Brooklyn College – Zionist Attempt to Ban BDS Seminar Backfires
Brooklyn College – Zionist Attempt to Ban BDS Seminar Backfires
The Tranquil Campus of Brooklyn College – Scene of Attempts by Zionists and other fascists to abolish freedom of speech
Palestinian and supporters outside Brooklyn College demanding the right to tell their story
Zionist Allegations of ‘Anti-Semitism’ and a ‘Second Holocaust’ Backfire
The saying ‘Those whom the gods seek to destroy they first drive mad’ is attributed to Euripides. If Euripides or whoever coined the saying had seen the efforts of the Zionist movement and its propagandists to ban a seminar on BDS at New York’s Brooklyn College and their disdain for freedom of speech he would have shaken his head. Judith Butler, a Jewish philosophy professor at the University of California and Omar Barghouti, who has spearheaded the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, were due to speak at a meeting on BDS. This was too much for the Zionists. Alan Dershowitz, Harvard’s Professor of Torture was prominent amongst those villifying and seeking the cancellation of the seminar. However the Principal of Brooklyn College stood firm in support of academic freedom. This was too much for lunatics like Democrat Assemblyman Dov Hikind. In a post ‘HIKIND CALLS FOR BROOKLYN COLLEGE PRESIDENT’S RESIGNATION’ he states that ‘Karen Gould is a nice person. But she is a disaster for Brooklyn College students.” Presumably it would be beneficial for students of Brooklyn to have the methods of the Police State introduced into what can and can’t be discussed at the college.
But, as increasingly happens these days, the wholly false and synthetic campaign backfired. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City pithily opposed this attempt by the Zionist fanatics to dictate what could and could not be discussed on campuses by threatening the funding of colleges in question. “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion,” he said, “I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.” The New York Times, hardly known as a pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist paper weighed in with an editorial Litmus Tests criticising those who would seek to outlaw freedom of speech on campuses. Interestingly in the sub-text, with its reference to the nomination of Chuck Hagel, the message is being conveyed that US lawmakers should begin differentiating US from Israeli interests.
Increasingly the Zionist movement, with its shrill and false cries of ‘anti-Semitism’ is increasingly turning people off. Unable to win the argument or show what is wrong with BDS, as a non-violent method of persuading Israel to stop occupying Palestinian land and to treat its own Palestinian citizens as equals, is a bad idea, it tries to outlaw criticism instead. But the Zionists are all in favour of sanctions when it comes to Iran and any other country deemed an enemy.
The first report below is from the Israeli 972mag followed by an Opinion piece in the New York Times making the case for academic freedom. An article, West of Eden, in Israel’s liberal Ha’aretz points out how the Zionist tactics are becoming increasingly self-defeating. There follows a video and transcript of an interview with Omar Barghouti, one of the speakers and the transcript of Judith Butler’s speech.
– the man who launched a campaign to deny Norman Finkelstein academic
tenure and a plagiarist. He advocated the institutionalisation of
torture with the introduction of a ‘warrant for torture’
NEW YORK — After more than a week of controversy, including an editorial in the New York Times and a statement from Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn College hosted a discussion of BDS with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti and nothing happened. That fact alone seems worthy of a story these days.
In a post for +972, Mairav Zonszein wrote eloquently about the outrageous attempts to intimidate the college into canceling the event. Alan Dershowitz started the whole controversy, but New York City public officials were quick to follow, with several threatening to cut the college’s funding. The New York Times published an editorial of quiet dismay, noting that “critics have used heated language to denigrate the speakers,” adding, “The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests.”
Mayor Bloomberg expressed himself a bit more bluntly. “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion,” he said, “I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
And after all that, the event turned out to be a non-event. An audience of about 300 people sat quietly and listened to Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti speak, which they did — without interruption. People lined up quietly to ask questions at the microphone during the Q&A. As always, there were a few eccentrics who made statements, usually of the UFO variety, instead of asking questions. There was some post-panel schmoozing in another room, with books for sale laid out on a table and Omar Barghouti sitting behind another table to sign his tome on BDS.
And then everyone went home.
There were no heated arguments and no disturbances. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. No-one shouted “death to Israel”or anything remotely similar — except a contingent of Neturei Karta, who always show up at this type of Palestine-related event.
Neturei Karta at Brooklyn College
I’m always a bit disturbed to see BDS advocates, who talk about Palestinian rights in the same breath as LGBT rights and feminism, rush to photograph and be photographed with these men, whose beliefs and lifestyle tolerate neither homosexuality nor women’s rights. Anyway, they were the only ones shouting that Israel must end, it had no right to exist, etc.
Outside the student building there was also a small group of young Orthodox men, accompanied by New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who was particularly involved in trying to intimidate Brooklyn College into canceling the event. One man, who wore the black fedora of an Orthodox Jew, handed me a photocopied page titled WHY BDS IS THE SAME AS AL QAEDA. On Facebook, someone posted a photograph of a page distributed at the college by a group calling itself Mobilization for Israel. EMERGENCY RALLY AGAINST HAMAS SPEECH, it announces.
Flier handed out at Brooklyn College
But despite all the semi-coherent drama of the flier, only a handful of protestors showed up. They did not try to stop anyone from entering the student building where the event was held, nor did they try to enter themselves. Up on the sixth floor I could hear them outside on the street, faintly. They sang “David, Melekh Yisrael,” (David, King of Israel) and shouted a few semi-audible slogans for the first part of Judith Butler’s talk. But soon they dispersed and there was no sign of them when we came out.
But the college and the city clearly anticipated trouble. There was a heavy police presence, both uniformed and plainclothes officers, outside the student building and inside. They were supplemented by uniformed college security and volunteer marshalls who kept the sidewalk clear, checked IDs and made sure all the people queued up for the event were on the list. Everyone had to submit to a bag search and go through a metal detector. The metal buckles on my boots beeped, earning me a pat down. It would have felt just like being back at home in Israel, except it was freezing cold outside and everyone was remarkably courteous — friendly, even.
According to an email I received yesterday, the event was filled to capacity — but there were at least 20 empty seats, possibly because the speakers started exactly on time, while the people who had been waitlisted were still going through security. No-one was admitted during the talks, to avoid causing a disturbance.
The audience was a mixed bag of the usual suspects. There were political activists, many of them Jewish “red diaper baby” types. There was also a very heavy Arab Muslim presence, noticeable because many of the women wore the hijab. And journalists, of course.
I was impressed by Judith Butler’s remarks, in which she touched on issues of free speech, BDS as a nonviolent civil society movement, the definition of anti-Semitism, and Jewish identity — all in her inimitably dense, intellectual and erudite style. You can read the text of her talk on The Nation’s website. Below is an excerpt:
One could be for the BDS movement as the only credible non-violent mode of resisting the injustices committed by the state of Israel without falling into the football lingo of being “pro” Palestine and “anti” Israel. This language is reductive, if not embarrassing. One might reasonably and passionately be concerned for all the inhabitants of that land, and simply maintain that the future for any peaceful, democratic solution for that region will become thinkable through the dismantling of the occupation, through enacting the equal rights of Palestinian minorities and finding just and plausible ways for the rights of refugees to be honored. If one holds out for these three aims in political life, then one is not simply living within the logic of the “pro” and the “anti”, but trying to fathom the conditions for a “we”, a plural existence grounded in equality.
Barghouti’s speech was less intellectual and more populist. I did not like it, not because I disagreed with anything he said, but because I dislike populism and am suspicious of speakers who rely on their charm to ingratiate themselves with audiences. He read out a long laundry list of Israel’s evil deeds (none of which I dispute), followed by a lengthy explanation of why he was not anti-Semitic, with liberal quotes from Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Shulamit Aloni and Avraham Burg, amongst others. He also gave a shout-out to Israeli Jewish partners of BDS, specifically the Boycott from Within movement. The audience responded positively.
