It was meant to be an alarmist hit piece, alerting readers (and undoubtedly, potential donors) to the growing “threat” posed by campus divestment campaigns to Israel’s unconditional supporters. It was meant to instill fear and loathing. It was meant to channel these intense emotions into support (especially of the financial variety) for reinforcing the infrastructure of the organized anti-Palestinian community.
It was meant to do a lot of things, but the Jewish Journal article “Attempted divestment at UCSB and the BDS machine” by Max Samarov, a University of California Santra Barbara alumnus and a staff member with anti-Palestinian advocacy group StandWithUs, may be most notable for sheer amount of unintended compliments it pays to the dedicated activists working on campuses across the United States (and indeed, the world) to shed light upon Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and to hold businesses accountable for knowingly profiting from those abuses.
Among the highlights:
Indeed, divestment is part of an increasingly organized and global movement. The language of the resolution introduced at UCSB was strikingly similar to those recently presented at UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and elsewhere. The Facebook pages set up in support of divestment at the different campuses were also very similar. These campaigns were carefully synchronized. They hit Stanford first, then UC Riverside, then UC San Diego, then UC Santa Barbara, then UC Berkeley, and finally UC Davis. As the drama was ending at one university it would begin anew at the next one down the line.
Divestment did not happen overnight. It is the result of years of work by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and similar campus organizations. Their modus operandi is simple and extremely effective. They get involved in student politics, build relationships with student leaders, hone their talking points, and lobby. At some campuses, like UCSB, this issue has been elevated to the point where some candidates for student government run on a platform of divestment. The anti-Israel movement has evolved, drastically increasing its participation in the democratic process.
It is clear that there is a well-oiled machine organizing and orchestrating this campaign behind the scenes. The main visible forces behind it are SJP-West, SJP National, and above all, the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Leading BDS organizations such as the US Campaign to End the Occupation, American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee are making significant contributions as well. BDS heavyweights like Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker are supplying personalized statements to student government leaders and even speaking at student senate hearings in person… The involvement of legendary anti-Apartheid and civil rights activists like Tutu and Walker has helped BDS gain credibility and influence in progressive circles.
Jewish Voice for Peace receives special attention:
And in the nastiest surprise of the evening, a small army of community activists from Jewish Voice for Peace attended and spoke in favor of divestment …
Samarov takes care to note that the growth of campus boycott, divestment and sanctions activism is not limited to California:
The new reality is that every student senate floor is a potential stage for the BDS movement’s anti-Israel theater.
The global movement to delegitimize Israel has become more organized, more cohesive, and more troublesome. It is time for the pro-Israel community to recognize the new facts on the ground, get better organized, and adapt.
Articles like Samarov’s are in keeping with a well-established pattern of US anti-Palestinian groups catering to fear and other negative emotions, framing themselves as the comparative underdogs struggling to counter the menacing “machine” of nonviolent human rights activism, only to flip the frame 180 degrees during end-of-the-year fundraising efforts, which instead exaggerate their own strengths and accomplishments.
It’s a lucrative strategy for groups like StandWithUs, which has grown to boast an annual budget of $6.4 million as of its 2011 filing of IRS form 990, more than the initial three-year allocation made by the Jewish Federations of North America to create the Israel Action Network in 2010.
Despite its intentions to the contrary, Max Samarov’s fear-mongering attack on campus BDS activism offers its tireless student organizers a much-deserved pat on the back.
- University of California
- University of California at Davis
- University of California at San Diego
- University of California at Berkeley
- University of California at Santa Barbara
- Stanford University
- University of California at Riverside
- Students for Justice in Palestine
- Cal SJP
- Jewish Federations of North America
- Israel Action Network
- Jewish Voice for Peace
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
- Alice Walker
- US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
- American Muslims for Palestine
- American Friends Service Committee
- Max Samarov