The movement to boycott Israel cloaks itself in the language of human rights. But when push comes to shove, the violent and discriminatory nature of their efforts is hard to disguise. That’s the upshot of a series of events taking place at the University of Michigan this month where advocates of BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—against the Jewish state tried and failed to get the student government at the Ann Arbor institution to approve a divestment measure. But what was most remarkable about the process was the manner with which BDS groups protested their failure by seeking to intimidate those who opposed their efforts. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, a series of sit-ins at student government offices and other campus facilities by BDS supporters were marked by anti-Semitic threats directed at Jewish students. This followed previous attempts at intimidation at the school when pro-Palestinian activists placed fake eviction orders on the dorm rooms of pro-Israel students and Jews.
This is not the first time anti-Israel campaigners have behaved in such a manner at a major American university. Yet what is most distressing about these incidents is the lack of outrage expressed by university officials about these events as well as the refusal of the administration to publicly oppose BDS motions. The result is what may well be another instance of the creation of a hostile and discriminatory environment for Jews at the school in blatant violation of federal civil-rights laws and U.S. Department of Education regulations. By acting in this manner, the BDS movement is merely illustrating that it is a thinly disguised hate group rather than a protest on behalf of the oppressed.
As Adam Kredo of the Free Beacon writes, a university spokesman refused to condemn the threats or to express an opinion about the attempts by the BDS activists to intimidate other students. One can only imagine the university’s reaction had a similar controversy taken place involving insults or slurs directed at African Americans or other minorities. Yet, the hurling of words like “kike” and “dirty Jew” at Jewish students as well as other stunts intended to silence opposition to BDS appears not to be regarded as a serious threat to the peace of the school.
The connection between anti-Semitic rhetoric and BDS is not an accident. At its core the movement is an expression of Jew hatred since it seeks to single out for special discrimination the one Jewish state in the world while disregarding every other possible human-rights issue elsewhere. Its purpose is not to redress the complaints of Arab citizens of Israel or the administrated territories under its control but rather to seek the extinction of the Jewish state via the waging of economic warfare. BDS doesn’t seek to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians but rather to aid the efforts of the latter to wipe out their opponents. Its efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state are an inherent expression of bias against Jews. As such, BDS is not so much a debatable proposition but the same sort of hate speech that university officials would have no compunction about banning or punishing if it came from the Ku Klux Klan or other racist groups.
Neither free speech nor academic freedom is at stake in this debate. Opinions about Israel or its policies are fair game. But the University of Michigan—and other schools where such acts are committed—must act against those who have used violent rhetoric and intimidation tactics. It is time for administrators to stop going along with the pretense that BDS is a benign ancestor of the civil-rights movement or even anti-Vietnam War protesters but a vicious source of antagonism toward Jews and their state that cloaks itself in human-rights rhetoric. By condoning the hateful activities of the BDS movement, institutions risk creating a hostile environment for Jews as well as creating safe havens for a discriminatory movement rooted in traditional Jew hatred.