Omar Barghouti – founder of the Boycott National Committee speaks at Brooklyn College
This event at Brooklyn College should have been a minor one. If the subject of discussion had been anything but Palestine-Israel, there would have been a very small audience indeed. Not many people are willing to take a subway to the last stop on the 2 line on a cold February night in order to sit for more than two hours on uncomfortable folding plastic chairs in a bare room lit by fluorescent strip lighting. But thanks to people like Alan Dershowitz and Dov Hikind, they came out in pretty impressive numbers. The minor event became a big deal.
Besides the deeply shameful attempts of Dershowitz, Hikind, et al to limit freedom of expression in a liberal democracy, I am pondering a few other things as I write this post. Despite all the publicity, only a very small group of hardcore Orthodox Jewish men — yeshiva boy types — showed up to protest this event. And they did not last long. Also, it is very interesting to see how the hardcore “My Israel right or wrong” types in the Jewish community have split off from the liberal, Obama-supporting majority of the Jewish community. The latter are uncomfortable with strong criticism of Israel, with many seeing BDS as an ideologically suspect movement, but there is no way they will come out to demonstrate against academic freedom and free speech.
So we had a Jewish mayor making a strong statement in support of academic freedom and free expression; we had a Jewish philosopher, Judith Butler, speaking in support of BDS and freedom of expression; we had a certain Jewish Harvard professor who equates any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism; we had some marginalized hasidic Jews who hate Israel and want it to cease existing; and we had a handful of yeshiva boys who actually believe BDS is the same as Hamas, which is a reincarnation of Nazism, and who equate unquestioning support of Israel with love of God and Torah. Which is so beyond absurd that I can’t even think of an adjective. Sorry.
Often, I feel as though the whole Palestine issue is more about the divisions within the Jewish community than about actual Palestinians.
One dispiriting lesson from Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary is the extent to which the political space for discussing Israel forthrightly is shrinking. Republicans focused on Israel more than anything during his confirmation hearing, but they weren’t seeking to understand his views. All they cared about was bullying him into a rigid position on Israel policy. Enforcing that kind of orthodoxy is not in either America’s or Israel’s interest.
Brooklyn College is facing a similar trial for scheduling an event on Thursday night with two speakers who support an international boycott to force Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories. While this page has criticized Israeli settlements, we do not advocate a boycott. We do, however, strongly defend the decision by the college’s president, Karen Gould, to proceed with the event, despite withering criticism by opponents and threats by at least 10 City Council members to cut financing for the college. Such intimidation chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom.
Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator, has repeatedly declared support for Israel and cited 12 years of pro-Israel votes in the Senate. But that didn’t matter to his opponents, who attacked him as insufficiently pro-Israel and refused to accept any deviation on any vote. Mr. Hagel was even forced to defend past expressions of concern for Palestinian victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the Brooklyn College case, critics have used heated language to denigrate the speakers, Omar Barghouti, a leader of a movement called B.D.S., for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, that espouses “nonviolent punitive measures” to pressure Israel, and Judith Butler, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a member of the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports divestment and boycotts. Alan Dershowitz, a Brooklyn College graduate and Harvard law professor, has complained that the event is unbalanced and should not be co-sponsored by the college’s political science department. On Monday, Ms. Gould said other events offering alternative views are planned.
The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.
Professor Judith Butler speaks at the seminar that the Zionists tried to ban as a ‘second holocaust’ – Omar Barghouti looks on
The Brooklyn College BDS debacle highlights the perils of pro-Israeli overkill
Overzealous Israel defenders used a five-megaton bomb to swat a fly, and it blew up in our faces. But Brooklyn is only a harbinger of nasty things to come.
Far more Americans know of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement today than did a week ago. Many millions of people have been exposed for the first time to the idea that Israel should be boycotted, divested and sanctioned for its occupation of the territories. Many more Americans, one can safely assume, have formed a positive image of the BDS movement than those who have now turned against it.
Tafasta merube lo tafasta, the Talmud teaches us: grasp all, lose all. The heavy-handed, hyperbole heavy, all-guns-blazing campaign against what would have been, as Mayor Bloomberg put it, “a few kids meeting on campus” mushroomed and then boomeranged, giving the hitherto obscure BDS activists priceless public relations that money could never buy.
Bill Thompson, a candidate for mayor, has garnered the support
of Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a follower of Meir Kahane and the Jewish
Defense League (Photo via Dov Hikind’s website)
Rather than focusing attention on what BDS critics describe as the movement’s deceitful veneer over its opposition to the very existence of Israel, the disproportionate onslaught succeeded in casting the BDS speakers who came to the Brooklyn campus as freedom-loving victims being hounded and oppressed by the forces of darkness.
Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz’s article about the “hate orgy’ that is being co-sponsored by the College’s Political Science Department may have been tactically ill advised, but Dershowitz is a private citizen and is entitled to free speech, no less than the Israel-baiting speakers invited by the students. The same is true of the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, who took out a large ad in Friday’s New York Times in which he reprimanded Bloomberg for “confusing the issues”, and tried to equate support for the Palestinian “right of return” with anti-Semitism, a point which may have been lost on anyone but the most informed and involved of his readers.
But the true tipping point came when attention-seeking politicians got into the act. When a New York City council member engaged in nuclear overkill by claiming that a meeting of several dozen students in Brooklyn is tantamount to “a second holocaust”. And especially when eager beaver municipal pols – emulating, unfortunately, far too many of their counterparts in Israel – thought it proper to threaten cutting off city funding to a well respected academic institution because of one single student meeting that they found objectionable.
The result of all of this surfeit and excess was a clear-cut, perhaps unprecedented PR coup for BDS and a humiliating defeat for Israel’s interests. When the New York Times and Mayor Bloomberg found it necessary to step in and publicly stand up for a decidedly anti-Israeli movement – whatever one thinks of their true intentions- that only a few had ever heard of before. When the “pro-Israel camp” found itself, not for the first time, portrayed not only as heavy handed but a bit unhinged as well.
The Brooklyn College incident, after all, is far from isolated. It is, in fact, symptomatic. The distressing tone and self-defeating tactics of the most vocal elements of the so-called pro-Israeli camp in America have been the rule, not the exception, in recent years, and they are also bound to backfire on us all.
This inflated and melodramatic nature of what passes as political pro-Israelism was evident to many Americans, as the New York Times correctly noted, in the dismayingly over-the-top inquisition of Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearings in the Senate last week. Senator after senator found it necessary to extract from Hagel meaningless vows of allegiance to Israel and to press him again and again on the etymology and usage of the two or three words he may have used many years ago.
The Armed Services Committee devoted more time to Israel than it did to all the other world trouble spots combined, a proportion no less preposterous, frankly, than the comparison between a college get together and a second Holocaust.
But that’s the way it’s been over the past year, since the Republican debates and primaries and throughout the presidential election campaign: disproportionate, hyperbolic and ultimately counterproductive. Did Obama really “throw Israel under the bus”, as Mitt Romney repeatedly claimed? Did the fact that Obama failed to visit Israel in his first term – as Ronald Reagan before him during his entire eight years – really constitute proof of his undying animosity towards the Jewish state? Was there anything that connected the overwrought campaign against Obama to the complex reality of his policies towards Israel? And was it truly to Israel’s benefit that candidate after Republican candidate found it necessary to vow undying allegiance to Israel in a way that, in some cases, could easily have been confused with an oath of subservience?
Because the sad fact is that far too much of the public discourse on Israel has been dominated and dictated by super-conservatives and ultra-nationalists and the billionaires who fund them. These are people whose visceral hatred for Obama has driven them over the edge, who view any measured or nuanced debate about Israel as treason, who are hell bent on making their observation that liberals are turning away from Israel into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And who usually know very little about the actual Israel they are talking or writing about.
They make mountains out molehills, carve Nazis out of Palestinians, evoke pogroms and massacres from each and every violent incident. They don’t acknowledge the occupation, see nothing wrong with settlements or “Price Tag” violence, turn a blind eye to 46 years of Palestinian disenfranchisement, regardless of whose fault it is. They recognize only one truth, their own, and view all the rest as heresy and abomination. By their narrow definitions, no less than 50% of Israelis who voted in the last elections for parties that support a two-state solution should be condemned – possibly by the U.S. Senate itself – as Israel-hating, Arab-loving defeatists.
This preposterously simplistic portrayal of Israel is bound to backfire. It is dishonest, and therefore self-defeating. It quashes disagreement and abhors true debate. It distances anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to its narrow definitions of what it means to love Israel and to truly support it, warts and all.
And it will eventually erode the genuine bedrock of support that Israel enjoys in America.
It will be like Brooklyn, but on a much grander scale.
They Can’t Hide the Sun: An interview with Omar Barghouti
Feb 07, 2013 02:04 pm | Peter Rugh
continues to swirl around a planned forum scheduled to take place
tonight at Brooklyn College to discuss the growing global boycott,
divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The man at the
center of the storm is Omar Barghouti. In 2005, together with
Palestinian unions and civil society groups, he helped to launch the
call for an international BDS campaign to challenge Israel over its
occupation of Palestine and its racism towards Palestinians.
talked to Peter Rugh about the Brooklyn College controversy, the global
BDS movement and the Arab Spring rebellions across the Arab world,
among other topics. A segment of this interview aired on Free Speech
Radio News and this post first appeared in socialistworker.org. This is
part one of a two-part interview.
Professor Alan Dershowitz – the man who got OJ Simpson off – a fierce opponent of free speech on Israel
What is BDS, and why has it
prompted several pro-Israel advocacy groups and ardent Zionist Alan
Dershowitz to stir up this “controversy” about your appearance at
BDS is a global movement that was formed in
support of the Palestinian civil society BDS call issued in 2005 by the
vast majority of Palestinian political parties, trade unions, women’s
groups, NGOs and so on.
The premise of the BDS movement is that
given the international community’s complicity with Israel’s occupation
and its denial of Palestinian rights, Palestinians cannot achieve our
basic rights under international law without the mobilization of
international civil society organizations. The basic tactic–which was
also employed by the South African anti-apartheid movement–is to cut
off links with Israel and institutions that maintain Israel’s occupation
The BDS call specifically works toward achieving
three basic Palestinian rights: one, ending the occupation of the 1967
territories (including the illegal colonies, the illegal wall, and so
on); two, ending the system of racial discrimination within Israel
against its indigenous Palestinians, who are citizens of the state of
Israel but without equal rights; and three, establishing the right of
return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled and ethnically
cleansed from their homeland in 1948 and ever since. This right of
return is guaranteed under international law.
So BDS is very much
a rights-based movement that’s anchored in universal human rights and
international law. And it calls for boycotting, divesting from, and
eventually sanctions against the state of Israel–as was done against
apartheid South Africa–in order to achieve those Palestinian rights.
It’s the combination of internal popular resistance to Israel’s
occupation and apartheid with the external pressure of boycotts and
divestments that can bring about the change necessary to guarantee our
I spoke to a woman from the Jewish Community Relations
Council in New York, and she had some choice words for you. She
described you as an anti-Semite who has called for the destruction of
the state of Israel, and she said the “one-state solution” you and the
BDS movement advocate is a call for the extermination of the Jewish
state. Another of her criticisms is that BDS creates an atmosphere of
hostility that is counterproductive to peace and harming Palestinian
workers. How would you respond?
This claim is anti-Semitic. Why
do I say that her claim that a call for boycotting Israel is
anti-Semitic is itself anti-Semitic? Because she is equating a boycott
of Israel with a boycott of the Jews–an attack on Israeli policy with
an attack on the Jews. Equating “the Jews” with Israel–as if they were a
monolithic sum of people, without diversity, without human
differences–is an anti-Semitic statement. Saying that Israel speaks for
all Jews, and that all Jews are represented by Israel and carry
collective responsibility for Israel, is a very anti-Semitic statement.
is no one who monopolizes the Jewish voice–in the United States or
anywhere else. There are diverse Jewish groups. Some of our best
partners who are leading BDS campaigns in this country are Jewish, like
Jewish Voices for Peace, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and
many other Jewish groups.
If you go to any random campus across
the United States, and you look at the divestment campaigns waged on
those campuses, you’ll find a disproportionately high number of Jewish
activists. This is something we are very proud of–that many, especially
younger, Jewish Americans are abandoning Zionism and are realizing what
Israel is about.
It’s a colonial state, it’s an apartheid state,
and they do not want such a state to speak in their name, to speak on
their behalf. And they are increasingly joining the cause for justice
The second point is that BDS does not take a position
on whether a one-state or a two-state solution should be pursued in
Palestine. So she’s repeating a myth–it’s a fabrication. Our movement
is totally neutral on the terms of a political settlement to the
But each one of us, as a human and as an activist, has a
position on this, and I’m not ashamed of mine. For 30 years, I’ve
advocated for the one-state solution in my personal capacity. I’ve
researched and written about the one-democratic-state solution in
historic Palestine. That means equality for everyone–irrespective of
identity, ethnicity, religion or any other attribute. And what’s wrong
with that? Why is one-person, one-vote good for every land in the world
except Palestine? Why is it that democracy suddenly becomes a bad thing
Jewish Americans were at the forefront of the civil rights
movement to overturn Jim Crow segregation in the American South. They
stood alongside African Americans calling for equality for everyone,
separation between religion and state, and equal rights for all humans.
But in Israel, pro-Israel groups are defending an apartheid system.
isn’t something only the BDS movement is saying. The famous Jewish
American writer I.F. Stone, as far back as 1967, said that Zionism and
Israel are creating a schizophrenia among Jewish communities. On the one
hand, they are defending civil rights and equality in the countries
where they live, and in Israel, they are defending a set of laws that is
racist, that doesn’t allow mixed marriages, that frowns upon equality,
that rejects equality in a categorical manner. This schizophrenia is
more recognized by younger Jewish activists everywhere, especially in
the United States.
Finally, the idea that BDS is
counterproductive and that it hurts Palestinian workers who work in
Israeli settlements. Let me start off by saying that this is an
exceptionally patronizing, very colonial argument. For someone to have
the chutzpah to claim that she knows what is in the Palestinians’ best
interests more than the Palestinians–that’s the epitome of hypocrisy
Protesters in Ireland call for a boycott of Israel, following the Israeli bombing of Gaza, November 15, 2012.
Photo by AP
The assumption is that we–just because we’re
brown, just because we live the global South–somehow don’t have the
faculty to reason, that we cannot speak about nor understand how to
defend our own best interests, that we need somebody from above, from
the North, a white person, to tell us how to think, how to formulate our
will, and how to express it. This is extremely racist.
putting aside her patronizing outlook for a moment, that Palestinian
workers have to work in Israeli projects, including illegal settlements,
is a testament to the occupation’s corruption and its strangulation of
the Palestinian economy. Israel has systematically destroyed Palestinian
agriculture and industry; it has systematically stolen the best, most
fertile Palestinian land and water resources; and it has made the
Palestinian economy completely dependent on the occupying power.
Palestinian farmers thrown off their lands when they were confiscated
for Jewish-only settlements had no choice but to become workers. Given
the total destruction of the Palestinian economy, the only option for
many people is to work with Israeli projects. Is that ideal? Absolutely
Ending the occupation would allow the Palestinians to build
our own economy and to have our own economic projects, where we wouldn’t
need to be dependent on a colonial power to sustain our lives. We can
build, we can plant, we can produce, we can be creative–if given the
chance. And to get this chance, we need the help of every conscientious
person around the world, including conscientious Jewish persons around
the world, to help us end Israel’s occupation and apartheid, so that we
can carry on with our sustainable development.
You’ve spoken at
countless campuses across the U.S. and around the world. Have you
encountered this kind of vitriol at your other events?
We so far
have yet to experience any disruptions at our campus BDS events in the
U.S. We hope Brooklyn College will be the first and last, but we’re not
assured of that because of the rabid anti-Palestinian sentiments that
have been stirred up. There has been extreme racism and violent language
directed at the event.
