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The BDS Movement: Is BDS Causing a Rise in Anti-Semitism?

Anti-BDS resolutions, legislation, and advocacy claim that BDS is the main influence on an ‘alarming rise in anti-Semitism.’ Is there a rise in anti-Semitism, and is the cause the BDS movement?

According to FBI statistics, Jewish citizens in the U.S. are most likely to be victimized by religious hate crimes. Religious hate crimes make up 17% of all hate crimes, and 60% of those are aimed at Jewish citizens. 

In 2009, an ADL poll showed anti-Semitism to be significant, but at a historic low -- 12% in the U.S.
Kat Bullington, IVN Author

Many polls measuring anti-Semitism have come out recently. Most shocking is the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100, which suggests that 25% of the world is anti-Semitic. Kenneth Marcus’ Brandeis Center poll, released in February 2015, showed that 54% of Jewish students feel they have witnessed anti-Semitism on campus. Both polls have been criticized for methodology, however — the Brandeis Center poll for allowing participants to self-identify what constitutes anti-Semitism, and the ADL study for using flimsy criteria for anti-Semitism.

See part 2 of this series: How do we define anti-Semitism?

In 2009, an ADL poll showed anti-Semitism to be significant, but at a historic low — 12% in the U.S. Five years later, Abe Foxman, outgoing head of the ADL, declared anti-Semitism was at its worst since WWII. The main focus of Foxman’s worry is Europe.

BBC examined the claims of rising anti-Semitism, and found steady decreases in the U.S., Germany, and France, from 2002 to 2012. The two states historically known for low incidents of anti-Semitism — the UK and Sweden — showed increases. Every country, except the U.S., saw spikes in anti-Semitism correlate with the 2009 and 2012 conflicts between Israel and Gaza.

Foxman stated in his interview with the Times of Israel:

“I don’t think that anti-Semitism is rampant on the campus. I think that’s hype. I don’t think BDS is rampant on the campus. I think that’s hype. But something is happening to Jewish kids.”

Despite Foxman’s view that BDS and anti-Semitism are not rampant in the U.S., he laments that Jewish students are afraid to wear Jewish symbols on campus, because they fear being singled out as supporters of Israel.

Are our kids afraid to face uncomfortable spaces?

Even if anti-Semitism is not rampant, accusations are.

AMCHA Intiative, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the ADL have publicized lists of those they deem anti-Semitic by association with BDS, or due to anti-Israel activities. Also, lawfare against BDS activity, and anti-Israel speech, is putting students, teachers, businesses, and civil rights groups on the defensive.

Virginia’s George Mason University landed on the Freedom Center’s list of most anti-Semitic schools in 2014. The university, and its students, insist that the campus environment is not anti-Semitic.

A Jewish GMU student, interviewed by Washington Jewish Week about the designation, said she wears her star of David without fear, and does not feel attacked for being Jewish. George Mason is a safe University for Jewish students, she concluded.

Pennsylvania State Representative Matt Baker co-sponsored the state’s anti-BDS House Resolution 370. Asked if he verified the language, “The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish State,” in his resolution, he provided a support e-mail from Hank Butler, executive director of the PA Jewish Coalition. The email cited several cases of anti-Semitism at Pennsylvania colleges.

None of the colleges, however, in comments for this article, could confirm that they have seen a rise in anti-Semitism, or that any anti-Semitic activity was related to BDS demonstrations on campus. Baker said that his research staff did not look into the cases, but only researched a similar resolution from Tennessee.

Looking into the Baker support cases

In an email response for this article, Butler, of PA Jewish Coalition, explained his belief that BDS is inherently anti-Semitic:

“Supporters of the BDS efforts against Israel promote anti-Semitism. Israel (which is very culturally diverse) is a country known world-wide as the Jewish State. BDS supports have also called for the removal of the Zionist state. How could one not consider BDS against Israel and Anti-Semitism to be related?”

Can Israel be a 'Jewish state' and a Democracy?

According to the ADL and many other anti-BDS groups, a call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as stipulated in UN resolutions, would overwhelm the Jewish demographics of Israel. From this perspective, the right to return is politicide for Israel as a ‘Jewish state.’ Some also fear civil war if the populations were to merge.

Demographic arguments are “extremely racist,” says Naomi Dann of Jewish Voice for Peace, which advocates for BDS. She added, Arabs can be Jews too.

As Israel continues to bulldoze Palestinian property in occupied territories and build blockaded Israeli settlements in their place, Palestinians increasingly have nowhere to go. Israel is responsible for the care of Palestinians because they are occupying Palestinian land.

See part 1 of this series: The BDS Movement: Anti-Semitism or a call for human rights in the U.S.?

While grievances are addressed to Israel for long held, internationally recognized violations of law and human rights, they are not addressed to Jewish people, but to the political state of Israel.

On the other hand, Simon Bronner, a member of the American Studies Association, alleges that the word ‘Israel’ was replaced with the word ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ in heated debates about BDS in meetings that led to ASA’s support for BDS.

In response to inquiry about the ASA meeting for this article, David Lloyd, also an ASA member, stated:

“I attended all the ASA meetings where the boycott resolution was discussed and can assure you that there was no expression of anti-Semitism of any kind.  In almost every case, such charges are an attempt to smear the BDS campaign by deliberately confusing criticism of a state and its policies and practices with an attack on an ethnicity or a religious group.  This has been a calculated strategy of the anti-BDS campaigners for a considerable time.”

Lisa Duggan, the president of ASA at the time of the BDS meetings, also replied, confirming, “There was never any anti-Semitism expressed by any member of ASA that I heard, but only critiques of Israeli government policies.”

There were no transcripts of the meetings to investigate further.

Bronner said that though he voted against the ASA’s adoption of a BDS resolution, and he thinks that BDS is anti-Semitic, he does not agree with legislation against it.

“We shouldn’t be answering a boycott with another boycott,” he said.

It is not clear that the language in anti-BDS resolutions, and legislation, is accurate. Further, legal actions preempt debate on BDS.

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of a 4-part series on the BDS movement and

Photo Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com