I was relieved when, in late April, University President Anthony Monaco, Provost and Senior Vice President Nadine Aubry, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser, Dean of Student Affairs ad interim Nancy Thompson and Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu released a statement expressing their strong disapproval of the Office for Campus Life Student Organization Collaboration Award going to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
“We strongly disapprove of this award in light of SJP’s concerning policy positions, including its association with the [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)] movement, elements of which we view as anti-Semitic,” they explained. In a recent op-ed response in this publication, SJP claimed that BDS is not antisemitic and that any claim otherwise is merely “a common tactic used to suppress the voice of marginalized and oppressed groups.” Fighting for the rights of the Palestinian people is a legitimate cause. The BDS movement, however, is antisemitic.
When BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti was asked if he believes the Jewish people can have their own state, his response was “not in Palestine.” Mr. Barghouti is wrong, however, to deny the Jewish people’s right to a state in that land while affirming the Palestinian right for the same. First, the Jewish people are a nation in addition to a religion. The word “Jew” comes from the name Judah because we are the descendants of the Tribe of Judah. Second, we have an ancient and continuous connection to the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The historical and archaeological evidence shows that the Jewish people resided there 2,000 years ago, if not more. Most were forcibly removed by the Romans, but some managed to stay. Because of those who were able to stay, there has been a nearly constant, albeit small, Jewish presence in the land over the centuries. Moreover, those who were exiled never forgot about the land of Israel. Jewish liturgy and literature for the last 15 centuries have been filled with lyrics dreaming of the Jewish return to the historic land of Israel. For example, every year for centuries at the end of the Passover seder, we have sung “L’shana Haba’ah B’yerushalayim,” which means “Next Year in Jerusalem.” The reality of a strong connection between Jewish people and the land of the modern state of Israel does not negate the Palestinian people’s right to self-determine. It does mean, however, that anyone who wishes to equally apply the idea that every nation has a right to self-determine needs to support a two-state solution. BDS’ implicit denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determine in their historic homeland, a right that is at least theoretically acknowledged for all other nations, is antisemitic.
The BDS movement is also home to people and groups that have crossed the line from subtle antisemitism into overt antisemitism. Multiple groups of BDS activists have called for killing Jewish people (e.g., “shoot the Jew” chants by BDS activists at Wits University in 2013 which were then defended by the local BDS coordinator). Even more disturbingly, supporters of the BDS movement have invoked a contemporary version of the blood libel, making the false claim that Israelis murder Palestinians to steal their organs. The language used by these proponents, such as in images shared by University of California Berkeley Lecturer Hatem Bazian, borrows closely from the language of classic, unambiguously antisemitic blood libel literature.
There is another problematic part of SJP’s statement. No non-Jewish organization at Tufts should be deciding what is or is not antisemitic. Just as it would be wrong for a non-Asian group to try to define racism against Asian students, or for a non-black group to try to define racism against black students, this is also problematic. While SJP has Jewish members, it is not a Jewish organization, and should not be dismissing valid concerns about antisemitism as “smears.”
SJP has aligned itself with a movement that traffics in antisemitism through its steadfast support for BDS, even if this was never the intention. The rights of Palestinians can and should be promoted, but the BDS movement is not the way to do it. I am not accusing any individual members of SJP of being antisemites. However, SJP is responsible for inviting a movement riddled with antisemitism onto our campus. I want to go to a school where Palestinian rights are advocated for without the involvement of antisemitic movements. I am proud to go to a school where the administration calls out associations with antisemitism and reaffirms the campus’ commitment to deny access to hatred.