Some of the most extreme people behind
these statements are supporters of Meir Kahane and his Kach Party, which
is officially considered a terrorist entity by the U.S. government.
Kach was even barred by the government of Israel at one time from
standing in Israeli elections.
The supporters of this fascist and
fanatical party are the ringleaders of the circus targeting the
Brooklyn College BDS event. They are trying their best to suppress
academic freedom in the United States by saying, “We, the pro-Israel
lobby, get to decide who is allowed to speak on campus and who is not
allowed, what subjects are allowed and what subjects are not allowed to
be discussed on campus.”
They’re destroying the notion of
academic freedom by twisting it around to serve their hard-right,
anti-liberation and anti-Palestinian agenda. To be honest, it’s been
many years since I have faced such vile and violent racism as I have
encountered around this Brooklyn College event. I’ve spoken on campuses
large and small in the last couple years, and we’ve never had any
We continue to hope there won’t be any disruption,
but alas, we are very concerned for our safety. With such incitement to
violence and such racial hatred as has been conveyed by figures such as
Dershowitz and others, I fear for my safety, and I hope that Brooklyn
College will take the necessary steps to prevent these rabid voices from
attacking us and/or disrupting the event.
If they have arguments
against BDS, let’s address them in a civil way. Let them come to the
event, let them listen to Prof. Judith Butler and myself, and then
present their points in a rational, cool-headed manner. Let’s have a
proper debate about it. That’s how rational beings settle and discuss
differences of opinion. This is how society progresses, by discussing
The U.S. is directly, immediately and deeply
responsible for maintaining Israel’s occupation and apartheid through
the billions of dollars that it sends to Israel every year–at the
expense of social justice, at the expense of health care, at the expense
of education here in the U.S. Instead of spending in this country to
improve education, employment opportunities, job training and
environmental protections, the U.S. is sending billions and billions of
dollars to Israel to buy weapons–to kill, to maim, to ethnically
cleanse. This has to stop.
American citizens have an obligation, a
duty and a right to question in order to stop this enormous flow of
money as well as the complicity that goes with it. We also have a right
to debate Israel in this country, and to stand up against Israel’s
policies of occupation and apartheid here in the U.S., especially in
this country that is so complicit in Israel’s colonial project.
one can stop this questioning from happening. They may succeed with
their violence–and the impunity that they’ve enjoyed so far–in
scuttling one or two events, or in throwing an academic out of a
university, or in haunting a dissenter or a journalist who dares to
question Israel. Yes, they’ve succeeded before, and they still continue
to succeed in some cases.
But they cannot hide the sun with the
palms of their hands. They cannot hide the sun with this violence and
their violent language and their incitement to hatred. The movement is
growing. BDS is growing. Israel’s accountability to human rights and
international law is growing every single month, every single year,
including in the United States.
Many Jewish students across the
United States are abandoning Zionism, and if not yet joining the BDS
movement, at least questioning Israel’s policies and questioning whether
Israel indeed speaks on their behalf. The winds of change are blowing,
and Alan Dershowitz and others cannot stop them.
They are coming
to understand this, and that’s why they are so fanatical and violent in
their reactions. They’ve been absolutely hysterical, and this is a sign
of weakness. If they felt strong and confident, they wouldn’t have to
resort to such incitements to violence and racial hatred. They would
come and face our argument with a counterargument, as any rational
Can you describe how this apartheid system impacts
the day-to-day lives of Palestinians living in Israel, in the West Bank
and in Gaza?
First, let me explain why I use the term apartheid,
because people are sometimes startled when supporters of Palestinian
rights say that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. Israel’s
defenders and anti-Palestinian voices exclaim in anger, “How dare you
say Israel is an apartheid state? Israel is so different than South
But this is a misunderstanding of what apartheid is.
Apartheid is not just a South African crime. It’s an international crime
recognized and defined by international law, especially the 1973 UN
Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
Of course, South Africa was a very clear case of apartheid, but so were
the Southern states in the United States before the civil rights
movement. So what makes one racist system apartheid and another one not
The difference is not that this is only a racist
policy being adopted here or there, or racism existing here or there,
it’s when this racism is institutionalized and legalized, when you have
systematic oppression of one racial group against another group in a
legalized manner. That’s when it becomes apartheid.
So just to
give a concrete example: 93 percent of the land of Israel can only be
used for the benefit of the Jewish population of Israel. Not for the
inhabitants of the state of Israel, not for the citizens of the state of
Israel in general. So any non-Jewish citizen of the state of Israel
can’t benefit from 93 percent of the land. In comparison, in South
Africa, it was 86 percent for the benefit of the whites and the rest for
the indigenous population.
There are literally dozens of laws in
Israel that discriminate between its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. In
that sense, Israel is clearly guilty of the crime or apartheid, because
that is what apartheid is. That’s how it’s defined in international
law. You have laws that discriminate between Jew and non-Jew, giving a
distinct set of privileges only to Jewish citizens.
basic reality that Palestinians in Israel face is that Israel is the
only country on earth that does not define itself as a state of its
citizens. It’s a state of the “Jewish people.” What does that mean? It
means that even if you have lived in Palestine for generations, even if
you were there before it became Israel, you don’t receive the full set
of rights if you are not Jewish. Israel does not belong to you; it
belongs to the “Jewish nation.” In fact, the very concept of a “Jewish
nation” is controversial, and Jewish communities around the world have
debated and continue to vigorously debate it.
equivalent here. Imagine if the U.S. declared itself a “Christian
state”–a state of the Christian nation. Any Christian around the world
would have full rights in the United States, but not its Jewish, Muslim
or other non-Christian communities. Would anyone accept such inequality
written into the laws themselves? Would anyone accept unequal treatment
based on their identity? Why then is it acceptable that Israel has
dozens of laws that discriminate against its non-Jewish citizens?
the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Gaza, such apartheid
treatment is obviously much more pronounced than within Israel. At least
Palestinian citizens of Israel can cast a vote. Yes, all parties have
to take a loyalty oath to the state as “a Jewish and democratic state,”
but this is, of course, an oxymoron: a state cannot be both a Jewish
exclusivist supremacist state and democratic.
If we go to the
West Bank and Gaza, we see that apartheid is concrete. Israel’s
“separation wall”–Israel’s apartheid wall–lies predominantly within
the Occupied Territories, and it has been ruled a violation of
international law by the International Court of Justice.
have colonial settlements in the Occupied Territories that are for
Jewish Israelis only. They are considered a war crime, according to the
Fourth Geneva Convention. Transferring part of the occupying state’s
population to occupied territory is considered a war crime, and that’s
exactly what Israel has done. Since 1967 and the occupation of the West
Bank and Gaza, it has transferred part of its population to the occupied
territory in violation international law.
This means that those
settlers have full citizenship privileges–they are part of the Israeli
legal system, and they get to vote for the Israeli parliament–while
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are a totally different
franchise. They are not part of the system, and they don’t enjoy any
rights under Israeli military law. The settlers get their settler-only
roads, which serve Jewish Israelis only, whereas the Palestinians in the
West Bank and Gaza quite often are not allowed to use those roads.
Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza in 2005, it doesn’t have any
settlers there, but Gaza is still under occupation. Israel is in full
control of passage into Gaza, whether by air, land or sea. Israel is in
full control of the territory, which under international law makes it
the occupying power. Israel surrounded the West Bank and Gaza with walls
and fences and hundreds of military checkpoints, which prevent freedom
of movement for the Palestinians. So the reality of apartheid is
extremely pronounced there.
In what ways have the uprisings that began shaking the Middle East in 2011 changed the situation on the ground?
Arab Spring has opened up a huge opportunity for building support for
Palestinian rights in the Arab world. Across the Arab world, support for
Palestinian rights has always been a de facto reality, a consensus.
Every single citizen of every Arab state–with very few
exceptions–supports Palestinian rights.
