BDS Attacks Come to the Triangle

Israel, Durham City Council, Israel Resolution

What is BDS?

BDS is the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel. BDS targets only one country — Israel — which is the only country with a Jewish majority population. 

During a 2019 interview, the co-founder and leader of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, explained that boycotting Israel would continue even after the establishment of a Palestinian state. In other words, the BDS movement denies the very right of Israel to exist.

BDS Rejects the Right of Israel to Exist

Barghouti does not hide the BDS movement’s goal: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

The BDS Movement website refers to the “right of return” as “the most important of all Palestinian rights.” For many BDS activists and leaders, this envisions a one state solution in which millions of Palestinians move into Israel — not into the future state of Palestine — thus eliminating Israel. In Barghouti’s own words, “If the refugees were to return, you would not have a two-state solution, you’d have a Palestine next to a Palestine.”

BDS Demonizes Israel with False Accusations of Apartheid

One of the ways BDS activists and anti-Zionists attack Israel is by the false and defamatory accusation that Israel practices apartheid. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) responds: “Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to organize politically, the right to vote and the right to speak and publish freely. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis serve as members of Israel’s security forces, are elected to parliament and appointed to the country’s highest courts. They are afforded equal educational opportunities, and there are ongoing initiatives to further improve the economic standing of all of Israel’s minorities. These facts serve as a counter to the apartheid argument, and demonstrate that Israel is committed to democratic principles and equal rights for all its citizens.”

In the New York Times column Why Israel Is Nothing Like Apartheid South Africa, a South African journalist explains, “I am acutely aware of Israel’s problems and faults, but it is nothing like South Africa before 1994. Those who accuse Israel of apartheid — some even say, ‘worse than apartheid’ — have forgotten what actual apartheid was, or are ignorant, or malevolent.”
Tshediso Mangope, a member of the African National Congress, explained, “The argument by BDS supporters that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved with a one-state solution, following the South African model of democracy, is false and dangerous. This assessment is heavily supported by my experiences in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as my experiences as a black South African who experienced apartheid…Expecting people with a bitter history of persecution, like the Jewish people, to abandon the idea of a Jewish state, the only state that has guaranteed them freedom and security, is not only unreasonable, but also unfair.”

BDS in North Carolina

Here in North Carolina, BDS activists refer to themselves as anti-Zionists and have attacked and harmed the Jewish community. Most notably, the local chapter of the euphemistically named Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) led the campaign to have the Durham City Council pass the “Israel Resolution” which made Durham the first city in the U.S. to boycott police training specifically with Israel. 11 local rabbis referred to this as a “punch in the gut” to the Jewish community.

Tweet by local BDS organization identifying themselves as anti-Zionists.

In 2018, BDS activists led by JVP went to Durham City Hall and told the Mayor and City Council lies saying that Israel is the last country in the world to respect human rights and Israel trains U.S. police officers to return to the U.S. as killers. JVP’s petition — signed by six out of seven council members before being delivered to the Council to be turned into the “Israel Resolution” —basely alleged that training American police in Israel “helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the U.S.” 

In 2018, a local JVP leader wrote a public email to five fellow JVP members and to Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson opposing a leader of the Durham Hispanic community as a candidate for Durham City Council because the candidate, a Latino woman, attends Beth El Synagogue. Rather than distance themselves from their leader’s antisemitic email, JVP recently doubled down on hate by featuring a picture on social media of this leader attending an August, 2019 JVP leadership retreat.

BDS and Anti-Zionism in Our Jewish Institutions 

Love of Israel is a basic tenet of our mainstream Jewish institutions and synagogues. In 2018 the Union of Reform Judaism proclaimed that “Zionism and love of Israel” are “core beliefs and central tenets of North American Reform Jewish life.” The Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill explains, “We view Israel as a core element of Jewish life.” A goal of Hillel International is to “inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel and to Israelis.”

The BDS inspired Israel hatred in the Triangle area became very concrete when a local synagogue board member, who is a also a BDS activist in the role of a JVP leader, announced on social media that they encouraged the Durham City Council to single out Israel in its now infamous “Israel Resolution.” This BDS activist even bragged on Twitter, “I am…a leader in my synagogue.” Many community and congregation members were dismayed to find out that a synagogue leader used their status as a synagogue board member to promote BDS with local government. This same individual currently co-chairs this same synagogue’s Adult Education Committee. The past co-chair of this same committee is also a local JVP leader. Thus, the very synagogue committee that was charged with planning Israel-related programming has been led by anti-Israel activists. This committee even went so far as to publish a website with the synagogue’s picture and name linking it to anti-Israel, pro BDS materials. Thankfully this website was taken offline. With so many BDS supporters in key leadership positions, it is sadly no surprise that this same synagogue featured a BDS presentation led by a JVP activist. 

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism and a past rabbi at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, warns, “BDS speakers have no place in American synagogues. They do not simply oppose Israeli policies; they oppose Israel’s very existence.”

