BDS with a twist: California campus divestment measures target more than Israel

BDS with a twist: California campus divestment measures target more than Israel

Demonstrators take part in a boycott, divestment and sanctions protest against Israel in 
Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons)
Demonstrators take part in a boycott, divestment and sanctions protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons)

While two recent student resolutions initiated by boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement advocates in California ultimately had different fates, the episodes share a common twist: lumping additional nations and political entities with Israel as divestment targets.

A resolution urging Stanford University to “divest from companies violating human rights in occupied Palestine” by a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement-affiliated group at Stanford University was defeated Feb. 10

in a 9-5 vote, with one abstention, by the school’s undergraduate student senate. Needing 66 percent of student senators’ votes to pass, the resolution — initiated by Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine — got 64 percent. Two days earlier, the University of California Student Association  passed a similar resolution to divest from Israel, in a 9-1 vote and six abstentions.

The UCSA passed a second resolution calling for divestment from companies involved with the governments of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and the United States, accusing those countries of violating human rights. Meanwhile, the Stanford resolution targeted “companies that violate international humanitarian law by … facilitating Israel and Egypt’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians,” and by “facilitating state repression against Palestinians by Israeli, Egyptian or Palestinian Authority security forces.”

Ben Limonchik, a leader of the student group Stanford Coalition for Peace, said that “to criticize Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority in one breath shows that these BDS proponents have no interest in promoting peace in the region.”

“If they did, they would instead look to encourage constructive engagement between the parties and promote a negotiated, mutually agreeable two-state solution,” Limonchik said. “Over 1,600 members of the Stanford community did just that when they clearly stated that they stand for peace. We hope that moving forward, we as a community can echo this sentiment embracing peace and put these troublesome tactics behind us.”

The Stanford and UCSA resolutions are not the first BDS measures to include nations other than Israel. In 2012, the Arizona State University student senate passed a bill encouraging the school to “divest from and blacklist companies that continue to provide the Israel Defense Forces with weapons and militarized equipment or are complicit with the genocidal regime in Darfur.”

As many as 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict and genocide since 2004, according to United Nations estimates. The tactic of a BDS resolution grouping a massive atrocity like that of Darfur with Israel echoes a common anti-Israel strategy — analogizing Israeli actions to those of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The Anti-Defamation League explains on its website, “In contrast to Holocaust and more recent examples of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Rwanda and Kosovo, there is no Israeli ideology, policy or plan to persecute, exterminate or expel the Palestinian population — nor has there ever been. Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are based on its need to defend its population and combat threats to Israel’s security, while promoting a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Andy Borans, the executive director of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Jewish fraternity, said that grouping other countries with Israel in divestment resolutions “is a tactic to confuse others about the real anti-Israeli — and, often, anti-Semitic — motivations.”

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the Israel education organization StandWithUs, expressed hope that academic institutions will start realizing that BDS advocates’ targeting of countries other than Israel “is the result of allowing themselves to be hijacked by anti-Israel extremists.”

“While StandWithUs supports government accountability across the board, the UCSA’s resolution has made it clear that symbolic calls for divestment from America and other governments are a misguided overreach and will not advance human rights or justice in any meaningful way,” said Rothstein.

Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, said that “the lumping together of Israel with the U.S. and other nations in divestment resolutions indicates a shift in the BDS movement toward even more radical positions and an attempt to create an even more radical coalition.”

Yet, despite the BDS movement’s shifting tactics, a newly released ICC report reveals that pro-Israel activity on U.S. campuses has increased in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas last summer and a rise in terrorism against Jews in Israel last fall.

The number of both anti-Israel and pro-Israel rallies on college campuses was significantly higher in the fall of 2014 than it was in the fall of 2013, according to the report. The study, which details activity trends over the last three years, also shows that the number of campus events in support of the Jewish state continue to widely outnumber anti-Israel events. There were more than 1,500 Israel-supporting activities held last fall on campuses, an increase of more than 400 from the same period in 2013. By comparison, anti-Israel events, though they also rose, remained under 800 last fall.

 The primary focus of BDS groups is still Israel, and “we continue to see BDS as a fundamentally anti-Semitic movement,” said Baime.

“In our view, no group or cause should get involved with the BDS movement, which has a proven record of creating conditions for campus hate speech, bullying, and divisiveness,” he said. “Our goal is to educate every member of the campus community on what BDS represents — a movement dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish homeland.”

Israel advocacy groups working on campus have pointed to what they see as the absurdity of the second UCSA-passed resolution’s targeting of the U.S. The resolution argued that America “engaged in drone strikes that have killed over 2,400 people in Pakistan and Yemen, many of them civilians.”

“The [U.S.] government oversees, by far, the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement agencies, particularly for drug-related offenses,” the resolution stated. “Four-hundred thousand undocumented immigrants are held in detention centers every year, and millions have been deported since the current administration took office, and the government is directly supporting and propping up numerous dictatorships around the world with weapons sales and foreign aid.”

Samantha Mandeles, editor-in-chief of for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting media watchdog group, took issue with the UCSA grouping the U.S. and Israel “with some of the worst human rights abusers in the world,” calling the move “merely a smokescreen, meant to hide the true anti-Israel bigotries and aims of its proponents.”

“This amendment is an attempt to hide from legitimate critique of BDS as unfairly focused on the one Jewish state in the world — which, in large part, it is. The inclusion of several abusive governments as part of a system of worldwide human rights abuses does not excuse the counter-factual castigation of Israel,” Mandeles said.

StandWithUs’ Rothstein said, “If the principle behind BDS is truly to remove any investments that can be tied to human rights violations, then the illogic of an American university divesting from America is the only possible conclusion this movement can reach.”