Illiberalism on Campus: Boycotting Jewish Groups at NYU

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement at New York University, in the form of its local affiliates, NYU Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, has been campaigning for several years for the boycott of Israeli academics and institutions and of Israel-sponsored academic conferences.  A sizable representation of NYU faculty members has periodically agreed.

But the logic of such efforts to exclude Israeli academics from scholarly exchange has its own dynamic, and now such pro-BDS groups have declared a formal boycott of NYU Jewish student groups, asking other student organizations on campus to shun and isolate NYU organizations supporting Israel.

Not only is Israel ostensibly an abomination for its alleged human rights violations or its alliance with corporate entities supposedly profiting from human rights violations, so too now such forces indict and attempt to ghettoize student clubs and organizations which openly speak against and oppose the BDS movement. NYU faculty are mute on the issue.

In a public statement,  51 NYU student organizations, including SJP, JVP, and a number of minority and progressive groups, endorsed the goals of the BDS movement last week. This included a pledge to boycott two pro-Israel clubs – Realize Israel and TorchPAC, and as well to boycott several off campus pro-Israel groups like Birthright, Stand With Us, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League.  Apparently, winning justice for the Palestinian people now involves signing up for isolating tactics within and outside the university and putting hands over ears when a leading Jewish defense organization like the ADL speaks.

A spokesperson for JVP openly approved of this strategy, rationalizing keeping Jewish groups from collaboration with other student groups because “white Jews” are “not an oppressed group.”  That is movement-speak for saying Jews are privileged and thus have no right to be part of an intersectional campus alliance, unless they explicitly reject Israel.

Advocacy on behalf of Israel, BDS movement adherents insist, means that such groups effectively endorse Zionism, the ideology that drives the settler colonial state, and means such groups and other off-campus groups are complicit in Israeli colonialism and occupation.  All the student groups have pledged not to meet and talk with such groups or to sponsor events together.

Such shunning and warning out practices do not contribute to NYU as an intellectual environment. They surely do not make for free and open exchange on difficult topics. Such practices are also, let us say clearly, openly discriminatory.

President Andrew Hamilton of NYU who, to date, has been outspoken against BDS, calling it “an affront to academic freedom,” now needs to say something additional about the bullying and isolating practices that the BDS movement is creating on campus.

It would be nice if the faculty spoke out as well.

About the Author
Kenneth Waltzer is former director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University and a progressive opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. He a historian of the Holocaust completing a book on the rescue of children and youths at Buchenwald. He currently directs the Academic Engagement Network.
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