The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against Israel contributes strongly to campus environments hostile to Jews.
Two state commissions issued reports on anti-Semitism this month. The Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission (THGAAC) and Virginia’s Commission to Combat Antisemitism evaluated the level and impact of Jew hatred in their respective states and offered suggestions for how the states can oppose it more effectively. In particular, both emphasized the role the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) plays in fomenting anti-Semitism and included opposing BDS prominently among their suggestions.
"In a first-of-its-kind report, the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission cited 112 reports of antisemitic hate crimes across Texas in 2021. That’s more than double the number of incidents in 2020." https://t.co/WMHY8v3S1H
— Melissa Braunstein (@slowhoneybee) December 22, 2022
The Texas commission was set up by state law in 2021 to “help identify and root out antisemitism and ensure that all Texans are able to exercise their religious freedom without fear.”
Since then, the Secure Community Network (SCN), the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America, reported that incidents against the Jewish community in Texas more than doubled between 2020 and 2021. And the Anti-Defamation League tracked 95 incidents in Texas in 2021, up from 23 two years earlier. Both groups see evidence that the numbers are even higher in 2022.
Particularly notable Texas anti-Semitic incidents described in the report included:
- In Colleyville in January, a gunman demanding the freedom of a Muslim extremist with links to Al Qaeda held hostage a rabbi and his congregants during Shabbat (Sabbath) services for 10 hours. The standoff ended when the rabbi used the security training he had received from SCN to throw a chair at the attacker and break free. The FBI, at first, did not acknowledge that this attack was antisemitic.
- In Austin in October 2021, a synagogue was set on fire in an incident linked to a man with white supremacist beliefs, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the sanctuary and building. The congregation has continued to worship in its parking lot, social hall, and other locations.
- On college campuses, students have been targeted and harassed for their support of Israel, sometimes by backers of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. These included an unprecedented effort by anti-Israel students at one Texas university to erase the internationally accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism from use by Student Government. That definition recognizes the inherent antisemitism of many condemnations of Israel.
The report had this to say about BDS:
Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) as a Tool of Antisemitism
BDS is a global campaign that has gained momentum on many U.S. college campuses. It calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel on economic, cultural, and academic fronts. Its inherent antisemitism is evident in multiple ways, as documented by the group Stand With Us:
- BDS singles out Israel alone for boycotts while ignoring the world’s worst human rights violators.
- BDS places all pressure to end the conflict on Israel while failing to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for promoting hatred, incitement, and terrorism.
- A leading BDS activist has openly stated, “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel… Justice and freedom for Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”
The Brandeis Center commends VA Commission to Combat Antisemitism on the strength of its new report “Combating Antisemitism in Virginia,” and vows to provide support the Commission urges VA officials seek from the Brandeis Center and other organizations. https://t.co/JPeVr8OhPg
— The Brandeis Center (@brandeiscenter) December 12, 2022
Most notable, however, was an incident from five years ago, the Unite the Right Rally, which took place in Charlottesville in 2017 and led to death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when a white supremacist attending the rally intentionally crashed into dozens of counter-protestors.
“The painful memory of the Charlottesville tragedy significantly impacted both national and Virginia politics in the following years,” the report added.
Basically, the report said, Virginia is in the middle of the pack when it comes to anti-Semitism – could be worse, but hardly something to boast about.
Though Virginia is certainly not among the worst states for antisemitic incidents, it also is not among the very best. In recent years, Virginia has had fewer incidents than neighbors in Maryland and DC, but the national trend of increasing antisemitic incidents has not spared Virginia, and some of the most high-profile antisemitic incidents in recent history have occurred in the Commonwealth. Generally, while the Commonwealth has not seen antisemitic assaults take place since 2018, there has been an increased frequency of antisemitic harassment and antisemitic vandalism at levels which have remained constant from 2018 to 2021. In 2021, 411 reported antisemitic incidents impacted residents of the Commonwealth. These incidents showed a 71% increase over the 292 reported incidents in 2020.
Virginia’s report drew particular attention to the growth of anti-Semitism on campus, including of the BDS variety, and included an extended discussion of the subject (pages 7-8):
Antisemitism is also notably present on college campuses, including some of America’s most prestigious institutions. In February 2022, vandals drew a swastika on scaffolding outside of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. In May 2022, the City University of New York’s law school commencement address was delivered by an alumnus who reportedly had “called for the destruction of Israel, expressed support for gun violence against Zionists and threatened to set a man’s IDF sweatshirt on fire.”
In August 2022, ten student organizations at the UC-Berkeley law school sought what has been labeled “Jew-free zones” by adopting bylaws pledging to not invite any speakers that are supportive of Israel and adopting the posture of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) extremists. Dean of Berkeley Law School Erwin Chemerinsky, who has himself advocated for Palestinian and Israeli rights alike, called the bylaw “antisemitic” and “troubling.” In October 2022, an anonymous antisemitic group at George Washington University littered the campus with signs saying “Zionists **** Off” leading up to the Sukkot holiday, which drew widespread condemnation from Jewish community groups in Washington, D.C.
