Next weekend at the University of Pennsylvania, the National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Conference is taking place, where pro-Palestinian activists are teaming up with a wide array of leftist causes including social and “racial justice” advocates, self-proclaimed “queer” activists, dedicated socialists and anti-Zionists aiming to grow the boycott Israel effort, whose ultimate goal is to “bring an end to Israel’s system of oppression, segregation and dispossession.”
While the BDS activists say they don’t oppose the existence of the State of Israel - just the “occupation” - a deeper look at some of those involved reveals a more basic opposition to the existence of the Jewish state altogether.
The best glimpse into the unstated goal of the BDS movement is to know the conference’s keynote speaker. As the conference speakers list states:
“Ali Abunimah is a Palestinian American journalist and co-founder of Electronic Intifada. A graduate of Princeton University and University of Chicago, Abunimah has contributed to many publications...”
What’s omitted from the short bio is that Abunimah opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, he advocates the “One State Solution.” Translation: a bi-national Jewish-Arab state which by demographics and the “return” of millions of Palestinian refugees would spell the end of the Jewish state and eventually establish the 23rd Arab state in the Middle East. His book (which is not listed as one of his achievements in the BDS conference bio) laying out that vision is One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
On his website, Electronic Intifada, Abunimah wrote in 2007 that he met Barack Obama half a dozen times before he became president, “often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago...” In an article complaining Obama tilted more toward Israel after being elected, Abunimah writes that previously, “Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Abunimah describes a 2004 conversation with Obama when he was in the middle of the Senate primary campaign:
As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”
Other conference speakers reflect the growing cooperation, as seen in Occupy Wall Street, between thematically unrelated groups in the fight for “social justice” and the Palestinian cause. Examples include:
Nancy Kricorian, “coordinator of CODEPINK NYC, a grassroots peace and social justice movement.”
Bill Fletcher, Jr, the “editor of BlackCommentator.com. He is a labor, racial justice and international activist and was a key player in both the anti-Apartheid and US Civil Rights movements.”
Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui is on the advisory board of the USACBI (US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel). More on Dr. Kauanui from her bio:
She is the author of Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity … Kauanui is a co-founder of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, as well as the producer and host of a public affairs radio program, ‘Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond’…Her research areas include: settler colonialism; comparative indigeneity; anarchism and the state; and decolonization & nation-building.
Philip Weiss, a “self-described ‘anti-Zionist’ Jewish writer.”
Several gay and lesbian activists are also taking part, despite the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where gays can live freely without fear of discrimination or violence. Even Palestinian gays take refuge in Israel for fear of attacks in the West Bank. Tel Aviv was recently named by American Airlines as the “Best Gay City” for vacationers.
Those speakers include:
Sherry Wolf, a journalist “who focuses on LGBT equality, human rights, and economic justice. In addition to her books, she has contributed to multiple publications, including the Nation, New Politics, and Dissident Voice, and has served as co-editor of the International Socialist Review.”
Dr. Heather Love “is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and author of ‘Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History.’”
BDS conference organizers are open about cultivating allies among other leftist causes. The conference website states:
Special attention will be devoted to building alliances and uniting in struggle with other constituencies engaged in resistance to bigotry in all its forms, from African Americans to those fighting for LGBT rights.
Stand With US, a pro-Israel group, released a statement saying:
“most of the scheduled speakers are extremists who oppose the existence of the Jewish state and irresponsibly spread propaganda, distort facts, whitewash or justify terrorism and the murder of Jews, and frequently lie about basic facts to demonize Israel and its supporters.”
Stand With Us researched the speakers and discovered:
Another invited speaker, Helena Cobban, has claimed that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.” (January 2009, Georgetown University) Keynote speaker Ali Abunimah has declared that “Ending the occupation does not solve the problem. The Jews do not view all human beings as equal. The 1948 borders were calculated to harm Christians, Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims.” (Chicago Sabeel Conference, October 7, 2005) Speaker Susan Abulhawa resurrects blood libels, claiming that: “Palestinians are killed as if insects not because of Hamas or Yasser Arafat before them…..Palestinians burn and bleed because they are the non-Jewish natives of that land. There is no other reason.” (Jan. 6, 2009 here)
We trust that if a white supremacist, Islamophobic or homophobic group held a conference on campus, university administrations would condemn the prejudice and bigotry of the messages. The same principle should apply when Israel and Jews are targeted.
Opening night of the conference includes a screening of the film “Roadmap to Apartheid.” Narrated by novelist and “Free Gaza Flotilla” supporter Alice Walker, the film cultivates the comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa. The apartheid label is one that’s found favor in pro-Palestinian circles - bolstered by President Jimmy Carter’s 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid - even though a cursory knowledge about Israel would belie that comparison. The film is also being played at Occupy AIPAC, as discussed on GBTV this week.
“Apartheid” is a powerful word and effective tool for anti-Israel activists to enlist. The association with South Africa elicits an immediate negative response for Americans, while college students hearing their professors use the label may never seek solid information about Israel including the thousands of examples that falsify the comparison. Such examples include an Arab supreme court justice, Arab members of Knesset (including those who meet with Hamas), Arab diplomats serving in Israel’s overseas embassies and consulates, Arab officers in the Israeli army (from the Druse Arab sector), and many more. Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East, with an independent judiciary, a vibrant press free to criticize the government, free and fair elections, and freedom of religion.
The University of Pennsylvania BDS conference discussions include: “Pinkwashing to Pinkwatching: Queer Organizing and BDS,” “Lessons from the South African Struggle,” “BDS and the Black Community,” “Community Coalition Building.”
Even while accusing Israel of racism without acknowledging the concrete facts about the country, conference organizers seem sensitive themselves to being labeled racist:
While it is clearly stated on our website, we nonetheless reiterate that PennBDS categorically and unequivocally condemns any form of racism, including anti-Semitism. We are fundamentally an anti-racist and anti-discrimination organization that seeks to promote non-violent forms of protest against long-standing official Israeli policies that we believe deny civil, political and human rights to Palestinians based on their ethnicity. We make a clear distinction between Israeli policy and the Jewish people. Jews are well represented in the BDS movement worldwide and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace, both pro-BDS organizations, will be fielding speakers at our conference.
The Jewish Federation reports the conference is being organized independently and is not being sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania.