Anti-Israel activity on US campuses sees ‘marked increase’

Watchdog group warns of rising number of BDS campaigns and rallies against Jewish state, as well as anti-Semitic incidents

Anti-Israel protesters at a Boston rally held during Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014 (photo credit: Elan Kawesch)
Anti-Israel protesters at a Boston rally held during Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014 (photo credit: Elan Kawesch)

The past academic year has seen a significant increase in anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activities across US college campuses, the Anti-Defamation League warned on Friday.

The anti-Semitism watchdog said it had recorded 520 anti-Israel events on campuses during the 2014-2015 year, an increase of 38 percent over the previous year. It also counted 29 campaigns related to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, noting this was almost double the instances seen in the previous year.

The ADL also listed various cases of anti-Semitism on campuses, many of which involved vandalism, graffiti and hateful epithets targeting Jewish students.

“These incidents are troubling and are generating heightened concern in the Jewish community about the atmosphere on campus for Jewish students,” ADL Director Abraham Foxman said. “While the vast majority of Jewish students report feeling safe on their campuses, the incidents reported at certain schools are disturbing and must be proactively addressed.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, May 2009. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

“Students should not have to hide their Jewish identity to play a role in campus student life,” he added.

Earlier this month the Illinois legislature passed a landmark bill against Israel boycotts, in what pro-Israel activists said would likely serve as a turning point for state-level attempts to combat efforts to delegitimize Israel.

The Illinois legislation will prevent the state’s pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel.

“This legislation attaches a cost to engaging in behavior that is contrary to America’s interest and America’s support for peace in the Middle East,” said Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an organization deeply involved in supporting the Illinois initiative.

“We are already hearing from students from campus who are interested in pursuing similar efforts in other states,” he said. “This is a strategy we’re likely to see more of.”

But Foxman warned against such tactics. In an opinion piece published on JTA Friday, the ADL chief said “Legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups, whether corporations or universities, strikes at the heart of First Amendment-protected free speech, will be challenged in the courts and is likely to be struck down.”

He stated that “in light of such legislation, BDS campaigners would undoubtedly portray themselves as victims of efforts to stifle their free expression which would likely win them more sympathy and support from students — even those who are not inclined to be hostile to Israel.”

Foxman urged “a comprehensive approach to the rising BDS challenge” which would involve intensive grassroots activity by communities, students, business leaders and local leaders to combat the issue through education rather than legislation.

The Illinois legislation came after Tennessee and Indiana adopted resolutions, though not laws, opposing BDS.

In early April, Tennessee became the first state legislature to pass a resolution condemning BDS. The General Assembly’s resolution condemned both the BDS movement as well as the worldwide increase in anti-Semitism.

The resolution tied the two together, describing the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state,” and saying that BDS seeks to “undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, which they are fulfilling in the State of Israel.”

In late April, the United States Congress also passed carefully crafted legislation to discourage European Boycotts of Israel, tying it to negotiations over a historic trade deal with the EU.

The amendment discourages BDS actions by marking efforts to combat anti-Israel activity as a principal objective for US envoys in the talks with Europe to the authorization for negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.

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