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Is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement Winning or Losing on U.S. Campuses? Here's the Good-News, Bad-News Story.
Dear Friend of FLAME:
One of the most maddening struggles we pro-Israel advocates face is the anti-Zionist BDS movement on American campuses.
When you hear the outrageous propaganda spewed by BDS activists, your first (naïve) thought might be, "Well those are all lies. Israel isn't an apartheid state. Israel didn't steal land from the Palestinians---Jews have been in Palestine for 3,000 years. Israel isn't killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza, it's defending itself from 15,000 rocket attacks!
However, what makes the fight to defend Israel on campus so frustrating is that masses of college students believe the lies.
And why do so many students believe them? Because so many of their trusted professors assure them that Israel is violating international law, that Israel is slaughtering innocent Palestinian women and children, that Israel is occupying Palestinian land. What's more, these lies are supported by Jewish speakers parachuted in from Jewish Voice for Peace---anti-Zionist ultra-lefts who are also leaders of the BDS movement.
Let me give you some good news about BDS, but please stay with me also for some disturbing bad news that deserves your close attention.
First, BDS movements on American campuses in 2014 met with far more defeats than victories. In fact, in 14 attempts to pass BDS resolutions, BDS failed outright nine times---either by direct student vote or a vote to table the motion indefinitely. Twice it passed, only to be later rescinded or vetoed. That means BDS measures only passed three times out of 14 attempts last year.
But here's the bad news. BDS is so insidious that even when these resolutions lose, they win over thousands of student hearts and minds---young people who will soon be voting for congressional representatives and often young people who will themselves be running for elected office.
Perhaps just as importantly, the BDS movement intimidates tens of thousands of Jewish college students into silence and embarrassment ---students who feel inadequate to defend Israel, because they themselves do not know the true facts about the Jewish state.
In short, we often win the battle, but lose the war, because the debate is whether Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, a light unto the nations, is good or evil. It means that we and those Jewish students are always on the defensive.
Please bear in mind this good-news, bad-news story as you review this week's FLAME Hotline featured article by Jeffrey Herf, Distinguished Professor, Department of History, at the University of Maryland. Dr. Herf reports on a recent victory against BDS forces at Bowdoin College in Maine and offers lessons learned---a useful analysis of what is needed to continue such victories.
I'm sure you'll find this uplifting and instructive analysis (below) useful when you discuss BDS with friends, family and colleagues. Above all, it's critical that we continue to fight BDS at every turn, until such resolutions no longer come before student councils at American universities.
Thanks for your support of FLAME and of Israel!
BDS Fail: Score One for Academic Freedom
by Jeffrey Herf, The Times of Israel, May 13, 2015
In the United States, it has been a good week for defending principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression. Efforts to prevent the screening of the film American Sniper on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park failed. The film was screened this past Monday.
In New York, some members of PEN, an organization devoted to defending writers' freedom of expression, objected to an award that the organization gave to the surviving members of the editorial board of Charlie Hebdo. Neither the leaders of PEN nor the vast majority of its members agreed.
It has also been a good week at Bowdoin College, an undergraduate liberal arts school in Maine. As William Jacobson has reported in his valuable blog, Legal Insurrection, on May 6 a petition offered by Students for Justice (SJP) in Palestine calling for a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel - not only for divestment in financial matters - was put to a vote for the whole student body. The petition was opposed by an informal group of students who formed in opposition. After their extensive efforts, the resolution went down to a resounding defeat. Seventy-one percent (1,144) voted against it, 14 percent (228) voted in favor, 15 percent abstained (247).
In an effective letter to the campus newspaper The Bowdoin Orient, Bowdoin students Matt Friedland and Jared Feldman wrote that if the petition were to become policy at Bowdoin there would be:
They added that a boycott would "stifle discussion about the broader conflict and limit the free exchange of ideas. This boycott threatens Bowdoin's academic integrity and reputation as an open-minded and tolerant community." Their arguments struck a nerve as did the efforts of the on campus J Street group, which also was active in opposing the SJP total boycott petition.
Following the announcement of the vote, Bowdoin's outgoing President, Barry Mills, who issued a public statement in December 2013 strongly opposing any boycott of Israeli institutions, said that "there was never any question about Bowdoin College joining this movement." But he added: "That said, it is gratifying to see this resounding and unambiguous statement by our students who clearly understand the vital importance of open discourse between scholars and educational institutions and the free exchange of ideas and knowledge."
Liberal arts colleges such as Bowdoin are fertile ground for BDS success. Jacobson called the result "close to a perfect storm in favor of SJP. It had a core group of seniors who for years have been advocating against Israel on campus. It was operating on a highly progressive campus, and was very organized in its approach."
It cleverly "put its Jewish members out front to lead the boycott drive," a tactic that had been used at other campuses. Yet, "it failed miserably," he writes. "Once students really found out how damaging the academic boycott would be to academic freedom, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative."
The outcome demonstrated that "it is through false and misleading propaganda, often by faculty, that BDS has gained a foothold in academia. At Bowdoin, even a years-long campaign to demonize and dehumanize Israel could not overcome the good sense of the student body who understood that destroying academic freedom for everyone is not the answer to any problem."
In an article in the National Review, Jacobson added that
Yet he concludes that SJP learned a different lesson:
Jacobson's glass-half-full-glass half-empty assessment is probably on the mark. It is almost certainly true that only a minority of students and faculty in American universities favor a boycott of Israel. It is equally the case that a very large majority views the boycott efforts as a threat to academic freedom at least and at worst as a fig leaf for anti-Semitism.
Last week, Bowdoin students displayed a welcome unity around the common denominator of continuing contact with Israel and support for the principles of academic freedom. The best that can be said is that up to this point, some targets of opportunity that seemed vulnerable, such as this selective liberal arts college in New England, have resisted the calls for a boycott.
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