The campus boycott, divestment, sanctions movement depends on two myths of purity. One concerns South Africa. Ignoring South Africa’s alliance with human-rights violators like Russia and China, the BDS movement draws at every opportunity on statements of support from South Africa to demonstrate its bona fides: these people know a little something about apartheid, they suggest, so our assertions that Israel is an apartheid state must also be taken seriously.
The second concerns students. Ignoring signs that young people are at least as capable of prejudice and stupidity as their elders, the BDS movement suggests that the young are on “the right side of history” and that, consequently, BDS’s occasional successes at colleges and universities demonstrate the essential rightness of their cause. As the anti-Israel activist Anna Balzer has put it, BDS will benefit from “a generational shift, driven by young people, who have become allies to the cause even as their parents repeat the same tired arguments.”
So you would think that in South Africa’s students, you might find the quintessence of the boycott movement’s forward-looking strategy. Indeed. As InsideHigherEd reports today, the “student government of the Durban University of Technology, in South Africa, has called on the institution to expel Jewish students.” They have also asked for more financial aid. They are joined in their demands by the Progressive Youth Alliance (I am not making this up).
When I read the headline, I admit that, in spite of my experience with BDS, I assumed it must be an exaggeration. On the contrary, the secretary of the student government, rather than taking the opportunity to issue a denial, said “We had a meeting and analyzed international politics. We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” The vice-chancellor of the university has acknowledged receiving a memorandum from student protesters demanding the “deregistration of Jewish students” and has firmly rejected it. But Mr. Vice-Chancellor, they “analyzed international politics”!
Charmingly, according to the Daily Vox, a South African site that features young journalists, “students that desisted from the strike were explicitly threatened.” It is no doubt a coincidence that Leila Khaled, under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa, had visited campus the day before the memorandum was issued. I have written about Khaled’s advocacy of violence here.
So far, I haven’t seen any coverage of this incident from those who favor BDS. That makes sense. It wouldn’t do to criticize the moral center of one’s movement.