Hillary Clinton Declares War on BDS

International Movement to Condemn and Sanction Israeli War Crimes Undermining U.S.-Israeli Legitimacy

March 28, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


At one point in Hillary Clinton’s rabid speech to AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) on March 21, she identified “three evolving threats... converging to make the U.S.-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever.” [our emphasis] And what are those threats, according to the leading candidate to be the next U.S. president? “Iran’s continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism across a wide arc of instability, and the growing effort to de-legitimize Israel on the world stage.” [our emphasis]

Clinton then made clear what the source of that third threat was: “Many of the young people here today are on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions known as BDS.” [our emphasis] She then branded “all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel” as anti-Semitism. And finally Clinton went on to identify the key location where this threat must be stopped—the college campuses in this country, and internationally:

I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now. As I wrote last year in a letter to the heads of major American Jewish organizations, we have to be united in fighting back against BDS.... To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities.

One of the letters Clinton wrote was to the billionaire arch-Zionist mega-donor and longtime Clinton family supporter, Haim Saban. In it she asked for his “thoughts and recommendations” on how to counter BDS: “From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms....” [our emphasis]. In fact, on the federal, state, and municipal levels of government, bills have been introduced, and in some cases become law, that punish businesses, colleges and universities that support the BDS Movement. In July 2015, the governor of Illinois signed the country’s first explicitly anti-BDS state law. This new law requires the creation of a state-run blacklist of foreign companies that boycott Israel and compels the state’s pension fund to divest from those companies.

What is BDS? What makes it so threatening to Israel and its imperialist backers?

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is a worldwide campaign aiming to put economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights; for full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. It was started in 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian non-governmental organizations, and has won the support of Israeli citizens, of students and academics, trade unions, political parties, some governmental entities, and masses of people all over the world, including in this country.

One development that has come under attack is the movement of academic organizations to vote to boycott Israeli schools because of Israel’s violations of international law. The American Studies Association passed such a boycott in 2014 by an overwhelming vote. In response, bills were introduced in state legislatures, such as in New York that would pull state funding from any New York college that boycotts Israel.

Hundreds of university professors in England, and hundreds more in Italy, have signed statements saying they will no longer cooperate with Israeli academic institutions. The statement from the UK professors noted that “We couldn’t have done this five years ago. The change in mood is palpable; many people have been critical of Israel and its policies privately, but until now, many have not thought they wanted to state this publicly. It represents a clear shift in the feelings people have about Israel.” Despite blatant threats to these kinds of actions, in November 2015 the American Anthropological Association—the largest academic association in this country to do so up to this point—voted to boycott any formal collaboration with Israeli academic institutions.

“Does the term ‘apartheid’ fit Israel? Of course it does.”

The BDS Movement draws its inspiration from the anti-apartheid campaigns against white minority rule in South Africa. For nearly 50 years under South African apartheid, racial segregation was legal, and the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black population and other ethnic minorities were controlled under white minority rule. This anti-apartheid movement saw students on campuses across the U.S. and internationally carry out occupations and other protests against South Africa; artists boycotted South Africa, refusing to perform there; and it was banned from participating in many international sports activities. South Africa did not compete in the Olympics from 1964 to 1988 as it more and more came to be viewed as a pariah around the world.

Saree Makdisi, UCLA Professor of English and comparative literature and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in 2014,“Does the term ‘apartheid’ fit Israel? Of course it does.” There Makdisi details the actual conditions and treatment of Palestinians in the Jewish state. And then he sums it up:

And so it goes in all domains of life, from birth to death: a systematically, vigilantly policed separation of the two populations and utter contempt for the principle of equality. One group—stripped of property and rights, expelled, humiliated, punished, demolished, imprisoned and at times driven to the edge of starvation (down to the meticulously calculated last calorie)—has withered. The other group—its freedom of movement and of development not merely unrestricted but actively encouraged—has flourished, and its religious and cultural symbols adorn the regalia of the state and are emblazoned on the state flag. The question is not whether the term “apartheid” applies here. It is why it should cause such an outcry when it is used. (Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2014)

The truth is, Israel is illegitimate. Its existence is based on an ethnic cleansing which destroyed 400 Palestinian villages; massacred thousands of civilians; drove almost a million Palestinians into refugee camps in neighboring countries; and established an apartheid system that has repeatedly violated international law. Israel’s continued occupation, and its slaughter of the Palestinian people in Gaza in recent years, has been fueling international condemnation. In 2014, with the full support of the U.S., Israel launched a 50-day-long military operation, in fact an orchestrated massacre, killing more than 2,100 Palestinians, wounding another 11,000, and traumatizing the entire Gazan population of 1.7 million. And Israel again attacked Gaza in 2015, killing hundreds more. In Israeli military circles, these war crimes and crimes against humanity are referred to by the obscene phrase “mowing the lawn.”

