On November 18th, 2022, the Rutgers New Brunswick chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Endowment Justice Collective (EJC) hosted a panel entitled “Divestment From Israeli Apartheid At The University Level.”
The event was moderated by Rutgers post-graduate student Abire Sabbagh, with a history of promoting BDS at UC Davis. The panel included Iman Abid, Director of Advocacy and Organizing at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Dov Baum, Wassim Kanaan, Vice-Chair for the New Jersey Chapter of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and David Litwin, co-founder of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return.
The event centered mostly on a single concern: gathering support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign through the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.
Wassim Kanaan set the tone for the evening when he was asked by Sabbagh if he could “walk us [the audience] through how Israel perpetuates apartheid and why it is important to name it as an apartheid and settler colonial state.”
Kanaan’s response included numerous falsehoods: that Israel appropriates Palestinian water in the West Bank and destroys water infrastructure, that Israel has laws on the books dictating where Arabs can and cannot live and that Israel constructed segregated roads in the West Bank, all disproven assertions.
Litwin continued in a similar vein when he stated that“what the BDS movement has shown is that the problem is the presence of a racist, settler colonial, Zionist regime…Someday soon, we’re gonna see the toppling of the apartheid regime.”
Litwin is unashamed to combine an obvious dog whistle for Jews — “Zionists” and the “Zionist regime” [in reference to the State of Israel] with modern perceptions of evil —racism, colonialism, apartheid.
Litwin’s rhetoric follows the blueprint of Soviet-era antisemitism, justifying antisemitism by demonizing the State of Israel as the collective Jew.
As Wilson Center Scholar Izabella Tabarovsky writes, “Despite its claims, the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign was hardly motivated by a search for justice, peace or liberation for the Palestinian people. Conceived by master propagandists, it was an instrument whose purpose was to divert attention, manipulate, solidify control, purge enemies, and broaden influence for one of the most oppressive regimes in humanity’s history.”
Across their “movement,” BDS activists have a sordid history of towing the same line, promoting Nazi–era antisemitism and horrific stereotypes about the Jewish people under a thin veneer of “social justice” and “liberation.”
Naturally, the panelists attempted to use such language to appeal to marginalized groups within the Rutgers University system including people of color.
For instance, Iman Abid argued that “the more that we use language like white supremacy when we talk about Zionism is really critical; we need to make sure that people understand that from the angle of which they understand it here,” Wassim Kaanan also added that “Israel is a European outpost in the Middle East, Israel is a white supremacist effort in its inception.”
Abid and Kanaan do not acknowledge that most Israeli Jews are of Middle Eastern and North African descent or that Jews are often targeted by white supremacists.
To conflate Zionism and the State of Israel with “white supremacy” is an intellectually lazy attempt to delegitimize a successful effort at decolonization and liberation. The Jewish people have returned from across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas to their indigenous homeland, the cradle of the Jewish faith, culture, traditions, and Hebrew language.
Members of the panel also attempted to promote the BDS campaign to supporters of LGBTQ+ rights.
During the discussion, Wassim accused Israel of pinkwashing, asserting that Israel’s progressive policies concerning queer rights are an effort to justify Zionism, which he claims equals “oppression, segregation, and discrimination.”
When pressed further, Wassim told the crowd that he “had no idea how things are for LGBT+ Palestinians.”
Fellow panelist Dov Baum appeared to answer the question, only to use her airtime to argue that the “occupation” is responsible for the hardships faced by queer Palestinians. Of course, she did not mention the absence of civil rights for queer Palestinians in the West Bank or that Hamas in Gaza considers homosexuality a crime.
Omitted from the conversation is the indisputable fact that Israel is one of the most progressive countries in the region concerning LGBTQ+ rights. Some significant milestones include LGBTQ+ Israelis being able to get gender affirmation surgery, serve openly and equally in the IDF, and the right for same-sex couples to adopt children.
The aims of the BDS movement have nothing to do with helping Palestinians, and this panel only further proves that these individuals are more interested in bashing Israel.
Every diatribe echoed the sentiment of BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti who has long opposed peace and co-existence. “A Jewish state in Palestine, in any shape or form, cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population…definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Panels like this only further contribute to Rutgers’ reputation for being a hostile campus for Jewish students. Since this event, the Students for Justice in Palestine Chapter at Rutgers has called for retracting the IHRA definition of antisemitism; yet another attempt to marginalize Jewish voices. Rutgers must reconsider lending its imprimatur and university spaces to these speakers promoting antisemitism on campus.
A slightly edited version of this article appeared in the Algemeiner.