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BDS conference at Penn met my worst expectations

by guy herschmann

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Toward the end of last week, I flew from the Bay Area to Philadelphia for the national BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) conference at the University of Pennsylvania, curious to see whether it would be as extreme as many had warned. I also hoped to meet some cooler-headed attendees who were seeking ways to promote peaceful coexistence.

Instead, I heard lies and old anti-Semitic canards. Palestinian terrorism was swept away. Israel was demonized and accused of blood libels. The idea of compromise and peaceful coexistence was deplored.

Approximately 150 to 200 people attended each session over the three-day conference, with the number swelling to 400 for the keynote speech by Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electric Intifada.

The majority of attendees were beyond their college years, with a smaller number of students. Not one participant asked a question from Israel’s point of view; not one challenged the blood libels that I heard. It’s clear to me now that the purpose of this conference was to instill hostility against Israel, and then to call for its punishment.

The film shown at the pre-reception, “The Road to Apartheid,” set the tone for the weekend. The filmmaker used visual manipulation — splitting the screen with documentary footage of South African black-white struggles next to footage of Israel Defense Forces actions in the West Bank — in an effort to associate Israeli policies with apartheid. The scenes looked similar, as shots of violent conflicts between any groups would. But the filmmaker scrupulously erased context for Israel’s actions, such as the Palestinian terrorist war.

Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, spoke by videotape, exhorting the audience to “end your complicity” with Israel’s “apartheid regime” because doing so “is a profound, moral obligation.”

In the opening address, Susan Abulhawa, a U.S.-based author of Palestinian descent, distorted history, ignoring Palestinian and Arab wars against Israel, instead accusing Israel of committing “wholesale slaughter.” She urged extremism. Her passionate call for “justice without compromise or negotiations” had the dismantling of the Jewish state as a necessary outcome. The “no compromise” language exposed the BDS movement’s fundamental opposition to two states living side-by-side, and the hypocrisy of their claim that they are trying to uphold human rights and international law.

In Abunimah’s keynote speech, he absurdly charged that “Nakba denial is the equivalent of Holocaust denial.” The audience responded with enthusiastic applause. He indulged in classic anti-Semitic imagery. “Israelis as human beings don’t have a right to superiority.”

Abunimah claimed that an Israeli settler had killed a Palestinian teenager, Yousef al-Khalil, while he was innocently working alongside his father in their fields. I checked out that story further, and even the far left B’Tselem information agency reported that Khalil and a friend had been hurling rocks at an Israeli hiker who said he was forced to shoot in self-defense.

At the BDS conference at Penn, Tighe Barry of Washington, D.C. addresses a question to keynote speaker Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of Electric Intifada.   photo/peter tobia
At the BDS conference at Penn, Tighe Barry of Washington, D.C. addresses a question to keynote speaker Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of Electric Intifada. photo/peter tobia
Abunimah’s distortion was typical of the charges made over the weekend. Isolated incidents that occurred in ambiguous circumstances were repeatedly used to portray Palestinian violence as peaceful activity and Israeli self-defense as cruel aggression.

In the other sessions, this pattern of distortion continued. The themes were often variations of anti-Semitic accusations. At a panel titled “A Faith-Based Approach to BDS,” the Rev. Graylan Hagler, national president of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice, told a questioner that “one of the things I am constantly doing is trying to disengage Christians from Hebrew Scripture.”

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb from Jewish Voice for Peace was no more sympathetic to Jews than Hagler. She boasted about the delegation she had led to Iran to speak with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and declared that “no war, no sanctions for Iran” is part of the BDS movement. She indulged in the canard of Jewish superiority, saying that “we Jewish people have to de-privilege ourselves.” Cyrus McGoldrick from the Council on American-Islamic Relations claimed that “Zionism depends on Islamophobia.”

As a college student, I was especially shocked by a Q&A during the academic boycott breakout session. A man who identified himself as a scholar and teacher asked how BDS could be incorporated into the classroom, “especially when the course is not dealing directly with material that has to do with Palestine.” A professor on the panel offered suggestions about how to do so.

