columnBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

The ugly truth about BDS and campus anti-Semitism

While some on the left disparage Trump’s executive order, research uncovers the common ground shared by the BDS movement and the far right, as well as terror supporters.

Protesters in Berlin hold a Palestinian flag and the initials of the anti-Israel BDS movement while then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Germany in August 2019. Credit: Israel Hayom.
Protesters in Berlin hold a Palestinian flag and the initials of the anti-Israel BDS movement while then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Germany in August 2019. Credit: Israel Hayom.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

In the week since President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order about enforcing Title VI protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Jewish students subjected to anti-Semitism on college campuses, efforts to discredit the move have continued to be heard. Both left-wing groups and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media, like The New York Times, are working to create the impression that the government’s determination to protect students against hate from the BDS movement is a controversial scheme that will repress free speech and hurt Jewish students more than it will help them.

The order was opposed by openly anti-Zionist groups such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voices for Peace, as well as J Street, which still claims to be pro-Israel but whose links to the anti-Trump resistance obligate it to oppose just about anything the president does. The two separate features published by the Times in the past few days on the topic show just how determined some in the media are to portray support for BDS on college campuses as idealistic activism endangered by a repressive administration. BDS backers were portrayed sympathetically, and the articles quoted more Jewish opponents of Trump’s decision than supporters.

As far as Trump’s critics are concerned, the talk of campus anti-Semitism from both the government and mainstream Jewish groups that support the order, including some that are deeply critical of Trump, like the Anti-Defamation League, is a subterfuge whose true aim is to suppress voices of dissent on Israel. But a new report titled “The New Anti-Semites,” authored by Marc Greendorfer of the Zachor Legal Institute and published by, is a powerful antidote to the disinformation about BDS being spread by those who wish to undermine efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to enforce the law and protect Jewish students.

The report is required reading for all those whose view of the issue is distorted by their distaste for Trump. It examines in excruciating detail the numerous incidents of anti-Semitic incitement related to the BDS movement around the world and in the United States, including those involving Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that the Times attempts to whitewash.

This will be frightening reading material for any Jewish parent in the process of sending their child off to college. But what makes it so important is that Greendorfer’s research proves the case that Trump’s order is, I wrote last week, not only a product of a legal consensus about which both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations concurred, but a necessary response to a rising tide of anti-Semitism that has spread to North American campuses.

The report also makes the direct connection between the anti-Semitic activities of groups like SJP and the definition of anti-Semitism promulgated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That definition, which was cited by Trump—and has been accepted by dozens of countries and the U.S. State Department—makes clear that demonizing Israel and its supporters, and judging it by double standards that are applied to no other nation, is classic anti-Semitism. And that’s exactly what the BDS movement does every day, along with other examples of hatemongering that are antithetical to the squeaky clean false image of advocacy for human rights that the Times ascribes to its members.

Yet there is more in Greendorfer’s report than just a familiar litany of familiar awfulness on the part of the BDS movement. “The New Anti-Semites” is invaluable because it also illustrates three key points that debunk the efforts to defend an indefensible alliance of Jew-haters.

There is no way to defend or rationalize the BDS movement without being compromised by its anti-Semitic purpose, discourse and conduct.

The first is his unpacking of the myth that BDS is rooted in non-violence and an effort to work for peace. Those who rationalize BDS claim that its founder, Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, had as his goal an effort to work for coexistence, rather than violence between Israelis and Palestinians. This is false. Barghouti’s goal has always been the elimination of the one Jewish state on the planet. Its purpose has never been merely to pressure Israel to withdraw from the West Bank or to change Israeli government policies. Despite the claims that BDS activists are working for human rights, those who support BDS are working for a goal that is a formula for endless war, not peace.

Second, the report also details the troubling overlap between Palestinian groups funding and supporting BDS, and those who also promote terrorism. It’s not just that American pro-BDS activists engage in anti-Semitic invective and work for an anti-Semitic goal, they have also aligned themselves with Palestinian groups that are both violent and themselves engaged in the spreading of Jew-hatred.

The third and equally sobering fact that Greendorfer brings to light is the way the BDS movement has found strange bedfellows on the far right of the political spectrum. This is hardly surprising since left- and right-wing extremists have historically always found common ground when it comes to anti-Semitism. However, it’s more than a bit ironic in this case since those who disparage Trump’s efforts to counter campus anti-Semitism often claim that attention paid to left-wing anti-Semitism is a distraction from the threat coming from the far-right. Yet the BDS movement is receiving strong support from right-wing hatemongers like David Duke, racist media sites such as Stormfront and neo-Nazi groups in the United States and in Europe.

Far from representing resistance to right-wing hate, the BDS movement is merely providing it with talking points and bolstering its efforts to delegitimize Jews and Israel.

“The New Anti-Semites” should make for sobering reading for Jews and other Americans who may dislike Trump, yet still want to support the fight against anti-Semitism. There is no way to defend or rationalize the BDS movement without being compromised by its anti-Semitic purpose, discourse and conduct. Those who oppose Trump’s order may claim they are defending the moral high ground and free speech, but they are actually rolling in the mud with the worst sort of anti-Semites and supporters of terrorism.

 Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin. 

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