Protesting against Israel valid or anti-Semitic: As BDS season opens at Cal, anti-Semitism begi

It’s that time of year. The fall semester has begun, the leaves are turning orange and scarlet in Berkeley, and the radical leftist student groups on campus have started their annual push for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

As many times as this movement is defeated on campus, it always comes back, like a zombie in a bad movie. The big news is that the University of California Student Association has come out in favor of BDS (see story, 3). This organization, which on its website claims to be “the official voice” of U.C. students, has a mandate of “increasing the accessibility, affordability and quality of the U.C. system.” So, naturally, supporting the BDS movement advances its core mission.

The board of the U.C. Student Association, which represents all 10 campuses, passed its BDS resolution at its Sept. 15 board meeting in Berkeley. The resolution has two main themes. The first is a denunciation of California Assembly House Resolution 35, which advises the U.C. campuses to regulate anti-Semitic speech and actions on campus. The second theme is an endorsement of the BDS campaign. How does a response to the problem of anti-Semitism turn into an endorsement of BDS?

Here’s how it goes. The resolution objects to HR 35 because the bill associates the BDS campaign with anti-Semitic events and speech on U.C. campuses. But the resolution avers that this cannot be true, because there is “campus unity” in support of “actions critiquing and responding to Israeli policies.” So, if all the students at U.C. campuses support BDS, then this campaign can hardly be associated with inciting anti-Semitic events. But this is a lunatic claim. Every BDS resolution at a U.C. campus has been defeated. There is considerable (majority) opposition to the BDS movement on campus and to the atmosphere of hate and intolerance that it engenders. Even more bizarre is the footnote that provides evidence for this claim. The footnote is a link to an advertisement for Palestinian Awareness Week at U.C. Santa Cruz, and an odd article from the campus newspaper, “Palestinian Awareness Week Disrupted: Student interrupts poetry reading at Cultural Solidarity Night.” (You can’t make this stuff up!) Two other footnotes in the resolution (out of a total of seven) are links to letters and articles written or co-signed by the radical organization Students for Justice in Palestine.

Who wrote this resolution? Who was feeding the board their talking points? Well, if the footnotes are any indication, it was ghostwritten by Students for Justice in Palestine. After the resolution was announced, a member of the SJP involved in the deliberations sent an email to other members stating: “there was not much word spread about this in the last few days that led up to the meeting … in order to prevent unwanted lobbying/intimidation tactics.” This is code that means no Jewish student groups were consulted or involved in the resolution.

The conclusion “encourages all institutions of higher learning to cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law, without making special exemptions for any country.” Of course, the only country mentioned in the resolution is Israel. This is pure BDS boilerplate.

Let me summarize.  The board of the U.C. Student Association approved a resolution written by the radical group Students for Justice in Palestine about how to respond to the issue of anti-Semitism on campus.  The resulting resolution is twofold: a rejection of the allegation that there is a problem, and an endorsement of the BDS campaign. The board invited no Jewish groups, and no moderate political groups, to advise them about the issue of anti-Semitism on campus, or what it means to be a Jewish student at U.C. The director of the U.C. Student Association informs me: “Normally we do actively seek out other students to come and present a rebuttal argument because we may not truly know the point that the students are attempting to make.”  No such invitations were issued in this case.

These decisions, it seems to me, are profoundly stupid, chutzpadik and, hmm — what’s another appropriate adjective? Oh yes, anti-Semitic. Well, anyway, it’s an exciting start to the season.

Ronald Hendel is the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at U.C. Berkeley.