University of California Regents take up Hillary Clinton’s call

Hillary Clinton’s message has been received by the Regents of the University of California who have, for the past year—under the leadership of the former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano—devoted time and energy to drafting a brand-new statement they are calling “Principles Against Intolerance.” The draft of their “Principles” included this statement: “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” The driving force behind this effort has not been some widespread demand from the students and faculty on the campuses, but from powerful pro-Zionist forces mainly working outside academia, out to stop the growing BDS Movement at the UC campuses. While there has been an increased polarization on the campuses, which has seen growing racist attacks on Black and other minority students, LGBTQ students, Muslim students, and immigrants in general, the draft of the Regents’ statement chose to single out just one so-called expression of intolerance, anti-Zionism, which they want to ban by declaring it a form of anti-Semitism.

The efforts of the UC Regents to use these “Principles” to shut down the BDS Movement and any serious criticism of U.S.-Israeli crimes have met with significant opposition from within academia, and beyond. The Academic Council of the UC Academic Senate opposed it, as did the UAW local representing more than 12,000 academic student employees; and the senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California said the equation of anti-Semitism and “anti-Zionism” threatens free speech principles.

Anti-Semitism—superstitious and violent hatred of Jewish people—was a core element of the rule of oppressive political and Christian religious authorities in Europe for a thousand years. Jewish people were demonized as “Christ killers” and the discontent of oppressed people, kept in dark ignorance of the real causes of their oppression, was channeled into periodic spasms of violence against Jews. This reached genocidal proportions in Hitler’s murder of six million Jews. (For a discussion of anti-Semitism, Hitler, and the Holocaust, see “Revolution Responds to Question on Nature of Holocaust” in the special issue of Revolution on Israel, which is downloadable as a PDF.).

The movement on campuses to oppose Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. To claim that opposing Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism is like claiming that people who opposed the viciously white supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa were “anti-Boer,” since the Boer (Afrikaaner) settlers in South Africa who enforced apartheid were themselves victims of discrimination and persecution in Europe and for a time, by the British in South Africa.

An Israeli student at UCLA who is a student leader for Jewish Voice for Peace gave a powerful, compelling statement against the attempt to suppress debate over a crucial question in the world:

This document does not represent my lived experience as an Israeli student at UCLA. As a student who considers my work advocating for Palestinian human rights as an expression of my Jewish values, I am surprised to see that criticism of a modern nation-state that regularly violates international law is so centered in a report against intolerance. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and prejudices against both undocumented and LGBTQ students have no place on our campuses. But political debate over Zionism and the abusive policies of the state of Israel absolutely should be debated vigorously, not silenced by accusations of discrimination. (Al-Bushra, March 16, 2016)

UC Regents maneuver to keep their attack on anti-Zionism

On the eve of the March 23, 2016 meeting where the final version was to be made public, Saree Makdisi and Judith Butler, Maxine Elliott Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley, published a stinging op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, “Suppressing criticism of Zionism on campus is catastrophic censorship.” They called the Regents’ principles of intolerance “a thinly disguised attempt to suppress academic freedom and stifle open debate on our campuses.... If the report is adopted, scholarship and teaching that include critical perspectives deemed ‘anti-Zionist’ could be branded illegitimate, and open discussion shut down.” These scholars go on to expose that the report is just “the latest manifestation of a well-funded and increasingly desperate—even panicky—political campaign to eradicate criticism of Israeli policy from American campuses,” in the face of a compelling student movement for Palestinian rights, and the growth of Jewish voices distancing themselves from Zionism. And then they go on to reveal the following:

And the report was produced under a cloud of external pressure by, among others, UC regent Richard Blum, who publicly issued a veiled threat: “My wife, and your senior senator”—Dianne Feinstein—“is prepared to be critical of this university,” unless UC finds a way to punish the supposed new form of anti-Semitism.

When the UC Regents held the March 23 public meeting, they presented an “amended” version of their “Principles Against Intolerance”—still finding a tortured way to get on record an illegitimate connection between anti-Semitism and political opposition to Zionism. Now, in a “contextual statement,” it says:

Opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture. Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.

This version of their “Principles” was passed unanimously by the Regents. And within days it was announced that the UC Regents intend to monitor “intolerance” by receiving regular reports of instances of intolerance.


Everyone who sees the danger in these moves being led by the political representatives of this country’s ruling class—aimed at silencing and crushing opposition and resistance to the ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people by the Israeli government in service of U.S. imperialist interests—have an internationalist responsibility to find the ways to support and join in the struggle to defeat these attacks against BDS, and on the whole movement in support of the liberation of the Palestinian people, in ways that further delegitimize the crimes of Israel and the U.S. What the “U.S.-Israeli Alliance” represents is not in the interests of the great majority of the people in this country, nor those of the people of the world. Our starting point should be grounded in the revolutionary internationalist orientation brought forward by Bob Avakian:

The interests, objectives, and grand designs of the imperialists are not our interests—they are not the interests of the great majority of people in the U.S. nor of the overwhelming majority of people in the world as a whole. And the difficulties the imperialists have gotten themselves into in pursuit of these interests must be seen, and responded to, not from the point of view of the imperialists and their interests, but from the point of view of the great majority of humanity and the urgent need of humanity for a different and better world, for another way. (BAsics 3:8)


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