Imagine five Vassar departments and two programs co-sponsoring a speech by a Ku Klux Klan supporter. Or Vassar giving its imprimatur to a rant against members of the LGBTQ community by a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Such things would not happen here, of course (and I am grateful for it). But what about hate speech against Jews in the guise of anti-Zionism? Never, right?
Yet, when Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal spoke at Vassar last April, that is what happened.
Obviously, it was not billed as an anti-Semitic event. Rather, these two leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement were promoting their Israel-bashing books in a talk arranged by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and co-sponsored by Religion, Political Science, Sociology, English, Geography, Jewish Studies and International Studies (not to mention a few local BDS community groups). Among other “facts,” Abunimah and Blumenthal assured their audience that Jewish Israelis take their children to Auschwitz in order to condition them to kill Palestinians, and that Israelis are the new Nazis (“Judeo-Nazis”). Recently, German’s main opposition party (a leftist group) disinvited Blumenthal after learning of his anti-Semitic writings (The Algemeiner, “German Opposition Party Cancels Event Featuring American Anti-Semite Max Blumenthal,” 11.6.14). Yet somehow, Vassar overlooked or ignored what the German progressive party was able to easily discern.
Why bring this up now? Apart from my dismay that no one involved in this despicable event ever expressed regret, I was struck by a recent article in The Miscellany News, which said that the BDS movement has “proven central to conceptions of Vassar’s relationship to the [Israel/Palestinian] conflict” (“Baskin ‘Supports’ Possible Two-State Solution in Talk,” Rhys Johnson, 11.5.14). The article quoted a letter by 39 Vassar professors last semester, in which they linked the struggle against South African apartheid to the BDS movement against Israel.
Given the relentlessly one-sided way in which certain Vassar faculty have taught Middle East courses, it is not surprising that students would see that region through the BDS lens. Those who value critical thought and common sense, however, should make the effort to learn the true nature of this movement. BDS is not about human rights for Palestinians but about isolating, demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, implemented through such tactics as “anti-normalization”—i.e, the refusal to engage in any civil interaction or dialogue with those who do not share BDS’ anti-Zionist beliefs. The goal is eliminating the sole Jewish state in the world. While BDS supporters often claim to want a fair and peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict, they oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. As BDS leader Omar Barghouti has declared, “I do not buy into the two state solution. It is not just pragmatically impossible, it was never a moral solution” (The Jerusalem Post, “BDS opposes the two state solution of the Arab-Israel conflict,” 12.5.13). Apparently, in a world with dozens of Muslim nations and well over one hundred that identify as Christian, one tiny Jewish state is simply too many.
To promote its agenda of destruction, BDS practices what the Nazis perfected, and Communist Russia taught Yasser Arafat—the “Big Lie.” Say it loudly and often enough, and no matter how demonstrably wrong it is, people begin to accept it. Thus BDS supporters smear Israel as “apartheid” and “racist,” and deny the Jewish people’s historical connection to the land. No matter that Arab Israelis and all other citizens enjoy full legal rights in Israel, that Israel is the only nation that invited African immigrants in order to better their lives, and that archaeological evidence shows that Jews have lived continuously in Israel for thousands of years. So noisy and assertive are those promoting the big lies, that even members of the LGBTQ community, women and religious minorities, who have rights in Israel that they dare not dream of in any of its neighboring countries, will join the chorus (at least so long as they don’t actually have to live in those other places).
In addition to lies, BDS is rife with hypocrisy. Barghouti demands the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but obtained a degree at Tel Aviv University. The American Studies Association (ASA) claims that Israel restricts the academic freedom of Palestinians, yet it refused to allow a free and open debate among its members prior to its vote on an academic boycott resolution. That resolution passed last December with only 20% of the ASA members voting. Notably, ASA already has had to backtrack on it; to avoid litigation over its discriminatory policies, it has done an about-face and proclaimed that Israeli academics are now welcome to attend the 2014 ASA conference (The Washington Post, “ASA policy reversal delegitimizes BDS, but does not reverse past discrimination,” 10.21.14). As over 250 universities and colleges recognized when rejecting the ASA’s resolution, the promotion of an Israeli academic boycott is flawed—ideologically, morally and practically.
This summer, the vitriol of BDS and other anti-Israel movements achieved a frightening and openly anti-Semitic intensity. Although Israel was defending itself from a terrorist regime whose charter explicitly calls for its destruction (as well as the killing of all Jews, wherever found), Israel was repeatedly accused of genocide. The disparity in casualties was cited as evidence that Israel was using disproportionate force; apparently, morality required that Israel suffer an equal number of deaths at the hands of Hamas’ indiscriminately-launched rockets and terror tunnels. Israel’s extraordinary efforts to warn Gazans to leave areas before Israeli air strikes were ignored or derided. (Yet so exceptional were these efforts that the Pentagon just sent a team to Israel to study them). Inflamed by extreme rhetoric on social media, protesters took to the streets to denounce not only Israel, but Jews. Jewish stores were torched, persons wearing Jewish garb were assaulted. As the New York Times put it, “[f]rom the immigrant enclaves of the Parisian suburbs to the drizzly bureaucratic city of Brussels to the industrial heartland of Germany, Europe’s old demon returned this summer. ‘Death to the Jews!’ shouted protesters at pro-Palestinian rallies in Belgium and France. ‘Gas the Jews!’ yelled marchers at a similar protest in Germany” (The New York Times, “Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows,” 9.23.14).
Which brings me back to the Abunimah/Blumenthal event at Vassar. This sort of showmanship (hate speech and the big lie) is not aberrant for the BDS movement; to the contrary, BDS thrives on it. If BDS is indeed central to Vassar’s connection to the Israel/Palestinian conflict, as the Miscellany article noted, then responsible faculty and students should make it a priority to expose the true nature of this anti-Semitic movement. It is not about human rights for Palestinians but about destroying the world’s only Jewish homeland.
—Laurie Josephs ’78 was a political science major.