The title refers to a 7 February lecture on the Palestinian campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel lecture featuring prominent activist Omar Barghouti and Jewish academic Judith Butler, sponsored by the college’s political science department and Students for Justice in Palestine.
The same day as Dershowitz’s piece appeared, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind condemned the event as a “racist, anti-Semitic lecture,” and the BDS movement as “a racist group” with a “racist agenda” (“Hikand calls for Brooklyn College president’s resignation,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s blog, 30 January 2013). Hikind, a former leader of the Jewish Defense League, has been a supporter of the late Meir Kahane, an openly-racist Israeli settler activist who called for the “slaughter” of Palestinians.
Other local politicians soon jumped on the bandwagon. Former New York City comptroller Bill Thompson denounced the event as a “forum of hate,” and city Councilman David Greenfield comprehensively indicted BDS as a “hate-filled, antisemitic, pro-terrorist movement” (“Officials Rally Against ‘Antisemitic, Pro-Terrorist’ Event at Brooklyn College,” Politicker, 31 January 2013).
Although this is not the first time such accusations have been made, it is revealing that none of the accusers offered any evidence to support their attacks. No embarrassing quotes, no shameful excerpts, no inflammatory platform points — nothing beyond the accusations themselves.
That’s because the accusation is completely false. BDS is an equal rights movement based on the South African anti-apartheid and US Civil Rights models. It is explicitly opposed to discrimination of any kind, including anti-Semitism.
This is no secret to anyone who has viewed the Palestinian BDS National Committee website (bdsmovement.net), attended any of the many BDS events mushrooming around the country, or bothered to read Barghouti’s book, BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.
It is certainly no secret to anyone who has examined the three BDS demands: an end to Israeli occupation of Arab land and the dismantling of the apartheid wall, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees forcibly dispossessed by Zionists beginning in 1947.
Without question these goals are incompatible with the existence of a racist “Jewish state.” While that doesn’t sit well with many Jews, it is difficult to see how anyone could honestly characterize them as either anti-Semitic or “hateful.”
Then why do Dershowitz and others continue to pursue this fiction?
Because, by advocating full equality for Palestinians throughout historic Palestine, including those parts on which now sits the Israeli state, and by calling for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to that same land, BDS is exposing Israel for the apartheid state it is and, indeed, has been since its inception.
The obvious chasm between the democratic rhetoric and the racist reality of the “Jewish state” is widening so fast, revealing a hypocrisy so stark, so deeply embedded, and so discordant with modern notions of universal human rights, that the Dershowitzs, Hikinds, and Thompsons of the world have nothing left in their hands but the anti-Semitism card.
As a Jewish BDS activist, I reject that accusation. But I also recognize it for what it is: a desperate self-delusion that signals a world no longer willing to give Zionism’s distorted narrative the free pass it has enjoyed for so long.
That, in turn, holds out the promise of a future democratic Palestine with equal rights for all throughout both the 1948 and 1967 territories; the promise that the arc of history, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, is indeed bending toward justice.
David Letwin is an activist in New York City with Jews for Palestinian Right of Return.