That you have come under attack from powerful political and media forces for trying to shed light on the predicament of the good peoples of Palestine and Israel is wrong. I stand with you. Sadly, none of us knows what lies behind the closed doors of government, even though we should for we have a right to know, to speak, discuss, still not your voice, be not afraid. More power to you.”

Other more mainstream commentators have also used abrasive language to lambast those who disapprove of the department’s sponsorship of the event. Glen Greenwald, in a piece over the weekend on The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, described those urging the political science department to drop its sponsorship as an “ugly lynch mob” and claimed that elected officials in the U.S. support Israel for less than earnest reasons: “It is all but impossible to succeed in New York City politics – or US national politics – without faithfully embracing pro-Israel orthodoxies. That’s the nature of politics in general: it requires subservience to empowered factions and majoritarian sentiment.”

It is the BDS movement, however, that is inherently predicated on the suppression of speech and “free exchange of ideas,” which Greenwald claims to vehemently support in his article. Supporting boycotts of Israeli academics, diplomats and performers is simply not consistent with free speech values.  Furthermore, anti-Israel students cannot legitimately claim to support a “free exchange of ideas” when they regularly disrupt and heckle pro-Israel speakers on campus. One anti-Israel student who heckled Israeli soldiers at an event at UC Davis last February flatly admitted, “My only purpose today is that this event is shut down.”

In fact, an increasing number of anti-Israel groups do not support a free exchange of ideas and explicitly argue that the pro-Israel voice does not even deserve to be heard. The tactic, known as anti-normalization, is increasingly being felt by pro-Israel groups on campuses across the country whose counterparts refuse to engage in dialogue with them and often try to disrupt or shut down pro-Israel events. It seems that the BDS movement’s commitment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas is only a one-way street.

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