By Abigail Darwish
Every year in the Diaspora, anti-Israel activists on university campuses worldwide unite to host “Israeli Apartheid Week.” This event does not promote any productive — let alone constructive — solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, it fosters a hardline, absolutist approach that creates a hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students.
This approach is promoted quite effectively by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which is at the forefront of “Israeli Apartheid Week.” A self-proclaimed “movement for freedom and equality,” BDS purports to be modeled on the measures taken against apartheid South Africa in the late 20th century. But behind the façade of a “just” social cause that seeks political change, the movement is, in fact, deeply rooted in antisemitism.
Over the last century, one way in which antisemitism has manifested itself is through boycotts of “Jewish goods” and “Zionist goods” — which in practice have been more or less the same thing. Indeed, the “Don’t Buy” stickers plastered on Israeli products in the Diaspora are disturbingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s “Don’t buy from Jews” slogan. This was the basis of the German parliament’s decision in 2019 to pass legislation denouncing BDS as reminiscent of the most “terrible chapter in German history.”
Alongside the Nazis’ boycotts in Europe were those undertaken in the Arab world. In 1933, the Palestinians’ Arab Executive committee, headed by Nazi collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini, declared and enforced boycotts of Jews in what was then British Mandatory Palestine. In December 1945, the Arab League organized the Arab Economic Boycott of Jewish goods and industries — couched, of course, in the language of “anti-Zionism.”
In this context, it is entirely reasonable to ask whether BDS is simply another manifestation of the long tradition of antisemitic boycotts.
Indeed, the very act of singling out Israel as the “perpetrator of the world’s worst iniquities,” as historian Simon Schama put it, to the extent that a week every academic year is dedicated to highlighting Israel’s alleged illegitimacy, does tend to make one’s moral compass — if one has a moral compass at all — appear highly questionable.
Pro-Palestinian groups on campus have exacerbated this issue by inviting anti-Israel speakers who regularly engage in the most vicious hate speech imaginable. This year, for example, King’s College London’s Palestine Society — along with 19 other Palestine Societies nationwide — hosted the leader of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti.
Barghouti, despite having studied at Tel Aviv University, has accused Israel of “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and “Nazi practices.”
In another case, 21 Palestine Societies co-hosted Mohammad El-Kurd at an “Israeli Apartheid Week” event. El-Kurd has compared Israelis to Nazis, negated the historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and vilified Jews. He has also used his social media platforms to spew gross and inflammatory statements, many of which employ traditional antisemitic rhetoric.
Notably, El-Kurd evoked the blood libel in May 2021, tweeting that Zionists have an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood” and that Zionism is “bloodthirsty.” He has also employed Holocaust inversion, stating that Israel is guilty of “lynching,” “Kristallnachting” and “gassing” Palestinians.
It goes without saying that the presence of this kind of rhetoric and activism creates a hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students on campus, the vast majority of whom consider the Jewish state an important part of their cultural, ethnic and religious identity. Worse still, this environment is tolerated by the universities themselves, who appear unconcerned about the safety and security of their own students.
But more than anything else, the zero-sum approach to the conflict advocated by events like “Israeli Apartheid Week” makes constructive dialogue, and thus peace, impossible.
Abigail Darwish is a student at University College London and a fellow for the U.K. CAMERA on Campus organization.