In addition to these specific incidents, antisemitism is rising on college campuses broadly. In 2015, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law found that 54% of Jewish college students sampled at 55 campuses nationwide reported having experienced or witnessed antisemitism on their campus. A survey by the Cohen Group in 2021 found that 65% of Jewish fraternity and sorority members polled had experienced or were familiar with an antisemitic attack in the preceding 120 days. In this same survey, nearly half of the respondents claimed they felt the need to hide their Jewish identity out of fear that it would produce harassment or even physical assault…
Antisemitism is also present among college administrators. Social media analysis of accounts owned by college administrators found that tweets referencing Israel were more frequent and overwhelmingly negative compared to tweets referencing oppressive regimes. In fact, the same sample of social media accounts reveals that tweets referencing China were positive on net. Hostile attitudes toward Israel while having positive attitudes toward authoritarian regimes like China is indicative of the antisemitic double-standard that is applied to Israel.
Remarking on the rising incidence of antisemitism on college campuses, former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said, “I speak at universities and had never, until recently, heard and seen the kind of language now being directed against Jewish students and faculty who support Israel.” To ensure these antisemitic incidents are not replicated on Virginia college campuses, the Commonwealth’s higher education institutions must do more to prevent hate crimes and vandalism before they happen, to hold perpetrators accountable when they do, and to counter the hateful messages directed at Jews on their campuses with exposure, education, rebuttal, and other initiatives.
Most worryingly, the frequency of antisemitic incidents occurring at Jewish institutions, including schools, community centers, and synagogues, is increasing annually. Since 2019, antisemitic incidents targeting Jewish institutions have risen 124%. Of the 525 antisemitic incidents that involved Jewish institutions in 2021, 327 targeted synagogues.
There was a lot of overlap in the recommendations of the respective commissions. Both encouraged:
- Adoption/use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism by state entities;
- Improved reporting of hate crimes;
- Expanded education about anti-Semitism and about the Holocaust; and
- Banning public institutions from implementing BDS.
Regarding that last recommendation, the Virginia report explained the purpose of BDS and the importance of opposing it this way:
Ban Public Entities from Adopting and Practicing BDS Positions
The Commission recommends that Virginia adopt a law that would bar public entities from following the positions of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) hate movement. The global BDS movement is an antisemitic and discriminatory effort designed to economically isolate, delegitimize, and destroy Israel as a Jewish state through economic means. While Virginia passed a non-binding anti-BDS resolution in March 2016, it has not passed a statutory anti-BDS law that prevents Virginia from doing business with individuals and entities that engage in or support BDS against Israel as other states have. These anti-BDS laws include provisions such as prohibiting the state from contracting with an entity that engages in or supports BDS and requiring that state contracts contain a clause that the contractor will not engage in or support BDS during the term of the contract.
The Virginia report also contained several additional recommendations. In particular, it recommended the state (er, commonwealth?) amend its laws to clarify that Jews are covered by hate-crime and anti-discrimination laws. Because Jew-hatred may present as a hatred of religion, but more often today manifests as a hatred of an ethnicity or nationality, it sometimes falls between the cracks.
Other recommendations recognize that much of today’s anti-Semitic hatred and discrimination are promoted by the left in the guise of anti-hatred and anti-discrimination – often in educational institutions. Here are some of the Virginia commission’s other ideas:
Advance Study of Antisemitism and the Law
The Commission recommends that the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) encourage law schools to establish courses devoted to the intersection of antisemitism and the law, as well as the challenge of how the law can be used to combat the persistent threat of antisemitism. The Commission also recommends that SCHEV cooperate with academic scholars to create a center for the study of antisemitism and the law at a Virginia law school.
Prohibit Indoctrination in Public Education
The Commission recommends that the General Assembly pass legislation prohibiting partisan political or ideological indoctrination in classrooms and curricula at state-supported K-12 schools and higher education institutions. In instances in Virginia and elsewhere, political advocacy in the classroom has been associated with subsequent antisemitic actions. A requirement of non-indoctrination would maintain or restore the basic neutrality of teaching in a way that protects Jewish students (and others) from being victimized by a politicized environment that some perceive as a license for hateful activity.
Adopt Statement Supporting Free Expression and Open Inquiry
The Commission recommends that the Department of Education and SCHEV adopt and adhere to the Chicago Principles of Freedom of Expression to ensure free and open academic inquiry and debate on all subjects. Free inquiry and free speech protect all citizens, including Jews, and a genuinely educated populace is less likely to engage in hate activities. These principles should be required at every public university, college, and community college in Virginia.
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Support Youth Initiatives to Mitigate Radicalization
Extremist groups, including those espousing antisemitic views and encouraging antisemitic crimes, deliberately target teenagers and other youngsters for recruitment and radicalization. The 10-year-old Estonian “commander” of a Feuerkrieg cell—a particularly notorious antisemitic terrorist group—is one of many instances where young people are deliberately drawn into violent, antisemitic organizations. Enlisting the intervention of professional counselors and juvenile parole officers as well as civil society groups, including those that use former extremists to reach young audiences, to educate and help rehabilitate violent offenders on this issue could make an important contribution to addressing the problem.
Finally, this recommendation is especially interesting:
(6) eliminating any reference to genocides in the Virginia Social Studies Standards of Learning other than those already recognized internationally under the 1948 Convention on Genocide.
It isn’t explained. At a guess, the commission believes wanton branding of any conduct one doesn’t like as “genocide” cheapens the term and renders it essentially meaningless. These days, it is a charge often leveled against Israel to describe Israeli defensive activities against Palestinian violence, thereby outrageously equating Israel to Nazi Germany.DONATE
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