BDS Hotlist, May 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016 - 11:31am

BDS Hotlist: May 2016

The momentum continued in favor of those who oppose BDS this month, as more state legislatures moved towards passing anti-BDS resolutions. While anti-Semitism unfortunately continues to plague the world, rearing its ugly head especially in the United Kingdom this past month, the battles over BDS resolutions continue to tilt in the favor of those who support the Jewish State.

One hard-fought battle in particular culminated in a huge victory for both our organization's efforts and for supporters of Israel. Find out what happened below.


International Political Arena

The UK's Labour Party faces a crisis of conscience in the public eye. After four separate incidents in which current or former elected officials from the Party made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks in public, the leftist group, which holds 229 seats in the UK Parliament -- the second most of any party -- must now contend with what appears to be a serious affliction within its morale.

Late last month it was announced that two Labour members -- Member of Parliament (MP) Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone -- would be suspended from the Party for anti-Semitic remarks made while both were out of office. In Shah's case, the controversy arose over Facebook posts she made in 2014, before being elected to Parliament, in which she suggested that moving Israelis to the United States would solve the conflict in Israel. She was a rising young star in the Party and has since apologized and distanced herself from the remarks. 

Ken Livingstone's story is a bit different. The former London mayor and 40-year stalwart of the Labour Party, Livingstone was suspended for making controversial remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust, and for comparing Hitler's policies to those of present-day Israel. Not only did he refuse to apologize for his claims, but he defended them in a public setting and insinuated that the backlash over the wave of anti-Semitism in Labour is a "well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticized Israel as anti-Semitic." Some members of the Party argued that Livingstone's suspension was unfair under the auspices that most of his comments relating to Hitler and Zionism "were true."

But wait, there's more. Two Labour Party councillors were suspended at the beginning of May for even more outrageous anti-Semitic remarks. Councillor Ilyas Aziz called for Jews in Israel to relocate to America in a series of Facebook posts and also posted offensive images calling for Jews to "stop drinking Gaza blood." The other councillor, Salim Mulla, claimed that Israel is behind ISIS and posted the same message as MP Shah about the "relocation" of Jews to the United States.

What do all of these elected officials have in common, aside from their party allegiance? They all supported the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn, the controversial new leader of the Labour Party who has long been an outspoken critic of Israel.

Since the first few incidents, Corbyn has been cracking down on the Party, and it was soon revealed that these suspensions were only the tip of the iceberg. All in all, some 50 Labour members were secretly suspended for making racist and/or anti-Semitic remarks in the past two months. And now, as of yesterday, Ron Liddle, the British pundit and Labour Party member, has also been suspended from the Party for saying that "anti-Semitism is rife among Muslims." 

Conspiracies over the crisis have flown from the left and the right. Some believe that this is a methodical smear campaign intent on diminishing the reputation of Corbyn. Debate has intensified within the Party over the justification of the suspensions and how long they should be served. 

Yet, despite all of this unfolding right before the local elections in early May, a Labour Party member was elected as the new mayor of London on May 5. Sadiq Khan, the London-born son of Pakistani immigrants, is now the first Muslim mayor of London. He is also the first non-white mayor of London, although, it should be noted that the position has only existed since 2000.

Upon entering office, Khan quickly condemned the recent instances of anti-Semitism within his Party, and also made clear that he opposes the BDS movement. He even attended a Yom HaShoah ceremony. So far, he's off to a great start. We recently applauded him for his efforts

But wait. There's even more. Ironically enough, at an event centered on the theme of anti-Semitism within the UK's Labour Party, held by the University of London Student Union, several panelists called for the destruction of Israel as a solution to anti-Semitism. Tariq Ali -- a British Pakistani writer, journalist and filmmaker -- espoused an opinion that the annihilation of Israel would greatly benefit both Palestinians and Israelis, and would henceforth put anti-Semitism to rest altogether. This of course coming at an event focused on combating anti-Semitism.

And, in a much more positive note, the French bank Credit Mutuel shut down the account of La Campaigne BSD France -- the group that organizes on behalf of the BDS movement in France -- amid escalating concerns over illegal practices. 


Associations

For months, since it announced that it would divest its pension funds from several Israeli banks, the United Methodist Church has threatened further punitive action against the Jewish State. The Church, which has 7.2 million members in the U.S. and 12 million globally, has an outsized impact on the religious world. And for months, the American Jewish Congress has lobbied for the organization not to take further action in support of BDS or against Israel. 

