Recent events in Durham, N.C., raise troubling questions about the BDS movement and its supporters.
In April, the city of Durham passed a resolution banning its police department from taking part in “military-style training” with Israeli law enforcement, which other U.S. cities have done. The context of the issue was the claim that police have engaged in indiscriminate shootings of African-Americans. But the reason for the debate in Durham was not so much the controversy over such incidents, which has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. Rather, it was the attempt by the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace group to allege that programs for American law-enforcement personnel in Israel are somehow to blame for the plight of African-Americans.
JVP has targeted such programs, which are promoted and supported by mainstream Jewish organizations, with its so-called “Deadly Exchange” campaign. JVP says it is motivated by concern about police violence. But this is a smokescreen. The real point of JVP’s focus on police training is to associate the Jewish community and the Jewish state with the killings of blacks.
As such, Durham’s embrace of Deadly Exchange isn’t just a rare example of a victory for the BDS movement; it’s also a modern version of the ancient blood libel in which Jews are falsely blamed for outrageous crimes. That makes JVP responsible for an act of blatant anti-Semitism.
And it raises an important question: What should the attitude of the Jewish community be towards those Jews who act to promote and enable anti-Semitism of such ilk?
The problem is that most American Jews only associate anti-Semitism with the far right. As disturbing as events last summer in Charlottesville, Va., were—with a torchlight parade by members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, some chanting anti-Jewish sentiment—the imagery was familiar to Jews. In a situation like that, it’s easy to spot the enemy. We all know what to think about those vile extremists.
It’s not quite so straight forward when prominent leftists, like the leaders of the Women’s March—the group that has organized the big protests of the “resistance” to President Donald Trump—turn out to be fans of an anti-Semite like the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan and seek to isolate groups like the Anti-Defamation League for supporting Israel and opposing anti-Semitism.
It’s even harder for many Jews to confront anti-Semitism when it comes in the form of young Jewish activists. As JNS reported, those involved in persuading the Durham City Council to pass a ban on police training included two people employed at area synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill.
Watch the YouTube video of one them advocating for BDS and Deadly Exchange, and there’s nothing scary about her. Rather than a Klan member decked out in white or Nazi with a swastika, she looks and sounds like a typically idealistic young Jewish woman who could be a member of our own families.
To those who value inclusiveness above all, the proper response from the community should be to embrace JVP members and treat their advocacy of BDS as just another issue about which reasonable people can disagree. They further argue that seeking to ostracize Jews who approach BDS as just another front in the battle to ensure that “Black Lives Matter” would be a mistake since such persons claim they are upholding Jewish values, and that we would be alienating our youth.
It all sounds like good advice if the only thing you care about is creating a “safe place” for leftist anti-Zionists inside a big Jewish tent. But a Jewish community that thinks that welcoming those who promote not only BDS, but the moral equivalent of a blood libel, as important is morally bankrupt.
Support for the bogus theory of intersectionalism—in which the civil-rights movement in the United States or gay rights is linked to the Palestinian war against the rights of the Jews to their own nation—is not harmless. When it has become an excuse for open anti-Semitism like the Deadly Exchange agitation, it’s time to stop worrying about hurting the tender feelings of JVP activists, who think they’re entitled to be coddled and applauded for their pose of sincerity and idealism by the organized Jewish world.
Debates about the wisdom of Israel’s settlement policy or the peace process are entirely legitimate. What isn’t legitimate is promoting boycotts whose purpose is not moving Israel’s borders or influencing its policies, but advocating for its eradication. Raising that latter point is neither hyperbole nor unfair when discussing JVP, as the group not only opposes visits by Jews to Israel on the Birthright program but also has specifically endorsed the Palestinian “right of return,” which means nothing less than the end of the Jewish state. While anti-Zionists claim that they are not anti-Semitic, it’s important to remember that those who would deny the Jews the right to a state or even to live in their ancient homeland—something they’d never think of denying to others—are engaging in an act of bias. And the term of art for bias against the Jews is anti-Semitism.
That said, those who are understandably angered by the presence of Jews among the ranks of those promoting hate against other Jews need to be wary of doing anything that can be portrayed as a McCarthy-like witch hunt against anti-Zionists who work for Jewish organizations. The extremists of JVP shouldn’t be allowed to play the victim or to be able to portray Jewish organizations as seeking to repress free speech.
But neither should we mince words about young adults—however much they may seem like our children—who promote hate against Jews and Israel. Their positions are not merely reprehensible. They are engaging in anti-Semitic invective that parallels the stands of terror groups like Hamas, for whom they are playing the role of a Fifth Column working to undermine the safety of the Jewish people.
After Durham, it’s time to tell both JVP and their members that there should no place for their hatred in the American Jewish community.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.