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What Harvard students get wrong about BDS

Author: Jacob Baime

Just hours after people across the globe commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day 2022, one of the oldest and most revered student newspapers, The Harvard Crimson proudly endorsed the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, in an editorial that likened Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. The fact that budding journalists at one of the country’s most selective colleges would spread such a lie is shocking but not surprising. This is not all that uncommon on campuses these days; scores of students and faculty have been convinced they are supporting a nonviolent, peaceful movement for Palestinian independence, without understanding what they are truly backing.

The Crimson’s comparison of Israel to South Africa under apartheid is clue No. 1 that Crimson editors have had the wool pulled over their eyes. South Africa’s racist regime was explicitly based on eugenicist pseudo-science; racism was so integral to the apartheid system that it prohibited marriages and even sexual relations between “whites” and “non-whites.” Apartheid stripped non-whites of the right to participate in government. In many cases, families were torn apart when South Africa classified parents as white and their children non-white. The apartheid regime established separate public facilities for whites and non-whites in order to minimize contact between the races.

In stark contrast, Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. Nearly 2 million Israeli Arabs enjoy political rights and freedoms that would otherwise be denied to them in neighboring Arab countries. Muslim Arabs currently serve in Israel’s highest positions, including its Parliament and on its Supreme Court. Israel’s democracy provides robust representation for minority groups: The current government is actually dependent on a party, Ra’am, with Islamic religious foundations. Israel is the only place in the Middle East where tens of thousands of people can march for LGBTQ+ pride, and, what’s more, more than 160,000 Israeli citizens are Black people rescued from Ethiopia.

If the character and health of a democracy are seen in the way it treats its minorities, Israel, though imperfect, is a beacon. In fact, Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence proclaims that the state “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” Israel, like America, is a work in progress — we must be willing to engage in difficult conversations about how and where Israeli society falls short. Israelis do so every day. That’s one of the reasons tiny Israel has nearly as many non-governmental organizations per capita as the United States. But BDS activists are entirely disinterested in having nuanced, informed and respectful discussions about how Israel can improve. They want to batter, not better, the Jewish state.

BDS paints a simplistic and utterly false picture of Israel as an oppressor, colonial state.

And it seeks to persuade institutions to economically “de-normalize” the world’s only Jewish state, arguing that Jewish people have no claim to sovereignty in any part of their ancient homeland. It also claims it is fighting for Palestinian human rights and peace. However, BDS does not want peace. It categorically rejects a two-state solution. On campus student groups that promote BDS will often not even come to the table to talk with pro-Israel students. BDS’ founder, Omar Barghouti, has on occasion been honest about BDS’ goals: “we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”

The BDS movement’s sole purpose is the destruction of the only Jewish state and haven for Jews, who before Israel’s establishment were persecuted, discriminated against and murdered for centuries. Indeed, most Jewish Israelis are descendants of those who fled, or were kicked out of, Arab or Muslim countries in which they had lived for centuries; they are more likely to hail from Morocco than from Germany.

Even worse than the lies, BDS activists are not content boycotting Israel; they are now attempting to boycott and exclude Jews, particularly on college campuses. For example, the BDS group at Brown University forced the cancellation of a speech by transgender activist Janet Mock since it was co-sponsored by the Jewish student organization, Hillel, because it claimed that “Hillel [supports] the Israeli state’s policies of occupation and racial apartheid.” In Canada, a University of Toronto campus voted to ban kosher food, claiming that providers “normalize Israeli apartheid.” When hostilities erupted between Palestinians and Israel last May, a Stanford University Jewish student was told, “I’m not going to talk to you, Nazi,” when merely asking a question about a class assignment; another Stanford student was told, “Don’t talk to me if you’re Jewish.” Scholars from the AMCHA Initiative have found that “[s]chools that are promoting BDS or other kinds of anti-Zionist rhetoric…are three to eight times more likely to have incidents that target Jewish students for harm,” including physical assault, harassment, the suppression of speech, and destruction of property.

The Crimson’s stated commitment to “unambiguously oppose and condemn anti-Semitism in every and all forms” falls flat in the context of its editorial. Zionism as a political movement may have originated in the 19th century, but the Jewish right to self-determination remains an integral component of Jewish identity.

The Crimson’s dangerous editorial is a warning sign since we know that what happens on campus does not stay on campus. It is vital that students, and all Americans, do their own research and not blindly buy the BDS pack of lies.

Baime is chief executive officer of the Israel on Campus Coalition.

Originally published in New York Daily News