Earlier this year, amid a flurry of slanderous statements, Swarthmore’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter announced their Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. But the narrative that SJP uses to justify its campaign is false, and will create a toxic atmosphere antithetical to the mission of the college.
At SJP’s BDS announcement rally, several students made public claims that cruelly and falsely painted Israelis as murderers, Hamas terrorists as innocent victims, and wholly erased any Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
First, the opening speaker began her remarks by claiming that Israel has “colonized Palestine.” This is an absurd statement. Jewish people have inhabited the territory of modern-day Israel for centuries, and have had a continuous presence there. The word “Jew” itself derives from “Judea,” the kingdom of the Jews that was destroyed 2,000 years ago. The name “Palestine” actually comes from the Biblical enemies of the Jews — the Philistines. The claim that Jews “colonized” their own homeland is a malicious and antisemitic claim that wages war on Jewish identity itself.
Second, many speakers repeatedly slandered Israel as an “apartheid state.” This claim was made dozens of times, and its total lack of veracity becomes apparent with the most cursory attempt to investigate it. Israeli Arabs, the supposed victims of “apartheid,” have a political party called the Joint List that is the third-largest in the Knesset. They also have full and equal legal rights — the same rights as all Jews. Furthermore, an Arab judge sits on the Israeli Supreme Court, and Arabs and Jews interact with each other every day, side by side, as equals. The attempt to compare Israel to the racist South African regime, where exactly the opposite happened, would be laughable if it wasn’t so profoundly disturbing.
Third, a speaker claimed that immediately after the US embassy was moved to Jerusalem, “over 50 Palestinians engaging in peaceful, non-violent protests were brutally murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces.” This claim is pure propaganda. In the aftermath of the embassy move, Hamas — a terrorist organization responsible for the murders of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians (and many Palestinians) — claimed that 50 out of the 62 Palestinians initially killed in riots were Hamas “martyrs.” Three more were claimed as martyrs from Palestine Islamic Jihad, which means that at least 53 out of those first 62 killed — 85 percent — were known terrorists.
BDS proponents also claim that they only oppose certain parts of Israeli policy, not the Jewish state’s very existence. But here is a quote that describes the true goal of BDS from its co-founder Omar Barghouti: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Simply put, BDS’s ultimate goal is the end of Israel, although instead of suicide bombers or tanks, it uses international isolation as the method for achieving this.
We’ve seen time and time again that BDS divestment resolutions rarely succeed on campus. So what does BDS usually accomplish? It creates a toxic anti-Israel and antisemitic atmosphere, where Jewish and pro-Israel students feel intimidated and fear expressing their core beliefs at their own campuses in the face of social retribution.
Many major BDS proponents have also been caught preaching outright antisemitism. At my own campus, there have been many instances of this. In one of my classes, a student compared Zionism to ISIS ideology. Another asked, paraphrasing, “If the Jews do not control the media and the government, then who does?” These comments were made shamelessly in front of 70 people.
Finally, BDS clamps down on open dialogue, which cuts into the core mission of a university — serving as a free marketplace of ideas. When BDS resolutions pass, campuses essentially say that it is an illegitimate moral position for a student to support Israel, or even Israel’s right to exist.
SJP is attempting to paint a picture of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is at best severely and dangerously lacking in context, and at worst maliciously deceitful. This campaign will not help Palestinians; it will simply create a toxic antisemitic atmosphere on campus that will poison campus dialogue and demonize Jewish students.
Matthew Stein is a CAMERA Fellow at Swarthmore.