Repression Fails to Stop the Growing BDS Movement on North American Campuses!

In the past few years, support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has grown tremendously around the world, particularly on North American campuses, despite….

In the past few years, support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has grown tremendously around the world, particularly on North American campuses, despite heightened bullying and threats by Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups.

In December 2013, the American Studies Association’s historic endorsement of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, following the precedent set a few months earlier by the Asian American Studies Association, successfully pierced the McCarthyist wall of fear and intimidation that Zionists had created within the US academy.

A number of high profile academic associations subsequently followed suit and passed resolutions in support of the global, Palestinian-led BDS movement, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association of Critical Ethnic Studies, the African Literature Association, the Peace and Justice Studies Association and, most recently, the National Women’s Studies Association. The Middle East Studies Association has overwhelmingly voted to legitimize support for BDS.

During the same period, many student governments on U.S. and Canadian campuses passed divestment resolutions; in the past two years, six such resolutions were passed within the University of California system alone.

As the BDS movement expands rapidly in the heart of the US empire, Israel’s key backer and bankroller, the Israeli government and Zionist organizations are intensifying their efforts to repress BDS on campuses and forestall the growing voices calling for an end to Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.

In February 2014, the Israeli government held a secret meeting to adopt a new strategy for fighting the BDS movement worldwide, indirectly admitting the failure of its earlier propaganda-based strategy. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs, now in charge of fighting BDS, requested 100 million shekels for an aggressive campaign to combat the movement; the funds were earmarked for“PR materials and aggressive legal and media campaigns against pro-boycott organizations.” [[]] The Ministry of Strategic Affairs has already provided the intelligence branch of the Israeli army with “a budget of several million shekels for the purpose of bolstering military surveillance of such organizations.”[[Ibid]]

The reverberations of Israel’s desperate attempts to suppress BDS, particularly after the failure of its “Brand Israel” campaign, which poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a propaganda war aimed at whitewashing Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, are now being felt across campuses in the UK, Europe and North America. [[]] This is especially the case after Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza this past summer, which exposed its regime’s naked brutality to the world and left it more vulnerable and less defensible.

Zionist organizations, often from western universities, are now actively trying to crackdown on BDS student organizing, turning to the only defense they have left – sheer coercion and suppression of free speech. But those tactics have already backfired, alienating liberals and inadvertently boosting support for BDS.

In the United States, anti-Palestinian groups have started to “regularly threaten university administrations with legal action and encourage administrative punishment of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) groups.”[[]] Similar tactics are being used by Israel’s supporters in the UK. [[]] Israel and its lobby groups are trying to criminalize support for BDS on campus to forcefully shut down legitimate spaces for student activism and for academics’ expression of criticism of Israel’s regime or even its policies. Israel is effectively promoting a chilling “new McCarthyism” that demands unconditional loyalty and that severely punishes dissent. [[]]

The most glaring example of this escalating repression is the case of Palestinian-American Professor Steven Salaita. After being offered a tenure track position at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Salaita was targeted for denouncing Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza on social media. As a result of Zionist pressure on the university, Professor Salaita was stripped of his tenured job appointment. Thousands of U.S. academics have come out in support of Salaita’s case denouncing the political decision by the university as an infringement of free speech.

The targeting of those who criticize Israel is not just about the question of Palestine; it has broader implications for all those who are organizing for social justice in North America and elsewhere in the world. Steven Salaita’s case clearly illustrates the danger of university administrations becoming agents that facilitate the policing of legitimate expression of support for struggles from Ferguson to Gaza and many in between. It also underscores the way Palestine and BDS activism are becoming the frontline defending the right to freedom of expression and to dissent on increasingly corporate-influenced campuses in North America.

At the recent launch of a divestment campaign at the University of Toronto, BDS organizers were subject to racist and sexist attacks by the fanatic Jewish Defense League. Instead of protecting students and upholding their right to freedom of speech, the university administration capitulated to this coercion and shut down the BDS event, instead of escorting a group that is accused of hate speech off campus. [[]] Still, BDS campaigns are spreading across Canada.

The tide has turned, and BDS has built a broad based international human rights movement that firmly stands with the Palestinian struggle to end Israel’s violations of international law and achieves freedom, justice and equality. This movement cannot be easily stopped. The divestment resolution that was passed by the student government at UCLA on November 20th is the clearest evidence of this. In a landslide victory, a broad coalition of student organizations passed the divestment resolution despite an aggressive campaign that was waged by the Zionist organization Hillel, which had an annual budget of $1.8 millon in 2012, and went so far as to hire a PR firm to fight BDS on campus. [[]] Through collective organizing students managed to defeat these forces of repression and intimidation.

People of conscience throughout the world are making their voices heard and standing on the right side of history. These voices “signal an end to Israeli apartheid. The clock is ticking.” [[]]