BDS in Local Academia

Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are academic leaders in BDS activism and anti-Israel demonization.

Duke University Press: BDS’s Publisher of Choice

In the article Ivory Tower Bigots, Tablet Magazine explained, “for those seeking an ardently anti-Zionist classroom, Duke University Press has found its scholarly niche as the BDS movement’s publisher of choice.” 

In 2017 Duke University Press published the Right to Maim by Jasbir Puar, a BDS leader. In the book — which one historian called “academic garbage” — Puar writes about what she calls “Israeli tactical calculations of settler colonial rule – that of creating injury and maintaining Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.” Puar states, “Debilitation is extremely profitable economically and ideologically for Israel’s settler colonial regime.”

In the “The Right to Maim,” Puar presents thinly veiled comparisons of Israelis to Nazis when she wonders if Gaza is “not a death camp but a debilitation camp,” asks, “Is Gaza an experimental lab for the production, maintenance, and profitability of biopolitical debilitation?” and states, “The understanding of maiming as a specific aim of biopolitics tests the framing of settler colonialism as a project of elimination of the indigenous through either genocide or assimilation.” It is important to note that according to the State Department, one example of antisemitism is “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

As reported in 2018 by a Voice4Israel board member, seven members of Duke University Press’ Editorial Advisory Board, charged with granting “final approval” to manuscripts, have signed initiatives related to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. An eighth member of this board promoted BDS on social media. In other words, a majority of Duke University Press’ Editorial Advisory Board supports BDS related initiatives against Israel. In addition, at least three of their staff members are anti-Israel activists. The official Duke University Press Twitter account has made more than 20 Tweets which include “#BDS.” Considering its staff, advisers, and social media presence, it is no surprise that Duke University Press has a long, disgraceful history of publishing anti-Israel and antisemitic screeds camouflaged as scholarly work.

Antisemitic UNC/Duke Conference

In 2019 the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies hosted the “Conflict Over Gaza” conference which was in reality, three days of anti-Israel indoctrination. North Carolina Congressman George Holding asked the Department of Education to investigate this conference writing, “According to first-hand accounts, the conference had a radical anti-Israel bias…A video recently surfaced depicting the main musical performer, rapper Tamer Nafar, singing a brazenly antisemitic song.” 

Nafar encouraged his audience to sing along with him, saying “I cannot be antisemitic alone.” After the video of this antisemitic performance was made public, this conference became national and international news (see video above).

Many speakers at this joint UNC/Duke conference were BDS activists. For just one example, in a single conference presentation, titled “The (De) Development of Gaza: Economy, Women, and Youth,” both speakers, Sara Roy and Laila El-Haddad, and the moderator, Rebecca Stein, were all on record as having supported various boycotts of Israel. Perhaps the blatant antisemitism on display at this BDS oriented conference even surprised UNC and Duke officials because halfway through the event a conference organizer demanded that audience members stop recording. A Voice4Israel board member attempting to document the academic sponsored antisemitism on display was ordered by an event organizer to cease.

While the antisemitic song at the conference made big news, there were many other deeply troubling aspects of this UNC/Duke conference (read a three part conference report: part 1, part 2, part 3). For example, a Jewish student at Duke politely approached a presenter during a break. The presenter, a BDS activist, refused to speak with him but then spent considerable time at the conference speaking with anti-Israel activists. Those who observed these interactions report that it felt like a boycott of Jewish students. This raises the question — are some faculty and officials at UNC and Duke encouraging or allowing Jewish students to be treated differently and discriminatorily on campus?

BDS Apologists and Appeasers

Some BDS apologists, including some well-meaning Jewish leaders, are quick to say, “Not all BDS activists oppose the right of Israel to exist” and “Not all BDS activists are antisemitic.” 

Under President Obama’s leadership, the State Department of the United States provided three examples of ways which “anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel.” Demonizing Israel, holding Israel to double standards, and delegitimizing Israel. A fourth has recently been added: comparing Israel to the Nazis. The BDS movement consistently does all four.

At Voice4Israel, we fully support freedom of speech. This freedom includes our right to speak out against the bigotry and antisemitism that BDS promotes, attracts, embraces, and tolerates.

Lessons Learned from Local BDS Attacks

In 2018, the mainstream Jewish community and our allies suffered a terrible “punch in the gut” when the Durham North Carolina City Council compromised with BDS activists to make Durham the first city in the United States to boycott police trainings specifically with Israel. As terrible as this has been, one silver lining is that many local Jews, Jewish leaders, and our allies have become aware of the anti-Israel bigotry that BDS activists advocate in our community. 

Local synagogues and Jewish institutions are waking up to the reality that Jewish leaders need to be vigilant in supporting and safeguarding the values of our beloved Jewish institutions. 

Other Resources on BDS

The Voice4Israel suggests exploring the links below:

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