I was stunned by the devious nature of this recommended tactic. I was stunned that faculty were encouraged to devise ways to indoctrinate their unsuspecting captive audience of students in any and all classrooms. This strategy to exploit the classroom struck me as an inevitable result of BDS’ distortion of liberal values.

I did not find anyone who wanted to build bridges. Instead, I found people who call themselves human rights activists preaching against the only free society in the Middle East. I found “social justice” advocates denying justice for Jews.


Guy Herschmann is a senior at U.C. Santa Cruz and the campus professional for StandWithUs in Northern California and Western Canada.


Comments

Posted by matt
02/09/2012  at  03:03 PM
If you were so appalled,

If you were so appalled, Guy, why didn’t YOU speak out?

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Posted by Michael Harris
02/09/2012  at  04:57 PM
Looks like he IS speaking out right here

There are times when it’s very appropriate to ask the speakers very pointed questions, and times when it’s not.  If an audience has people who are not committed to the anti-Israel cause, people with open minds who will consider both sides of an issue, then it is appropriate. If the audience contains just those who are committed to opposing Israel’s existence, then one can get gratification out of showing up the speaker but not accomplish anything.

In this case, since Guy wanted to be able to attend the rest of the conference sessions without “outing” himself as a supporter of Israel, it made more sense to keep quiet and report out later.  It was clearly far more important to expose what was going on at the conference to a wider audience—which he has done here.

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Posted by Cadance M
02/09/2012  at  06:18 PM
Thank you, Guy

Guy subjected himself to this horror to bear witness- to document the real agenda and the hate speech associated with this event.  Very important work.  Thank you, Guy.

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Posted by hello
02/09/2012  at  06:36 PM
Hate speech?

Guy attended the entire conference and the best example of ‘hate speech’ he could find was, “Israelis as human beings don’t have a right to superiority”? That remark literally translates into, “The Palestinians and Israelis should have equal rights.” Not sure how that constitutes anything close to hate speech, and it’s telling of how anti-hate the conference actually was if that’s the best Guy could do.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
02/09/2012  at  06:56 PM

By obvious implication, you are saying that the Israelis believe and act “superior.” This is the same rubbish the Nazis accorded Jews in Europe and they used such stereotypes to first oppress and later murder them.

The insinuation is thus by definition anti-Semitic. ‘Course, “hello” is doubtless too rooted in the biases of his own ideological stew to comprehend this…

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Posted by daveop
02/09/2012  at  08:12 PM
Be thankful for this report

For anyone questioning why Guy did not speak out at the conference, please keep in mind that the Penn BDS group barred the Exponent, the local Jewish community’s paper of record, from covering the conference (interesting action from a group which claims that it is not anti-Semitic and is interested in open dialogue!)  I am glad that Guy did not speak out at the conference so that we can all benefit from his coverage of the event.  Thanks Guy!

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Posted by Michael Harris
02/10/2012  at  02:20 PM
more hate speech

hello: I guess you don’t consider calling Israel an “apartheid regime”, calling for the dismantling of the state of the Jewish people (while promoting the rights of the Palestinian people to their own state), and generally using lies (“Zionism depends on Islamophobia”) to incite hatred to be examples of hate speech?

There are many people of good will who do support rights for the Palestinians—to have their own state, as long as they agree to stop trying to eliminate the Jewish one.  Unfortunately, it seems as if this conference didn’t have any people promoting that viewpoint in their presentations.  Rather, they were enthusiastically calling for ongoing opposition to the very existence of a Jewish state.

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Posted by hello
02/10/2012  at  09:07 PM
No

Of course I don’t. Israel is indeed an apartheid state founded on a backwards ethnocratic ideology. Criticism of the Israeli government and criticism of Jews are completely separate. The former does not constitute any form of hate speech - indeed, BDS is perhaps the most pro-Israeli movement today, merely because sustaining Israel’s current system of oppression is neither beneficial for the Palestinians or Jewish Israelis. Moreover, the idea of “dismantling the Jewish state” is rather hyperbolic in and of itself and doesn’t accurately represent the goals of the BDS movement. First of all, the BDS movement does not even explicitly call for a one state solution. However, many proponents of BDS recognize that a just peace can only come when the Palestinians and the Israelis are afforded equal rights. The Zionist ideology prioritizes Jewish rights over the rights of the indigenous Palestinians by nature- something that many see as a roadblock to peace. In fact, if anything is hateful, it’s the idea that one ethnicity is afforded the right to deny others of their fundamental human rights.

