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OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

The importance of following Germany’s lead on BDS

If the U.S. House of Representatives can get legislation passed, it would be because it took a lesson from Germany on how to define and fight anti-Semitism.

The Reichstag building in Berlin, where the Bundestag meets. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Reichstag building in Berlin, where the Bundestag meets. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

Germany’s Bundestag recently passed a non-binding resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as anti-Semitic. While the resolution may not have the force of law, it is an important recognition that BDS has little to do with Palestinian rights, and everything to do with isolating Israel, and, more generally, Jews.

Poignantly, the motion described the BDS campaign as “reminiscent of the most terrible chapter in Germany history,” recalling the Nazi slogan: “Don’t buy from Jews.”

The singular focus of the BDS campaign on Israel betrays its intent. As legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich has observed, of the numerous ongoing territorial disputes in the world, only the one between Israel and the Palestinians is deemed serious enough to spark calls for a boycott.

The BDS campaign is not only anti-Semitic in its intent, but also anti-Semitic in its effect. For example, a 2015 Amcha Initiative study showed the existence of a “strong correlation between anti-Zionist student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and anti-Semitism.”

What Germany has learned through its painful history—and what America has yet to learn—is that words matter. In recent years, there have been numerous examples of how anti-Israel activism morphs into anti-Semitic actions. Many students across the country report feeling intimidated, bullied and threatened because of their Jewish identity or pro-Israel feelings.

A recently settled suit against San Francisco State University was precipitated by the exclusion of the school’s Hillel chapter from a “Know Your Rights” fair. According to one of the organizers, Professor Rahab Abdulhadi of the General Union of Palestine Studies at the university explained that the campus Hillel was disinvited from the event because Hillel was deemed to be “a privileged white group.” (This is exceedingly ironic because in the 1930s, there were quotas against the admitting “Jews and other inferior races” into the United States.)

In April, Rebecca Thau, a student at Harvard University and president of the Hillel’s Undergraduate Steering Committee, released a statement saying that the campus’s Israel Apartheid Week was “vilifying students for their commitments and even their heritages, turning students away from—rather than toward—one another, and preventing meaningful conversation.”

Jewish students at Emory University in Atlanta were targeted with “eviction notices” posted on their dorm rooms as a means of protesting Israeli policy by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP is one of the most prominent campus groups promoting BDS.

Golda Daphna, a student a Columbia University, wrote that the marginalization of Jews on campus through events like Israel Apartheid Week has the effect of making her and others conclude that they “do not feel at home in America because of our anti-Semitic college experience.”

Many university administrators claim that they do not know where free speech ends and harassment, intimidations and threatening language begin. Our constitutionally inscribed First Amendment rights are extremely precious to us all. But educational settings have a very fine line to walk. While ensuring freedom of speech, they also have an obligation to protect students from psychological and emotional harassment so that the environment is conducive to learning.

There are many protections for many minority groups within the educational setting.

However, the one group that has been more singled out for abuse than any other, according to national data—Jews, and particularly, Jewish students—have absolutely no legal protections.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that university administrators say they have no definition of anti-Semitism, so they cannot recognize it when they see it. In order to answer this need Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019 in March.

The goal of the bill is to extend the same Title VI protections to Jewish students as most other minority groups have on college campuses. The definition that the bill provides is the very same one the U.S. State Department uses when instructing diplomats as to how to recognize and call out anti-Semitism.

The bill uses the definition published in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as the relevant one for the legislation. Important to note is that within this definition is “denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming the state of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Given the growing problem of anti-Semitism on campus, it’s time for the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and introduce a companion measure to the Senate bill. Such legislation would protect Jewish students who are threatened by BDS-inspired intimidation and discrimination on U.S. college campuses.

If the House can get this legislation passed, it would be because it took a lesson from Germany on how to define and fight anti-Semitism.

It’s about time we follow Germany’s lead on this long overdue legislation before we are forced to learn their lessons of history.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

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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