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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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February 10, 2012

Anti-Israel Hostility Pervades Penn BDS Conference

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference held at the University of Pennsylvania last weekend featured speakers representing a wide range of strategies used to delegitimize Israel. As expected, many of the speakers promoted mistruths and biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offered strategies on how to advance BDS initiatives and to further delegitimize Israel.


Several of the anti-Israel activists who headlined the Penn BDS conference are scheduled to next month’s One-State “Solution” Conference at Harvard, including Ali Abunimah, Dalit Baum and Sarah Schulman.
Below is a sampling of statements made at the Penn conference:
  • Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, claimed that Israel is governed by an “extremist ideology” and that it is a “racist oppressor” and an “apartheid state.” Barghouti also made reference to the disproportionate role “Israel’s lobby groups” play in the U.S., adding that “it is crucial to reveal how Israel is right at the center of the 1% agenda,” referring to the Occupy Wall Street movement. 
  • Ali Abunimah, the founder and executive director of “Electronic Intifada,” an anti-Israel Web site,  reportedly said, “Nakba denial is the equivalent of Holocaust denial.”
  • Professor Amy Kaplan, professor in the English department at the University of Pennsylvania, offered suggestions in a Q&A session on how BDS could be integrated into the classroom. According to an audio recording of her response, Kaplan said, “you take a thematic course and you bring in themes from this issue [BDS], and literature is really a great way to teach students about what’s going on.”

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