By Leila Richards
“If you’re racist, the world should know.” So reads the headline on the website of the Canary Mission, the secretive organization that blacklists campus activists who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement directed at the Israeli government. Canary Mission claims the BDS movement promotes “hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews.”
Accompanying their profiles on the website are head shots of smiling college students and dozens of professors, including well- known Muslim, Jewish and Israeli academics—more than 2000 in all. Rachel Cohen of Jewish Currents reports that In many cases these blacklists have succeeded in their aim of preventing recent graduates from finding employment. They’re also shared with the Israeli government, which has barred those on the list from entry into Israel. The BDS movement is modeled on civil rights struggles in this country and South Africa, with goals rooted in international law and UN resolutions: from the wars of 1948 and 1967. The an end to the Israeli occupation; equal desired outcome is not the end of Israel, rights for Palestinians and Jews; and the as has been claimed, but the beginning right of return of Palestinian refugees of a new democratic state shared by Jews, Palestinians, and other non- Jews. Universities have become the epicenter of the BDS movement, and the Canary Mission is one of several similar organizations operating on campuses. (Another organization, Campus Watch, predates the anti-BDS movement. Founded by neoconservative Daniel Pipes, it compiles dossiers on college professors regarded as biased against Israel, based on information gathered by students).
In a Jewish Currents article entitled “Who’s Trying to Kill BDS on Campus?” Josh Nathan- Kazis mentions several pro-Israel campus organizations, including The Maccabee Task Force, The David Project, Stand with Us, AIPAC ( The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the Zionist Organization of America, and the Israel on Campus Coalition. (The methods and reach of these organizations are the subject of an undercover documentary commissioned by al Jazeera entitled “The Lobby,” now available on the website of the Electronic Intifada.) Efforts on the part of such organizations to monitor classroom speech, infiltrate student groups and stifle discussion of the Israeli occupation understandably generate resentment, and are likely to backfire, as they resurrect long- standing antisemitic tropes about secretive Jewish organizations using their resources and international connections to advance their own agendas.
Ironically, while campus organizations like these attempt to stifle debate on campus, right-wing Jewish anti-Muslim hate groups defend their incendiary rhetoric on free speech grounds. The David Horowitz Freedom Center, which also operates on college campuses, has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a driving force of the anti- Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements,” according to Joshua Liefer in The Nation. The American Freedom Defense Initiative, which received $100,000 in 2013 and 2014 from the Jewish Communal Fund, the Forward has reported, places anti-Islamic ads in buses and subways in American cities. Co-founder Pamela Geller claims that although she has been “defamed” by leftist Jews, “many, many Jews have expressed immense gratitude for my work.”
Racist hate speech from organizations like these echoes the incendiary rhetoric employed by Israeli politicians during the recent election campaign, which reached levels that would have been unthinkable in the past. Much of it was directed against Palestinians in Gaza, which has been under blockade for mor e than a decade. Commenting on the weekly protests held as part of Gaza’s Great March of Return, former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter claimed that “The Israeli army has enough bullets for every Palestinian.” (http://imemc.org/ article/author/chriscarlson/) Army chief Benny Ganz, who commanded the 2014 assault on Gaza, boasted in a campaign video that “parts of Gaza were returned to the Stone Ages,” adding “6,231 targets destroyed,” “1,364 terrorists killed.” (UN sources reported 2251 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed in Israel’s 51 day assault, as cited by the website Electronic Intifada.)
When our ears have been so exquisitely sensitized to remarks deemed antisemitic, it’s remarkable that such strident anti-Muslim rhetoric goes virtually unnoticed. The intolerance underlying attempts to disrupt free speech and academic freedom on campus is part of a the same process hat condones racist hate speech and offers tacit support to anti- Muslim violence in this country and in Israel. As the nephew of two victims from the Tree of Life massacre, Chad Rosenbloom, has written, “The congregants that were gunned down in Pittsburgh have something important in common with the protesters gunned down in Palestine: both groups are victims of hateful and dehumanizing iterations of right wing extremism. The fight against antisemitism needs to be waged as part of a larger reckoning with bigotry in all forms or else it is meaningless. Apartheid Israel, which enjoys virtual impunity due to American diplomatic and military support, should not be exempt from this discussion.”
Leila Richards is a retired physician who worked in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank with church groups and humanitarian organizations.