However, in countries
run by dictators and non-democratic governments, this support has never
led to any effective change. And a successful BDS campaign requires a
certain minimum of democracy and of civil rights in order to succeed.
not enough to have a million Moroccans demonstrating against Israel’s
bombing of Gaza, as they did during Israel’s bombing of Gaza in late
2008-early 2009. We indeed had 1 million people in the streets of Rabat
demonstrating for Palestinian rights. This was an extremely important
display of solidarity.
But did that translate into effective
campaigns against Caterpillar, against Veolia, against international
companies that are violating Palestinian rights in their complicity with
the Israeli occupation? No, it did not. And it couldn’t in a country
that lacks basic democracy.
With the Arab Spring in Egypt,
Tunisia and elsewhere, we are seeing the dawn of freedom and the
beginning of democratization, and we’re not saying that it’s a mature
democracy yet. But despite the turbulence, despite the struggles that
people have to go through to really build their democracies, this has
already created a huge opening for Palestine solidarity efforts to
become effective and sustainable campaigns that can lead to concrete
results by holding corporations and institutions accountable to basic
principles of human rights.
It hasn’t been even two years since
the beginning of the Arab Spring, so it is too early to expect big
results. Revolutions take a long time to get past internal conflict and
build a stable democracy. It will take some time until Egyptians,
Tunisians and others sort out their internal strife and build their own
systems on the foundation of social justice, freedom and rights for all
citizens–and until they are able to address their obligation to stand
with the Palestinians.
When we talk about Arab solidarity,
solidarity is not even the most accurate term, because it’s a family.
That’s how Palestinians feel–we’re part of this family of Arab nations
and Arab states. It’s not like asking a neighbor for help. It’s asking
your father and mother and sister and daughter for help.
how we feel when we ask Egyptians to support our rights. We’re not
asking our neighbor for help, we’re asking our brother for help. But the
brother is in a lot of trouble at this point and is still trying to get
his or her house in order so we need to wait patiently until they can
stand on their feet. Then we’re sure to have massive support.
Judith Butler’s Remarks to Brooklyn College on BDS
The Nation 7.2.13.
Editors Note: Despite a campaign to silence them, philosophers Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti spoke at Brooklyn College on Thursday night. In an exclusive, The Nation presents the text of Butler’s remarks.
Judith Butler is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature department at UC Berkeley. As the UC Berkeley Student Senate votes to divest from two companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the noted philosopher reminds us of what’s at stake.
Usually one starts by saying that one is glad to be here, but I cannot say that it has been a pleasure anticipating this event. What a Megillah! I am, of course, glad that the event was not cancelled, and I understand that it took a great deal of courage and a steadfast embrace of principle for this event to happen at all. I would like personally to thank all those who took this opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of academic freedom, including the following organizations: the Modern Language Association, the National Lawyers Guild, the New York ACLU, the American Association of University Professors, the Professional Staff Congress (the union for faculty and staff in the CUNY system), the New York Times editorial team, the offices of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Brooklyn College President Karen Gould whose principled stand on academic freedom has been exemplary.
The principle of academic freedom is designed to make sure that powers outside the university, including government and corporations, are not able to control the curriculum or intervene in extra-mural speech. It not only bars such interventions, but it also protects those platforms in which we might be able to reflect together on the most difficult problems. You can judge for yourself whether or not my reasons for lending my support to this movement are good ones. That is, after all, what academic debate is about. It is also what democratic debate is about, which suggests that open debate about difficult topics functions as a meeting point between democracy and the academy. Instead of asking right away whether we are for or against this movement, perhaps we can pause just long enough to find out what exactly this is, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and why it is so difficult to speak about this.
I am not asking anyone to join a movement this evening. I am not even a leader of this movement or part of any of its governing committee, even though the New York Times tried to anoint me the other day—I appreciated their subsequent retraction, and I apologize to my Palestinian colleagues for their error. The movement, in fact, has been organized and led by Palestinians seeking rights of political self-determination, including Omar Barghouti, who was invited first by the Students for Justice in Palestine, after which I was invited to join him. At the time I thought it would be very much like other events I have attended, a conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center. So, as you can see, I am surprised and ill-prepared for what has happened.
Omar will speak in a moment about what the BDS movement is, its successes and its aspirations. But I would like briefly to continue with the question, what precisely are we doing here this evening? I presume that you came to hear what there is to be said, and so to test your preconceptions against what some people have to say, to see whether your objections can be met and your questions answered. In other words, you come here to exercise critical judgment, and if the arguments you hear are not convincing, you will be able to cite them, to develop your opposing view and to communicate that as you wish. In this way, your being here this evening confirms your right to form and communicate an autonomous judgment, to demonstrate why you think something is true or not, and you should be free to do this without coercion and fear. These are your rights of free expression, but they are, perhaps even more importantly, your rights to education, which involves the freedom to hear, to read and to consider any number of viewpoints as part of an ongoing public deliberation on this issue. Your presence here, even your support for the event, does not assume agreement among us. There is no unanimity of opinion here; indeed, achieving unanimity is not the goal.
The arguments made against this very meeting took several forms, and they were not always easy for me to parse. One argument was that BDS is a form of hate speech, and it spawned a set of variations: it is hate speech directed against either the State of Israel or Israeli Jews, or all Jewish people. If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech. Yet another objection, sometimes uttered by the same people who made the first, is that BDS does qualify as a viewpoint, but as such, ought to be presented only in a context in which the opposing viewpoint can be heard as well. There was yet a qualification to this last position, namely, that no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor, but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.
So in the first case, it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech), but in the second instance, it is a viewpoint, presumably singular, but cannot be allowed to be heard without an immediate refutation. The contradiction is clear, but when people engage in a quick succession of contradictory claims such as these, it is usually because they are looking for whatever artillery they have at their disposal to stop something from happening. They don’t much care about consistency or plausibility. They fear that if the speech is sponsored by an institution such as Brooklyn College, it will not only be heard, but become hearable, admitted into the audible world. The fear is that viewpoint will become legitimate, which means only that someone can publicly hold such a view and that it becomes eligible for contestation. A legitimate view is not necessarily right, but it is not ruled out in advance as hate speech or injurious conduct. Those who did not want any of these words to become sayable and audible imagined that the world they know and value will come to an end if such words are uttered, as if the words themselves will rise off the page or fly out of the mouth as weapons that will injure, maim or even kill, leading to irreversibly catastrophic consequences. This is why some people claimed that if this event were held, the two-state solution would be imperiled—they attributed great efficacy to these words. And yet others said it would lead to the coming of a second Holocaust—an unimaginable remark to which I will nevettheless return. One might say that all of these claims were obvious hyperbole and should be dismissed as such. But it is important to understand that they are wielded for the purpose of intimidation, animating the spectre of traumatic identification with the Nazi oppressor: if you let these people speak, you yourself will be responsible for heinous crimes or for the destruction of a state, or the Jewish people. If you listen to the words, you will become complicit in war crimes.
And yet all of us here have to distinguish between the right to listen to a point of view and the right to concur or dissent from that point of view; otherwise, public discourse is destroyed by censorship. I wonder, what is the fantasy of speech nursed by the censor? There must be enormous fear behind the drive to censorship, but also enormous aggression, as if we were all in a war where speech has suddenly become artillery. Is there another way to approach language and speech as we think about this issue? Is it possible that some other use of words might forestall violence, bring about a general ethos of non-violence, and so enact, and open onto, the conditions for a public discourse that welcomes and shelters disagreement, even disarray?
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is, in fact, a non-violent movement; it seeks to use established legal means to achieve its goals; and it is, interestingly enough, the largest Palestinian civic movement at this time. That means that the largest Palestinian civic movement is a non-violent one that justifies its actions through recourse to international law. Further, I want to underscore that this is also a movement whose stated core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism. Of course, we can debate what anti-Semitism is, in what social and political forms it is found. I myself am sure that the election of self-identified national socialists to the Greek parliament is a clear sign of anti-Semitism; I am sure that the recirculation of Nazi insignia and rhetoric by the National Party of Germany is a clear sign of anti-Semitism. I am also sure that the rhetoric and actions of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are often explicitly anti-Semitic, and that some forms of Palestinian opposition to Israel do rely on anti-Semitic slogans, falsehoods and threats. All of these forms of anti-Semitism are to be unconditionally opposed. And I would add, they have to be opposed in the same way and with the same tenacity that any form of racism has to be opposed, including state racism.