Over the weekend, several pro-BDS resolutions were rejected by senior leaders of the Church amid its quadrennial policy conference. One senior leader, John Lomperis -- the director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action Program -- was quoted as having said that the resolutions "pretty much went down in flames," a telling indicator of a poorly planned boycott attempt by a religious organization that has necessary ties to the country that it seeks to boycott. Given the vast range of influence that the Church has, this was considered a big victory in the fight against BDS.

The United Methodist Church oversees tens of Methodist hospitals across the United States, and as many people are aware, much of the high-tech medical equipment used in medical facilities today originates in innovative medical research laboratories in Israel. Surely, the Methodist hospitals across the country employ Israeli technology, which is the basis for the argument that AJCongress made when imploring the Church not to boycott Israel after it announced its initial divestment last fall. This again comes as a big win for our organization.

Last week, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who is a practicing Methodist, issued a statement in condemnation of the BDS movement. The statement was believed to be directed towards the Church, although there is no mention of it. Regardless, her voice may have played a big role in ending the Methodist Church's pro-BDS streak, and for that we thank her.


Anti-BDS Laws

Iowa was the latest state to join the ranks of legislatures that have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent months. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill that was approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in February and it was sent to Governor Terry Branstad for his approval. The bill prohibits public entities from entering into contracts of $1,000 or more with companies that participate in BDS activities. The Iowa State Senate also passed a resolution in support of Israel calling for a negotiated settlement resulting in a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, we continue to wait with baited breath as the New York State Assembly decides which of the two anti-BDS bills that it is currently considering -- A.9036 or A.8220 -- will move forward in the legislative process. We will continue with our advocacy campaign to encourage the Assembly to move forward with A.8220 for the duration. Click here if you are a New York resident and would like to contact your legislator in support of this bill, which would forbid the State of New York from conducting business with entities that support BDS and would require the State to compile a list of companies that boycott Israel -- one of the strongest and most comprehensive anti-BDS bills put forth in any state legislature. 

We are also staging an advocacy campaign for California to pass an anti-BDS bill that its legislative bodies are currently considering. Click here to contact your California elected officials in support of AB. 2844.


Colleges

The University of Chile's Law Faculty Student Union passed a resolution in support of BDS in early May. The resolution prohibits any academic interaction with the State of Israel or its citizens. The students voted in the affirmative of the following two questions:

  • 1. "Do you agree to ban activities that involve the participation of functionaries of the State of Israel or with funding from the Israeli embassy in the law school?" and
  • 2. "Do you agree that the University of Chile should not maintain institutional links with Israeli universities that directly contribute to the violations of human rights of the Palestinian people?"

But in brighter news, early in the month, a BDS resolution was shot down at Vassar College, a prestigious liberal arts school in New York that is no stranger to anti-Israeli sentiment. At Vassar, 39 professors publicly support BDS, and a speaker who made reference to the accusation that Israelis harvested Palestinian bodies for organs was brought to campus in February. To say that rejecting BDS on a college known for its anti-Semitic streak is a big win would be a huge understatement.

Following the controversy of the BDS resolution passed by the NYU Graduate Student Union last month, members of the union have filed an appeal to reverse it. The NYU administration already condemned the resolution, and so did members of the Graduate Student Union who filed the appeal on the claim that the resolution violates both the codes of their parental union, the United Auto Workers, and the student union's contract with NYU.

And, as anti-Semitism continues to plague college campuses, the AMCHA Initiative just published a study that sought to unlock the underlying conditions that predict hostile incidents towards Jewish students and anti-Semitism on college campuses in general. The study discovered that the "strongest predictor of anti-Jewish hostility on campus is the presence of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel." Big shocker.


Celebrities

Last, but not least, American actor Michael Douglas, who won the 2015 Genesis Prize* -- awarded to Jewish individuals who have attained international renown in their chosen field and are firm defenders of the Jewish community and/or Israel -- will speak at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York next week. Douglas will be interviewed live by J Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, and will speak about Jewish values, cultural issues and concerns facing the community.

*AJCongress President Jack Rosen serves on the Genesis prize committee and was very happy to see Mr. Douglas receive the award last year.


 

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