Over the past year, I’ve been invited to speak at over 150 college campuses around the U.S. about my experiences as a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces. I’ve spoken at the University of Washington, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, NYU, Columbia, Swarthmore, and many more. I looked forward to meeting and talking with students who were critical of Israeli policies and who would question my perspective. What I did not expect was that, instead of a free exchange of ideas, I would often be faced with well-organized efforts to silence me and other pro-Israel voices.
In the last few years, the “Boycott Divestment and Sanctions” (“BDS”) campaign has grown on college campuses. Presented as a “human rights movement,” its apparent goal is a broad-based boycotting of the Jewish State because of alleged human rights violations. However, a YouTube video of anti-Israeli activists at Galway University shows the real face of BDS.
The Three Stages of a BDS Campaign
The BDS campaign is a new front in the Arab-Israeli conflict, directed at Israel. Its tactics are simple.
Stage 1: Start a student group and build relationships with other minorities’ student groups. Get them to like you. After convincing them that you are an ally, get them to support your anti-Israel narrative. Tell them that you’re not against Jews, only against the Jewish state. If you have Jewish students in your anti-Israel group, bring them along to the meeting and have them speak about how Israel’s existence conflicts with Jewish values. Portray the Palestinians as the underdog.
Stage 2: Arrange displays on your campus–the bigger the better. Put up an eight-foot high cardboard “Wall” that you claim is a smaller version of the separation fence that Israel built to protect against suicide bombers. Include a mock checkpoint. Bring anti-Israel speakers. Use language that will resonate with the other student groups. Do all of this preparation to make your campus receptive to your anti-Israel message. Remember, most people are naÃ¯ve and uniformed. If your message is highly emotional and uses the language of the political left, many students will side with you wanting to learn more.
At the same time, start lobbying members of student government. Meet with them often as you can. Get them to know and like you. Start “educating” them with biased and misleading information. Get them to believe that Israel is a “criminal state.” You may even want to run for the student senate to become a senator yourself, a tactic just recently used at Loyola University, where nine student senators who voted for a BDS divestment resolution were BDS leaders at the school.
Stage 3: Bring a Boycott and Divestment resolution to the student government. Last year, BDS supporters at over 20 colleges introduced anti-Israel divestment resolutions in their student senates and demanded that the senators bring their resolutions to a vote. In recent weeks, we’ve seen anti-Israel resolutions introduced at several more campuses. Some were defeated. Some passed.
A Growing Trend
This is how it’s happening all across the globe, from Kings College in London to South African universities. To be sure, though, the BDS campaign isn’t really about divestment. Its supporters know that Israel is a thriving country, with companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel and so many others investing billions in its economy. To that end, they knew very well that even if some several hundred universities agreed to boycott Israel, they would have a a negligible impact on Israel’s economy.
BDS organizers say so themselves in their handbook. They very clearly say that boycotts, divestments and sanctions have nothing to do with hurting Israel financially. Rather, they know that pushing for boycotts and divestment from Israel is just a way of promoting an anti-Israel political agenda. BDS advocates know that the student senators will become the leaders of tomorrow who will influence our countries’ policies. They believe that, even if they lose, they’ll have had the chance to damage Israel’s reputation and undercut American support, even if only a little at a time.
The perfect resolution target for BDS is a non-political campus where most students know little about Israel and there are few pro-Israel students. Loyola University in Chicago fits that description. There, pro-Israel students learned about the resolution only after it passed. BDS got its members in the student senate to introduce and pass an anti-Israel divestment resolution with no notice. Unlike the UCLA debate that lasted for hours and hours and failed; Loyola’s BDS members faced no opposition. When pro-Israel students can organize an opposition, the truth comes out and, as we saw at University of Michigan, BDS resolutions are often defeated.
Notably, faculty efforts to join the BDS campaign has achieved mixed results. Earlier this year, a few smaller academic associations, made up primarily of university faculty and researchers, passed BDS-sponsored boycotts against Israeli academic institutions. When the American Studies Association passed the most recent boycott, their decision was publicly condemned by over 200 university presidents. The Association of American Universities also released a statement opposing BDS academic boycotts.
However, BDS has been successful on the student level. And it continues to grow. I am currently involved in the fight before the University of Washington’s Student Senate against a BDS resolution demanding the University endowment’s divest from, among other named companies, Caterpillar Corporation. Caterpillar manufactures bulldozers used by the Israel Defense Forces. But the University of Washington endowment holds absolutely no Caterpillar stock. So why do BDS advocates want to target an investment that does not exist? Because they don’t actually care about divestment. Rather, they wish to destroy Israel’s image.
How far will it go? We already seen acts of violence and one unacceptable use of derogatory epithets used against Jewish students at some. Even if some BDS supporters are Jewish, that does not cleanse the campaign of the increasing stench of anti-Semitism. We can fool ourselves and say that BDS campus campaigns are not directed against the Jewish students, but BDS does not target Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Instead, in the name of human rights for Palestinians in the Middle East, BDS targets only the one Jewish state, Israel, which consistently is rated as having the highest level of “freedom” of the 57 countries in the Middle East. Can they really say that they’re concerned about human rights?
(Photo: The divestment debate at UMichigan. Credit: Mondoweiss.)