But still, it is left to us to ask, why would a non-violent movement to achieve basic political rights for Palestinians be understood as anti-Semitic? Surely, there is nothing about the basic rights themselves that constitute a problem. They include equal rights of citizenship for current inhabitants; the end to the occupation, and the rights of unlawfully displaced persons to return to their lands and gain restitution for their losses. We will surely speak about each of these three principles this evening. But for now, I want to ask, why would a collective struggle to use economic and cultural forms of power to compel the enforcement of international laws be considered anti-Semitic? It would be odd to say that they are anti-Semitic to honor internationally recognized rights to equality, to be free of occupation and to have unlawfully appropriated land and property restored. I know that this last principle makes many people uneasy, but there are several ways of conceptualizing how the right of return might be exercised lawfully such that it does not entail further dispossession (and we will return to this issue).
For those who say that exercising internationally recognized rights is anti-Semitic, or becomes anti-Semitic in this context, they must mean either that a) its motivation is anti-Semitic or b) its effects are anti-Semitic. I take it that no one is actually saying that the rights themselves are anti-Semitic, since they have been invoked by many populations in the last decades, including Jewish people dispossessed and displaced in the aftermath of the second world war. Is there really any reason we should not assume that Jews, just like any other people, would prefer to live in a world where such internationally recognized rights are honored? It will not do to say that international law is the enemy of the Jewish people, since the Jewish people surely did not as a whole oppose the Nuremburg trials, or the development of human rights law. In fact, there have always been Jews working alongside non-Jews—not only to establish the courts and codes of international law, but in the struggle to dismantle colonial regimes, opposing any and all legal and military powers that seek systematically to undermine the conditions of political self-determination for any population.
Only if we accept the proposition that the state of Israel is the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people would a movement calling for divestment, sanctions and boycott against that state be understood as directed against the Jewish people as a whole. Israel would then be understood as co-extensive with the Jewish people. There are two major problems with this view. First, the state of Israel does not represent all Jews, and not all Jews understand themselves as represented by the state of Israel. Secondly, the state of Israel should be representing all of its population equally, regardless of whether or not they are Jewish, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
So the first critical and normative claim that follows is that the state of Israel should be representing the diversity of its own population. Indeed, nearly 25 percent of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and most of those are Palestinian, although some of them are Bedouins and Druze. If Israel is to be considered a democracy, the non-Jewish population deserves equal rights under the law, as do the Mizrachim (Arab Jews) who represent over 30 percent of the population. Presently, there are at least twenty laws that privilege Jews over Arabs within the Israeli legal system. The 1950 Law of Return grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while denying that same right to Palestinians who were forcibly dispossessed of their homes in 1948 or subsequently as the result of illegal settlements and redrawn borders. Human Rights Watch has compiled an extensive study of Israel’s policy of “separate, not equal” schools for Palestinian children. Moreover, as many as 100 Palestinian villages in Israel are still not recognized by the Israeli government, lacking basic services (water, electricity, sanitation, roads, etc.) from the government. Palestinians are barred from military service, and yet access to housing and education still largely depends on military status. Families are divided by the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel, with few forms of legal recourse to rights of visitation and reunification. The Knesset debates the “transfer” of the Palestinian population to the West Bank, and the new loyalty oath requires that anyone who wishes to become a citizen pledge allegiance to Israel as Jewish and democratic, thus eliding once again the non-Jewish population and binding the full population to a specific and controversial, if not contradictory, version of democracy.
The second point, to repeat, is that the Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated. Honestly, what can really be said about “the Jewish people” as a whole? Is it not a lamentable sterotype to make large generalizations about all Jews, and to presume they all share the same political commitments? They—or, rather, we—occupy a vast spectrum of political views, some of which are unconditionally supportive of the state of Israel, some of which are conditionally supportive, some are skeptical, some are exceedingly critical, and an increasing number, if we are to believe the polls in this country, are indifferent. In my view, we have to remain critical of anyone who posits a single norm that decides rights of entry into the social or cultural category determining as well who will be excluded. Most categories of identity are fraught with conflicts and ambiguities; the effort to suppress the complexity of the category of “Jewish” is thus a political move that seeks to yoke a cultural identity to a specific Zionist position. If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered to be anti-Semitic, if any number of internationals who have joined thus struggle from various parts of the world are also considered anti-Semitic and if Palestinians seeking rights of political self-determination are so accused as well, then it would appear that no oppositional move that can take place without risking the accusation of anti-Semitism. That accusation becomes a way of discrediting a bid for self-determination, at which point we have to ask what political purpose the radical mis-use of that accusation has assumed in the stifling of a movement for political self-determination.
When Zionism becomes co-extensive with Jewishness, Jewishness is pitted against the diversity that defines democracy, and if I may say so, betrays one of the most important ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves. Indeed, such a conflation denies the Jewish role in broad alliances in the historical struggle for social and political justice in unions, political demands for free speech, in socialist communities, in the resistance movement in World War II, in peace activism, the Civil Rights movement and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It also demeans the important struggles in which Jews and Palestinians work together to stop the wall, to rebuild homes, to document indefinite detention, to oppose military harassment at the borders and to oppose the occupation and to imagine the plausible scenarios for the Palestinian right to return.
The point of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is to withdraw funds and support from major financial and cultural institutions that support the operations of the Israeli state and its military. The withdrawal of investments from companies that actively support the military or that build on occupied lands, the refusal to buy products that are made by companies on occupied lands, the withdrawal of funds from investment accounts that support any of these activities, a message that a growing number of people in the international community will not be complicit with the occupation. For this goal to be realized, it matters that there is a difference between those who carry Israeli passports and the state of Israel, since the boycott is directed only toward the latter. BDS focuses on state agencies and corporations that build machinery designed to destroy homes, that build military materiel that targets populations, that profit from the occupation, that are situated illegally on Palestinian lands, to name a few.
BDS does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship. I concede that not all versions of BDS have been consistent on this point in the past, but the present policy confirms this principle. I myself oppose any form of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their citizenship. Others may interpret the boycott differently, but I have no problem collaborating with Israeli scholars and artists as long as we do not participate in any Israeli institution or have Israeli state monies support our collaborative work. The reason, of course, is that the academic and cultural boycott seeks to put pressure on all those cultural institutions that have failed to oppose the occupation and struggle for equal rights and the rights of the dispossessed, all those cultural institutions that think it is not their place to criticize their government for these practices, all of them that understand themselves to be above or beyond this intractable political condition. In this sense, they do contribute to an unacceptable status quo. And those institutions should know why international artists and scholars refuse to come when they do, just as they also need to know the conditions under which people will come. When those cultural institutions (universities, art centers, festivals) were to take such a stand, that would be the beginning of the end of the boycott (let’s remember that the goal of any boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is to become obsolete and unnecessary; once conditions of equality and justice are achieved, the rationale for BDS falls away, and in this sense achieving the just conditions for the dissolution of the movement is its very aim).
In some ways, the argument between BDS and its opponents centers on the status of international law. Which international laws are to be honored, and how can they be enforced. International law cannot solve every political conflict, but political conflicts that fully disregard international law usually only get worse as a result. We know that the government of the state of Israel has voiced its skepticism about international law, repeatedly criticizing the United Nations as a biased institution, even bombing its offices in Gaza. Israel also became the first country to withhold cooperation from a UN review of its human rights practices scheduled last week in Geneva (New York Times, 1/29/13). I think it is fair to call this a boycott of the UN on the part of the state of Israel. Indeed, one hears criticism of the ineffectiveness of the UN on both sides, but is that a reason to give up on the global human rights process altogether? There are good reasons to criticize the human rights paradigm, to be sure, but for now, I am only seeking to make the case that BDS is not a destructive or hateful movement. It appeals to international law precisely under conditions in which the international community, the United Nations included, neighboring Arab states, human rights courts, the European Union, The United States and the UK, have all failed effectively to rectify the manifest injustices in Palestine. Boycott, divestment and the call for sanctions are popular demands that emerge precisely when the international community has failed to compel a state to abide by its own norms.
