Under the impact of the increasingly assertive and effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement, launched by Palestinian activists about a decade ago, scores of American university campuses, particularly in California, have become contentious ideological battlegrounds.
In attempting to consign Israel to the status of a pariah state worthy of condemnation, isolation and, ultimately, destruction, BDS supporters all too often cross a dangerous red line into the realm of implicit or explicit anti-Semitism.
Consider two examples:
At the University of California’s Berkeley campus, the wall of a bathroom was daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti: “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber.” At the University of California in Los Angeles, a Jewish member of a student board was pointedly asked whether, as a person who’s “very active in the Jewish community,” she could be impartial.
Due to such troubling incidents, Jews who support Israel and its right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state face a new and insidious form of racism, a fusion of classic anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Two years ago, a study commissioned by the University of California reached a disturbing conclusion that seems symptomatic of our times: “Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The … BDS movement and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”
Late last month, the University of California’s Board of Regents took note of this issue, releasing a report that warned anti-Israel students that forays into anti-Semitism are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As Principles Against Intolerance stated: “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”
The University of California thus became the first public university in the United States to address this important problem.
BDS supporters claim that the university’s condemnation of anti-Semitism is nothing more than a ploy to silence critics and opponents of Israel. This accusation is untrue and misleading, but in the interests of free speech, the university refrained from condemning anti-Zionism per se.
Some might disagree with its failure to do so, since anti-Zionism — a rejection of the Jewish claim to statehood in the historic homeland of the Jewish people — is a variant of anti-Semitism. Still others, like myself, believe the university reached a reasonable compromise.
Anti-Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic if it promotes the concept of a two-state solution, the only viable and practical one on the horizon today. But when Palestinians and their friends call for a one-state solution, they go too far.
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of BDSers endorse and promote a one-state solution, thereby negating the right of Israeli Jews to statehood. Their position is grossly unfair and shot through with anti-Semitism.
Jews have deep historical, religious and cultural connections to Israel that no reasonable and informed person can deny. But at the University of California and other campuses, pro-Palestinian zealots do not care for such distinctions, and discredit their case by adopting language and slogans that veer straight into the cesspool of anti-Semitism.
The University of California’s Board of Regents, having condemned the bigotry of pro-Palestinian rhetoric, should be commended for its principled decision. One can only hope that universities across America will emulate the example it has set.