Anti-Palestinian group to “monitor” boycott activists on campus

SPME website urges anti-Palestinian activists to “Report BDS Activity at Your School”

A group that works against Palestinian rights plans to increase its surveillance on American campuses in an effort to remove the “element of surprise” that it says has contributed to the growing success of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), a decade-old group supported by leading anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic funders and figures, announced in a 29 July email to supporters that it had launched a new initiative called “BDS Monitor.”

Alex Joffe, who “has been affiliated with the Middle East Forum,” the outfit of Daniel Pipes, will head the initiative, the email states.

Pipes, himself a former board member of SPME according to the group’s website, is one of the most notorious figures in the Islamophobia industry.

“Undermine the element of surprise”

“With the increase of BDS proposals around the country SPME believes a monitoring project will be a useful educational tool for faculty, students and other stakeholders who care about the well-being of academia,” the email says. “Further, we hope it will help defeat these bills while exposing the non-academic nature of the movement and its followers.”

The BDS movement calls for broad-based civil society boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns intended to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights, including academic boycott of Israeli institutions, and divestment from firms that assist or profit from Israeli occupation and human rights crimes.

Over the past year, numerous student legislative bodies have passed bills supporting divestment.

BDS Monitor “will create a monthly digest of global BDS activities, including a monthly newsletter that will include links to news items, organized by region, and to opinion and analytical pieces, with special attention toward insights from the pro-peace community.”

“The BDS Monitor will also begin to undermine the element of surprise that has been a key asset to BDS organizers,” the email claims.

Daniel Pipes launched a website called Campus Watch a decade ago, a McCarthyite project that kept a “blacklist” and encouraged students to spy on and report their supposedly anti-Israel and anti-American professors.

In that same spirit, the SPME’s website now has a form to “Report BDS Activity at Your School.”

“Pro-peace” facade

The SPME email alleges – without offering a shred of evidence – that “Pronouncements attempting to appeal to the conscience of academics supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement often depict Israel as a Nazi-like state.”

It also claims that a “careful look at the BDS movement and its methodology shows not legitimate criticism but a movement that is racist and anti-Semitic.”

SPME’s reasoning? Because the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS supports the right of Palestinian refugees to return home. This, the SPME email claims, would mean a “flood of Palestinian refugees, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.”

SPME seems unaware that referring to a human population as an undesirable or destructive “flood” just because they are not members of a specific ethnoracial group (in this case Jews) is the very essence of racism.

While smearing supporters of Palestinian rights as “racists” and “anti-Semites,” SPME itself claims to represent a “pro-peace” community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Anti-Palestinian funders

In 2010, SPME received $200,000 from the Klarman Family Fund, accounting for almost two-thirds of the group’s $322,000 income that year.

As Max Blumenthal reported for The Electronic Intifada in May:

The foundation is the charitable vehicle for Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire Seth Klarman. He is the principal funder of The Israel Project, an Israeli government-linked public relations and lobbying group run by former AIPAC spokesperson Josh Block, which has, among other things, taken dozens of journalists on helicopter tours in Israel and the territories it occupies.

With assests of more than $300 million, the Klarman foundation is one of the principal donors of the anti-Palestinian and anti-BDS industry, and has made major donations to MEMRI, CAMERA, The David Project and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, according to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

Klarman is also a major donor to the Reut Institute and NGO Monitor, two groups that collaborate with the Israeli government in the effort to sabotage and attack the Palestine solidarity movement.

Other donors to SPME, though not as generous, have similar profiles. For example, the New York-based Bodman Foundation, which gave SPME $25,000 in 2008 according to the foundation’s IRS filings, also gave the same amount to Shurat HaDin. Shurat HaDin is an Israeli organization that has been at the forefront of efforts to use legal harassment to try to silence criticism of Israel in the US.

SPME’s board of would-be censors and Islamophobes

SPME’s “mission statement” professes that the group opposes “ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism” – a clear attempt to redefine criticism of Israel as a form of bigotry. It also claims to have a “commitment to academic freedom, intellectual integrity, and honest debate.”

Yet some its board members, in addition to Pipes, have been leading voices against Muslims on campus and have spearheaded efforts that amount to censorship and criminalization of speech.

According to its Internal Revenue Service filings and its website, SPME’s board of directors includes Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Leila Beckwith, Kenneth Marcus, Charles Jacobs and Richard Landes, among many other key figures in the US-based anti-Palestinian movement.

Rossman-Benjamin and Beckwith are co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative, a group that has been part of efforts to criminalize criticism of Israel on California campuses. Rossman-Benjamin was caught on video last year generally vilifying students who advocate for Palestinian rights, Muslim students and international students as anti-Semitic and having “ties to terrorist organizations.”

Kenneth Marcus has been the leading force behind efforts to use the 1965 Civil Rights Act and other forms of “lawfare” to silence and suppress free speech critical of Israel.

Charles Jacobs, a founder of CAMERA and The David Project, openly campaigns against Muslim students on campuses. Jacobs has advanced bizarre conspiracy theories about the “Saudi influence at our leading universities.” He has also proposed that Muslim students “should be required to attend sensitivity training about Judaism and about American values of tolerance.”

Richard Landes has been a leading figure in efforts to defame Palestinians, including pushing the conspiracy theory, rejected by French courts, that the child Muhammad al-Dura was not really killed by the Israeli army in Gaza in 2000.

Landes also coined the term “Pallywood,” used by anti-Palestinian activists who claim that many documented cases of Israeli occupation forces maiming and killing Palestinians are staged.

Given these facts, SPME’s “BDS Monitor” appears likely to be another bigotry-driven exercise in on-campus espionage and intimidation against students and faculty who oppose, or want to inquire about, Israel’s racism and violence against Palestinians.