by Assaf Weiss
BDS activists engage in language laundering when they maintain they are not anti-Semitic but anti-Zionist.
"Terrorism against Israelis is justified because that is what you get after suffocating a people for 69 years." That is the argument I heard at an event calling for a boycott of Israel at Columbia University and attended by around 50 people. The student audience responded to this terrible statement with a standing ovation. After attending a number of such events, I have come to realize that the real danger presented by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is not that it will lead to an economic boycott of Israel but rather the anti-Semitism that it promotes on college campuses around the world.
Economic boycotts are nothing new. The Arab League promoted such a boycott when Israel was founded, and yet Israel succeeded in developing its economy and becoming a nation of innovation. In the 13 years since BDS's establishment, the extent of its impact on Israeli exports is also questionable. Nevertheless, there is one arena where BDS is flourishing – the world's universities.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, U.S. college campuses experienced an 89% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. As I write this piece, dozens of campuses around the world are marking the anti-Israel "Apartheid Week." Throughout the year, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace hold numerous events in which activists tell half-truths and outright lies about Zionism and Israel, including that Zionism is a "colonialist movement that seeks to take over lands and resources and forcefully evict Palestinians through ethnic cleansing." Their strategy is to focus criticism solely on Israel and hold Jerusalem to a different standard than the rest of the world. BDS activists engage in language laundering when they maintain they are not anti-Semitic but anti-Zionist.
As BDS is particularly active in the world's leading universities, the movement is having an impact on an entire generation of future leaders. This is a genuine strategic problem. They have had a significant impact on support for Israel among young Americans. According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center in January 2017, support for Israel decreases the more time students spends at university and the more degrees they earn.
Volunteer organizations like Students Supporting Israel are at the front of the war against anti-Semitism and BDS on college campuses, but without outside assistance, they can only have limited success. Universities have a responsibility to act to eradicate incitement and anti-Semitism by ensuring a code of respectful political discourse, but Jewish organizations need to provide students on the ground with the tools and financial assistance necessary to organize their activities. It is critical that we help.
Adv. Assaf Weiss is a graduate of Columbia University Law School.
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