Regardless, I am still waiting for a quote from the BDS conference that proves that Guy’s allegations are true. Just because Guy disagrees with the conference’s speakers does not give him the right to accuse them of hate speech. Guy was at the entire 2-day conference. Yet, every one of his quotes amounts to criticism of Israel, not attacks on Jews or anyone else. I fail to see how this constitutes hate speech, just as I fail to see how criticism of American policy amounts to spewing hatred of Americans.

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Posted by Michael Harris
02/10/2012  at  09:46 PM

Blatant lies such as “Israel is an apartheid state” constitute hate speech.  And that’s not just my opinion.

From the EU’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism:

“Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:
Denying the Jewish people their right of self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

from the US State Department:  “What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?
EXAMPLES of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel, taking into account the overall context could include: Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.”

Of course, anyone familiar with basic facts understands that you can only make a statement accusing Israel of apartheid out of willful ignorance.

Apartheid South Africa didn’t have universities with black and white students together.
Apartheid South Africa didn’t have blacks serving in the parliament, in the judiciary, in the diplomatic corps, and in the army.
Apartheid South Africa didn’t have blacks and whites sharing the same beaches, the same hotels, the same trains.

You are libeling Israel—whether your motive is hatred, or a microscopic laser focus on every flaw of the Jewish state that is held to a higher standard than other developed countries, or a failure to understand history, I can’t tell. 

And the BDS movement does call openly for the eradication of Jewish statehood—whether it is the “one Arab state” or “one binational (Arab dominated) state where Israel is now, and one state in the West Bank where Jews are forbidden” is immaterial.

The Jewish people are the indigenous people of the region who returned to it.  The Palestinians were offered a state alongside the Jews—rejected in the 1930’s, the 1940’s and twice in the last decade.  And those who continue to deny the Jewish people their national rights are , ironically, the ones who keep the Palestinians further away from theirs—by going along with their insistence that the elimination of Jewish rights comes first.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
02/11/2012  at  09:03 AM

Only a fool would call Israel an “apartheid state.” Its Arab citizens (20%) have all the rights of Israeli Jews except to join the army (for obvious reasons). On the other hand, Palestinians and their Arab neighbors practice true apartheid vs women, gays and dissidents. And “hello,” just try going into the Palestinian territories wearing a Star of David and you will see just how tolerant your Pali pals can be.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN openly stated that Jews would not be welcome in their projected “new” state. Such a banning of Jews has not been manifest anywhere else on the planet since the fall of the Third Reich.

Finally, “hello,” the JVP and ISM’er haters who organized the Penn conference are tendering their tacit support to the new united Palestinian government which includes as a major player Hamas. So by extolling the virtues of the BDS conference and opposition to monies provided by the US for the Israelis to protect themselves vs their neighbors, “hello” is correspondingly supporting the Hamas charter which calls for genocide vs Jews in general and Israelis in particular.

“Hello,” who the hell do you think you are going to convince on this site? It is clear that you are simply just another bigot blowing toxic hot air…

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Posted by Masada
02/11/2012  at  03:35 PM
BDS's goals

Hello, BDS’s official demands include the right of return for Palestinian refugees. This means you either support a Palestinian state next to a Palestinian state or the one state solution. BDS supporters don’t always like to explain that part so it’s necessary to finish their thought for them. Demonizing Zionism is absolutely hateful, most Jews are Zionists in the sense that they believe that Jews should have self-determination. Blanket statements about Zionism=blanket statements about the great majority of Jews. Extremist Zionism should be criticized like any other extremist ideology but calling the entire movement to preserve Jewish self determination racist is ridiculously ignorant, hateful, and insulting.

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Posted by Michael Harris
02/11/2012  at  04:36 PM
Anti-Zionism is in itself hate speech

OK, my original response got sent to moderation, probably due to its length. So here’s the shorter answer.


The European Union’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism (2002) states:

“Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

Denying the Jewish people their right of self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The US State Department uses virtually identical language:

“EXAMPLES of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel, taking into account the overall context could include:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.”

