The de-legitimization of Israel is the concerted political project to invalidate, and ultimately overturn, the State’s recognition by the United Nations in 1948. Efforts to de-legitimize Israel take many forms, including:
Declaring Israel an Apartheid State
The claim that Israel is an apartheid state—meaning that, like the former South African regime, it enforces racialized segregation and disenfranchisement—manifests most visibly in Israel Apartheid Week, a now yearly ritual on many college campuses that includes anti-Israel lectures, rallies, and theatrical demonstrations such as erecting mock security barriers, imposing mock checkpoints, and mass “die-ins.” Begun in Toronto in 2005, IAW has mushroomed into a global annual institution. It takes place on a rolling basis from region to region between late February and mid-April, and varies in length from one to two weeks.
- IAW at Tufts and at UC-Berkeley in March 2016 offer typical examples of how, coast to coast, students turn campuses into a protest stage.
- The duel of anti- and pro-Israeli messaging can heat up, as at Columbia University.
Equating Zionism with Racism
Israel's detractors seek to delegitimize the Jewish state by portraying Zionism—the political movement to establish a homeland for the Jewish people in land of Israel—as an inherently racist enterprise. Zionism is sometimes framed as the ideological inheritance of Nazism and Afrikaner racism, and Israel is thus seen as the living embodiment of these defunct enterprises.
Describing Israel in Terms Traditionally Used by Anti-Semites to Describe Jews
There has developed in the world recently a new form of anti-Zionism that the British writer Alan Johnson calls "anti-Semitic anti-Zionism." As Johnson explains, "Antisemitic anti-Zionism bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become fit receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical antisemitism. In short, that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on."
- On February 3, 2016, Jasbir Puar, Rutgers Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, delivered a lecture at Vassar College, "Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters." AEN member Jonathan Marks as well as Board Chair Mark Yudof and Executive Director Kenneth Waltzer commented on how Puar blurred the distinction between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic discourse by transferring the canonical tropes of Jewish enmity to the State.
- Other analyses of Puar’s talk in the context of anti-Semitism at Vassar and on American campuses more broadly appeared here and here.
Disrupting Any Speech Related to Israel that Humanizes the Country, and Refusing to Engage in Dialogue
Proponents of BDS have recently, and with increasing frequency, turned to silencing speakers with pro-Israel views and to preventing Israeli nationals from speaking regardless of the topic addressed. Aggressive tactics that entail the takeover of the lecture hall and the chanting of slogans, which deny the right of other to speak, arguably follow from the BDS movement’s categorical rejection of normalization. That is to say, any intellectual or cultural forum in which Israeli society is shown to have the same complexity as any other country is dismissed as a “white-washing” campaign, and any effort to occasion or spotlight cooperation and exchange between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews is dismissed as a means of collaborating with and perpetuating the occupation. The following incidents cross the line from non-violent protest to the planned disruption of academic activities by imposing the so-called heckler’s veto.
- November 3, 2015, University of Minnesota: Moshe Halbertal, who holds a joint appointment at NYU Law School and at Hebrew University, where he is John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy, set out to deliver the annual Dewey Lecture, his topic, “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare,” did not concern the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some two dozen protestors, one after another, shouted him down for about a half hour.
- November 13, 2015, University of Texas-Austin: Ami Pedahzur, Arnold S. Chaplik Professor in Israel and Diaspora Studies, Professor of Government and Director of the Israel Institute, had scheduled a noon seminar featuring a talk by military historian Dr. Gil-li Vardi of Stanford University, “The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Military Culture.” Twelve members of the UT-Austin’s Palestine Solidarity Committee disrupted the event with chants calling for the destruction of Israel, “Free Palestine,” and “Long live the Intifada.” They subsequently used doctored video recordings of their takeover of the seminar to press harassment charges against Professor Pedahzur. The University’s Office for Inclusion and Equity (OIE) issued a report clearing Pedahzur.
- February 16, 2016, Brooklyn College: A faculty meeting was interrupted by students shouting “Zionists off campus,” among other demands.
- February 22, 2016, University of Georgia-Athens: The student group Dawgs for Israel had invited two Israeli soldiers to speak about life in the IDF. In the middle of the program 17 members of Athens Justice for Palestine staged an aggressive walkout. According to the president of the AJP, “We intended to disrupt the event. That’s the point of activism...We are not here to dialogue...because you don’t compromise about justice.”
- March 7, 2016, University of California-Davis: Arab-Israeli diplomat George Deek had just begun his talk when students stormed the classroom podium and silenced him by chanting “Free, free Palestine. Long live the Intifada...Israel is anti-Black.” Their view of academic freedom and First Amendment rights: “We will not tolerate or allow for such people to have a platform to speak on our campus.”
Appropriating the Principle of Intersectionality to Amplify and Universalize Charges of Israel’s Malfeasance
Proponents of BDS have increasingly sought to monopolize campus activism for social justice. The vehicle for linking diverse movements and issues to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a concept known as “intersectionality,” a critical theory that attempts to articulate systemic overlaps among modes of oppression (e.g., racism and white privilege, patriarchy, sexism and rape culture, heterosexual normativity and cisgender privilege). Thus, if one advocates on behalf of people of color, survivors of sexual assault, the LBGTQ+ community, lower tuition, or sustainable environmental practices, then ipso facto one must stand against Zionism and Israel. Conversely, liberal Zionists cannot legitimately engage in social justice work. The larger strategy is to eliminate Jewish students from an arena in which they have long been active and to intensify their social isolation.
The use of intersectionality by proponents of BDS has been well documented:
- Since the summer of 2014, anti-Israel activists have sought to link the struggle for African American civil rights, embodied in the Black Lives Matter movement, with alleged abuses of Palestinians. Thus the refrain “Occupation is a Crime – Ferguson to Palestine.” Yoav Fromer explains why the connection between Ferguson and Palestine doesn’t hold up (The Tablet, December 3, 2015).
- From December 2015, the group No Red Tape at Columbia University has maintained that campus rape cannot be seen independently of Israeli violence in the occupied territories.
- In March 2016, at Brown University, the SJP insisted that Hillel must not be allowed even to cosponsor a lecture on trans liberation by the celebrity author and activist Janet Mock, and therefore torpedoed her campus appearance.
- Jay Michaelson was among the first authors in the Jewish media circuit to explain the appeal of intersectionality to campus activists and why it has become relevant to the debate over Israel (The Forward, December 3, 2015); David Bernstein on the other hand downplays its significance (Times of Israel, January 5, 2016); Analucia Lopezrevoredo and David Schraub apply the framework to an understanding of Mizrahi Jews (The Tablet, January 25, 2016); AEN member Cary Nelson offers a thoughtful intellectual critique (Inside Higher Ed, February 15, 2016), followed up by a review of the concept in The Third Narrative; Ziva Dahl offers scathing condemnation (The Algemeiner, March 16, 2015).
- Pro-Israel Muslim student leader of J-Street U at the University of Maryland offers a defense of intersectionality here and two members of the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace Student Network say that Jews should embrace it.
- AEN member Cary Nelson offers a thoughtful intellectual critique (Inside Higher Ed, February 15, 2016), followed up by a review of the concept in The Third Narrative.