Let us consider, then, go back to the right of return, which constitutes the controversial third prong of the BDS platform. The law of return is extended to all of us who are Jewish who live in the diaspora, which means that were it not for my politics, I too would be eligible to become a citizen of that state. At the same time, Palestinians in need of the right of return are denied the same rights? If someone answers that “Jewish demographic advantage” must be maintained, one can query whether Jewish demographic advantage is policy that can ever be reconciled with democratic principles. If one responds to that with “the Jews will only be safe if they retain their majority status,” the response has to be that any state will surely engender an opposition movement when it seeks to maintain a permanent and disenfranchised minority within its borders, fails to offer reparation or return to a population driven from their lands and homes, keeps over four million people under occupation without rights of mobility, due process and political self-determination, and another 1.6 million under siege in Gaza, rationing of food, administering unemployment, blocking building materials to restore bombed homes and institutions, intensifying vulnerability to military bombardment resulting in widespread injury and death.
If we conclude that those who participate in such an opposition movement do so because they hate the Jews, we have surely failed to recognize that this is an opposition to oppression, to the multi-faceted dimensions of a militarized form of settler colonialism that has entailed subordination, occupation and dispossession. Any group would oppose that condition, and the state that maintains it, regardless of whether that state is identified as a Jewish state or any other kind. Resistance movements do not discriminate against oppressors, though sometimes the language of the movement can use discriminatory language, and that has to be opposed. However, it is surely cynical to claim that the only reason a group organizes to oppose its own oppression is that it bears an inexplicable prejudice or racist hatred against those who oppress them. We can see the torque of this argument and the absurd conclusions to which it leads: if the Palestinians did not hate the Jews, they would accept their oppression by the state of Israel! If they resist, it is a sign of anti-Semitism!
This kind of logic takes us to one of the traumatic and affective regions of this conflict. There are reasons why much of the global media and prevailing political discourses cannot accept that a legitimate opposition to inequality, occupation, and dispossession is very different from anti-Semitism. After all, we cannot rightly argue that if a state claiming to represent the Jewish people engages in these manifestly illegal activities, it is therefore justified on the grounds that the Jews have suffered atrociously and therefore have special needs to be exempt from international norms. Such illegal acts are never justified, no matter who is practicing them.
At the same time, one must object to some of the language used by Hamas to refer to the state of Israel, where very often the state of Israel is itself conflated with the Jews, and where the actions of the state reflect on the nature of the Jews. This is clearly anti-Semitism and must be opposed. But BDS is not the same as Hamas, and it is simply ignorant to argue that all Palestinian organizations are the same. In the same vein, those who wrote to me recently to say that BDS is the same as Hamas is the same as the Nazis are involved in fearful and aggressive forms of association that assume that any effort to make distinctions is naïve and foolish. And so we see how the conflations such as these lead to bitter and destructive consequences. What if we slowed down enough to think and to distinguish—what political possibilities might then open?
And it brings us to yet another outcry that we heard in advance of our discussion here this evening. That was BDS is the coming of a second holocaust. I believe we have to be very careful when anyone makes use of the Holocaust in this way and for this purpose, since if the term becomes a weapon by which we seek to stigmatize those with opposing political viewpoints, then we have first of all dishonored the slaughter of over 6 million Jewish people, and another 4 million gypsies, gay people, disabled, the communists and the physically and mentally ill. All of us, Jewish or not Jewish, must keep that historical memory intact and alive, and refuse forms of revisionism and political exploitation of that history. We may not exploit and re-ignite the traumatic dimension of Hitler’s atrocities for the purposes of accusing and silencing those with opposing political viewpoints, including legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel. Such a tactic not only demeans and instrumentalizes the memory of the Nazi genocide, but produces a general cynicism about both accusations of anti-Semitism and predictions of new genocidal possibilities. After all, if those terms are bandied about as so much artillery in a war, then they are used as blunt instruments for the purposes of censorship and self-legitimation, and they no longer name and describe the very hideous political realities to which they belong. The more such accusations and invocations are tactically deployed, the more skeptical and cynical the public becomes about their actual meaning and use. This is a violation of that history, an insult to the surviving generation, and a cynical and excited recirculation of traumatic material—a kind of sadistic spree, to put it bluntly—that seeks to defend and legitimate a very highly militarized and repressive state regime. Of the use of the Holocaust to legitimate Israeli military destructiveness, Primo Levi wrote in 1982, “I deny any validity to [the use of the Holocaust for] this defence.”
We have heard in recent days as well that BDS threatens the attempt to establish a two-state solution. Although many people who support BDS are in favor of a one-state solution, the BDS movement has not taken a stand on this explicitly, and includes signatories who differ from one another on this issue. In fact, the BDS committee, formed in 2005 with the support of over 170 organizations in Palestine, does not take any stand on the one state or two state solution. It describes itself as an “anti-normalization” politics that seeks to force a wide range of political institutions and states to stop compliance with the occupation, unequal treatment and dispossession. For the BDS National Committee, it is not the fundamental structure of the state of Israel that is called into question, but the occupation, its denial of basic human rights, its abrogation of international law (including its failure to honor the rights of refugees), and the brutality of its continuing conditions—harassment, humiliation, destruction and confiscation of property, bombardment, and killing. Indeed, one finds an array of opinions on one-state and two-state, especially now that one-state can turn into Greater Israel with separated Bantustans of Palestinian life. The two-state solution brings its own problems, given that the recent proposals tend to suspend the rights of refugees, accept curtailed borders and fail to show whether the establishment of an independent state will bring to an end the ongoing practices and institutions of occupation, or simply incorporate them into its structure. How can a state be built with so many settlements, all illegal, which are expected to bring the Israeli population in Palestine to nearly one million of its four million inhabitants. Many have argued that it is the rapidly increasing settler population in the West Bank, not BDS, that is forcing the one-state solution.
Some people accept divestment without sanctions, or divestment and sanctions without the boycott. There are an array of views. In my view, the reason to hold together all three terms is simply that it is not possible to restrict the problem of Palestinian subjugation to the occupation alone. It is significant in itself, since four million people are living without rights of mobility, sovereignty, control over their borders, trade and political self-determination, subjected to military raids, indefinite detention, extended imprisonment and harassment. However, if we fail to make the link between occupation, inequality and dispossession, we agree to forget the claims of 1948, bury the right to return. We overlook the structural link between the Israeli demand for demographic advantage and the multivalent forms of dispossession that affect Palestinians who have been forced to become diasporic, those who live with partial rights within the borders, and those who live under occupation in the West Bank or in the open air prison of Gaza (with high unemployment and rationed foods) or other refugee camps in the region.
Some people have said that they value co-existence over boycott, and wish to engage in smaller forms of binational cultural communities in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians live and work together. This is a view that holds to the promise that small organic communities have a way of expanding into ever widening circles of solidarity, modeling the conditions for peaceable co-existence. The only question is whether those small communities continue to accept the oppressive structure of the state, or whether in their small and effective way oppose the various dimensions of continuing subjugation and disenfranchisement. If they do the latter, they become solidarity struggles. So co-existence becomes solidarity when it joins the movement that seeks to undo the structural conditions of inequality, containment and dispossession. So perhaps the conditions of BDS solidarity are precisely what prefigure that form of living and working together that might one day become a just and peaceable form of co-existence.