So, “hello”, if the hate speech fits, wear it.  And give up on the “apartheid” lie—it’s been debunked so many times to make your use of it just pathetic at this point.

Goodbye.

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Posted by hello
02/11/2012  at  07:59 PM
To Masada,

Your logic makes absolutely no sense. I’m not allowed to criticize an ideology because most Jews subscribe to it? Am I also not allowed to criticize homophobia because polls show that most Americans don’t support gay marriage? Does that make me anti-American?

Also, the fact that you associate Zionism with Judaism is anti-semitic in and of itself. I know many Jews who would be disgusted with that generalization, as they themselves abhor Zionism.

Michael Harris,
For years, the US government has stood as the one major anomaly in the debate over Israel-Palestine, routinely using its power in the UN to veto even the most benign of resolutions directed towards Israel. In some cases, resolutions have passed through the General Assembly with 180 votes in favor, and 2 against (Israel and the US). So, I fail to see how the US government is a source I should trust on this issue. Secondly, if you read carefully, the EU definition refers to anti-zionism as an example of how anti-semitism manifests itself. Without a doubt, there are anti-zionists who are anti-semites. There are also Zionists who are islamophobic. That doesn’t mean that all people who don’t subscribe to Zionism are anti-semitic. In fact, I’ve never met one person within the BDS movement who I could identify as anti-semitic.

Finally, stop denying the facts. The apartheid analogy is appropriate given Israel’s extremely well documented human rights record. Look it up.

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Posted by Michael Harris
02/11/2012  at  10:36 PM
you can't handle the facts

“Apartheid” Israel has Arabs and Jews attending the same universities, serving in the same Knesset for which Arabs have equal voting rights, and serving in the country’s judiciary, armed forces, and diplomatic corps.

Are there immigration preferences?  Sure, like these other “apartheid” states: Germany, Italy, Greece, China, Japan and India, just to name a few.

No, there are no anti-Semites in the anti-Israel movement, are there?  Just people who hate only 1 state—the Jewish one.

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Posted by Masada
02/12/2012  at  03:03 AM
lol

Hello, you are allowed to do or say whatever it is your confused heart desires. My point is that if you make extremely negative blanket generalizations about a movement which encompasses the great majority of Jewish people you are being hateful and ignorant. I’m not trying to stop you from being hateful and ignorant, it’s your own problem. I’m not tying Zionism to the Jewish religion, merely stating that most Jewish people believe Jews should have self determination. That’s pretty uncontroversial and the fact that a minority of Jews hold a different view is irrelevant. You are still baselessly labeling the majority of Jews racist. If that’s your view then own it, don’t try to attack me for calling you out.

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Posted by hello
02/12/2012  at  12:23 PM
Masada,

I guess you also wouldn’t have condemned the white supremacist ideology, to which most white Americans subscribed, that ultimately led to the enslavement of an entire African American population and institutionalized discrimination for centuries afterwards. Just because most white Americans once supported slavery doesn’t mean it was racist to condemn it at the time. Just because most Jews are Zionists, does not mean it’s anti-semitic to condemn Zionism.

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Posted by Masada
02/12/2012  at  01:49 PM
you're quite confused

Look up the definition of Zionism. If you think the Jewish movement for self determination is comparable to white supremacism you have your head securely up your a**. Are there Zionists who are racist? Yes! Do their views reflect those of the entire movement? No! Jews were oppressed for 1900 years before they achieved self determination. Wanting them to relinquish it is the height of absurdity and the opposite of a just solution to the conflict.

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Posted by Masada
02/12/2012  at  03:08 PM
also

I didn’t call anti-Zionism anti-Semitic, I called it hateful and ignorant, I guess you’re fine with being hateful and ignorant as long as you’re not technically being anti-Semitic. Good for you.

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Posted by Liz
02/13/2012  at  03:16 AM
Kol Hakavod Guy!

Guy— I am glad you went and documented. I would not have had a stomach for it!  Thanks and keep up the good work!

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Posted by Masada
02/14/2012  at  06:22 PM
Everyone should watch this

especially you, hello.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=725EZ6neT1I

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