BDS at Swarthmore: A shameful display of anti-Semitism and bullying

The effect of this rhetoric is that it is driving away students who hold Israel as part of their identities, Jewish or otherwise.

Parrish Hall on the campus of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Credit: Ugen64 via Wikimedia Commons.
Parrish Hall on the campus of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Credit: Ugen64 via Wikimedia Commons.
Matt Stein

The Student Government Organization at Swarthmore College (SGO) passed a resolution on March 3 supporting Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Everything about the entire process was shameful and absurd: the “discussion,” the response to it, and the ultimate vote and statement in support of BDS. After initially voting no on BDS two weeks earlier, SGO decided to hold a “discussion” about BDS the following week. “Discussion” was truly a euphemism for a meeting that brought forward the ugly head of anti-Semitism and was one long session of baseless character assassination.

Rather than hold a civil, arguments-based discussion about the merits of a BDS resolution, SGO oversaw a bullying session in which many SJP members locked arms, and labeled a couple brave Jewish and pro-Israel students “fascists” and “racists” for opposing BDS and the so-called Palestinian “Right of Return.” One student was forced to respond to several wild accusations and statements from SJP members each time he was able to speak; this was no fair discussion.

The specific label of fascist on these students, beyond its total baselessness, was also quite ironic given the underlying anti-Semitic basis of white supremacy. In fact, actual white supremacists—people like David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan—use rhetoric nearly identical to that of these BDS “activists.” Duke is a big supporter of BDS and constantly uses the age-old anti-Semitic trope of Jewish power through money (the “Jew Gold”) by accusing AIPAC of running Washington. Freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar also tweeted such a trope a few weeks ago, and Duke rose to her defense. What links the support of BDS from anti-Semites like Duke and “anti-Zionists” like Omar? Well, they hate Jews!

In fact, anti-Zionist anti-Semites and classic anti-Semites often use almost identical rhetoric. One quotes Jews by name; the other quotes Jews with the “Zionist” stand-in, but we know what they mean. That “discussion” exposed the anti-Semitism of this campus in a grossly tangible way, and it was so rabid and overwhelming that effective pushback was nearly impossible in such a setting. One JVP member stated matter-of-factly that Zionism is a Nazi idea, thereby implying our support for a Jewish state is a Nazi viewpoint. Only a morally corrupt person could make such an accusation as to accuse proud Jews, who support a Jewish state of democratic values, of being equivalent to one of the worst ideologies to ever enter the world stage that only a short while ago murdered more than a third of the entire Jewish people.

This also came shortly after the total disregard by an SGO member for the intimidation that one student expressed that he felt at the possibility of wearing a yarmulke openly on campus, thereby advertising his Jewish identity, due to his white skin and male gender. As always, those “rich” Jews are the most “privileged” in society, and any of their concerns should not be taken seriously, despite their reigning title as the most hated people in the history of the world and the most targeted group for hate crimes in the United States.

Instead of condemning this bigotry, SGO encouraged it. They sent an email proudly stating that the meeting should be a “precedent” for future meetings and “an example of what SGO should strive to be.” What could be more disturbing to a Jewish student than to read that SGO should “strive” to hold spectacularly uncivil meetings that contain overt elements of anti-Semitism? If any other common form of bigotry was similarly propagated at that meeting, SGO certainly would have not responded in this manner.

The effect of this rhetoric is that it is driving away students who hold Israel as part of their identities, Jewish or otherwise. I know multiple bright students who were admitted to Swarthmore and declined to attend because they are afraid of being harassed and bullied at school merely for being who they are. The SGO’s passing of a BDS resolution makes this environment far worse, and SGO members should feel personally responsible when this campus is entirely devoid of any Jew that connects Israel to his identity. The fact that SGO pointed to JVP (a group whose members openly reject Israel as a Jewish state, and whose views represent a tiny fringe of the American Jewish community) as the main Jewish resource to excuse the implications of BDS regarding Israel’s legitimacy and potential targeting of Jewish students is just icing on the cake of absurdity.

But Jewish students need not worry, according to SGO. The resolution is “not a repudiation” of Jewish students. This story about anti-Semitism that former Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz told when discussing BDS comes to mind: In the 1920s, Harvard and other top universities set quotas to limit the number of Jews on campus. A judge inquired to Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell about the reason for the quotas, to which Lowell answered that “the Jews cheat.” The judge pointed out that Christian students at Harvard also cheat. The president looked him in the eyes and said, “You’re changing the subject. We are talking about Jews now.”

SGO just passed a resolution that condemns alleged human-rights violations by a Western-style democracy—and the world’s only Jewish nation—that do not even begin to approach the horrific records of dozens of murderous dictatorships. SGO is, apparently, “talking about Jews now.”

Matthew Stein, an honors economics major at Swarthmore College, serves as the president of Swarthmore Students for Israel and of Swarthmore Chabad. He is a currently a CAMERA Fellow and a former fellow with StandWithUs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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