One could be for the BDS movement as the only credible non-violent mode of resisting the injustices committed by the state of Israel without falling into the football lingo of being “pro” Palestine and “anti” Israel. This language is reductive, if not embarrassing. One might reasonably and passionately be concerned for all the inhabitants of that land, and simply maintain that the future for any peaceful, democratic solution for that region will become thinkable through the dismantling of the occupation, through enacting the equal rights of Palestinian minorities and finding just and plausible ways for the rights of refugees to be honored. If one holds out for these three aims in political life, then one is not simply living within the logic of the “pro” and the “anti”, but trying to fathom the conditions for a “we”, a plural existence grounded in equality. What does one do with one’s words but reach for a place beyond war, ask for a new constellation of political life in which the relations of colonial subjugation are brought to a halt. My wager, my hope, is that everyone’s chance to live with greater freedom from fear and aggression will be increased as those conditions of justice, freedom, and equality are realized. We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together. Perhaps the word “justice” will assume new meanings as we speak it, such that we can venture that what will be just for the Jews will also be just for the Palestinians, and for all the other people living there, since justice, when just, fails to discriminate, and we savor that failure.
Alternate title: Grammar & Punctuation are Anti-Semitic – Flier handed out at Brooklyn College
We note that on February 6, seventeen of the nineteen signatories to the letter from Representative Jerrold Nadler & Co. released another letter thanking president Gould for her “leadership,” affirming the right of the college to hold such panels and standing strongly against official defunding threats (though they did not apologize for misrepresenting the college’s co-sponsorship of the panel as official endorsement of its speakers’ views, or for their false allegations that the college had excluded alternative views). The two names missing from the follow-up letter? Assemblyman James Brennan and former Comptroller Bill Thompson. Earlier in the day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a far less tepid defense of Brooklyn College, saying, “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.” We also note that the far more threatening and vicious letter from Lewis Fidler & Co., which had ten signatories, is still extant, though two of the original signatories, Council Members Letitia James and Stephen Levin, have withdrawn their names from it.
The Nation supports the right of Brooklyn College to sponsor a panel discussion with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti on BDS. We urge Brooklyn College President Karen Gould to resist attempts by those who have attempted to intimidate CUNY into canceling, changing, or withdrawing its sponsorship for the panel. We are especially concerned that members of the New York City Council have threatened to withhold further money for CUNY if it does not either cancel the event or withdraw its sponsorship. This is a grave threat to academic freedom and sets a terrible precedent.
Progressive Democrat stands by terror-linked official railing against Brooklyn College BDS event
Feb 07, 2013 01:37 pm | Alex Kane
One of the leaders of the push to intimidate student organizers and the Brooklyn College administration over this evening’s boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) event at the school is a politician with links to a far-right Jewish group labeled a terrorist organization by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And a progressive candidate for mayor, Bill Thompson, is standing right by his side.
Dov Hikind, the Orthodox Jewish power broker who represents Borough Park in the New York State Assembly, has been railing against the BDS event and organized a January 31st press conference against the panel discussion. The conference was attended by a number of New York politicians who spewed falsehoods and smears about the boycott Israel movement. Notably, Thompson, a current mayoral candidate and former Comptroller who is considered a progressive, was happy to help Hikind out. Following the lead of Hikind’s rants, Thompson said the BDS movement expresses hate.
At the January 31 press event, Hikind claimed that Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler, the two speakers at tonight’s event, are supporters of Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. But it’s the height of irony for Hikind to be claim to be worried about terrorism. Hikind was a close follower of Meir Kahane, who founded the Jewish Defense League and the racist Kach political party in Israel. The FBI has labeled the JDL a violent extremist Jewish organization” and a “right-wing terrorist group.”
Writing in The Nation, Max Blumenthal has more on the JDL’s violent past and Hikind’s ties to the group:
Hikind gained his earliest experience in the early 1970s in local New York politics as an acolyte of Meir Kahane, the fanatical rabbi-turned-Israeli Member of Knesset who called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and establishment of a theocratic state of Judea in the West Bank. I’m proud of every single moment, let me make that very clear. Rabbi Kahane had a great influence on me, Hikind declared in 2008. Under Kahane’s guidance, Hikind became active in the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a nationwide extremist network that attacked Arab-American and Soviet targets while rallying vigilante squads to protect working-class Jews living in African-American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods…
In their book on the plot to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, journalists Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman reported that Hikind had been arraigned in a federal court in 1976 for tossing a smoke bomb into the Ugandan mission after the Israeli rescue of passengers kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists on an Air France jetliner in Entebbe, Uganda. A decade later the FBI suspected him of involvement in planning a string of six bombings against Arab targets in NY, Massachusetts and California in which one man was killed and seven were injured but no evidence was found against him, Karpin and Friedman wrote. Two JDL members who fled from FBI prosecution to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank had been involved with Hikind in a campaign to undermine the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to Karpin and Friedman.
The most significant figure the JDL was suspected of killing was Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) western regional director Alex Odeh. However, the FBI was never able to apprehend the likely perpetrators. After the murder of Odeh, more assaults followed on ADC offices, including a pipe bomb attack in Boston that critically wounded a member of a police bomb squad. In an interview with Robert I. Friedman, Hikind said he supported forming a group of intelligent professionals to assassinate Nazis and Arab-American supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But before you dismiss Hikind as some kind of fringe crackpot better ignored, take a look at his influence. Blumenthal notes that Hikind has established himself as one of the most influential Jewish politicians in New York, delivering pivotal support to candidates from former Senator Alfonse D’Amato to former Governor George Pataki.
These days, political upstarts from across the spectrum are eager for Hikind’s endorsement. In the 2011 special election held after Representative Anthony Weiner’s embarrassing resignation, Hikind helped deliver victory to Bob Turner, a Republican gentile running against David Weprin, an Orthodox Jewish Democrat. Hikind said he backed Turned in order to send a message to President Obama about his supposedly insufficient support for Israel. There was also the fact that Weprin supported same-sex marriage, an absolute faux pas for the ferociously anti-gay Hikind, who has compared homosexuality to incest.
In a Democratic congressional primary last year, Hikind threw his weight behind Hakeem Jeffries, a youthful African-American Democrat running against Charles Barron, a veteran black nationalist community organizer and unapologetic supporter of Palestinian rights. At a press conference convened in support of Jeffries, Hikind joinedtop local Democrats, including Representative Jerry Nadler and the late Mayor Ed Koch, in denouncing Barron as hateful, a scary monster and an anti-Semite” the same language directed against organizers of the Brooklyn College BDS forum. I really feel that Hakeem Jeffries is a superstar, Hikind gushed. Weeks later, Jeffries cruised to an easy victory over Barron.
So Thompson, a candidate for mayor, is clearly looking to secure votes from New York’s politically influential Orthodox Jewish community. And to do that, he is standing by Hikind. In fact, they have a longer history together. In 2009, Hikind endorsed Thompson’s mayoral run, and said that he has known him for “more than 30 years.” Hikind also decried “politics of fear” and “divisiveness.” You can watch the endorsement here:
Thompson is a man who claims to be against racism. He has come out strongly against the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk practices that have targeted communities of color in the city. We have to end stop-and-frisk in New York City as we know it. It is wrong what is occurring right now, as Thompson said last year.
But Thompson clearly operates on a double standard: he remains silent about the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslim communities. And he’s thrown his lot in with Dov Hikind, an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab bigot who wants the NYPD to profile Muslims in the subway system and was part of the smear campaign that took down Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of the city’s first dual-language Arabic public school. Additionally, in 2006, Hikind supported a group of Jewish teenagers who beat up a young Pakistani man in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.
Thompson’s hypocrisy is now out in the open, and it’s clear his statements against the BDS movement are about pandering for votes. So the next time you hear Thompson rail against stop and frisk, remember that he has no qualms about virulent racism directed against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. When it comes to Hikind’s racism, Thompson turns a blind eye.
If you want to give Thompson a piece of your mind, contact his mayoral campaign office at (212) 372-7565 or [email protected]
Bill Thompson, a candidate for mayor, has garnered the support of Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a follower of Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League (Photo via Dov Hikind’s website)