Betsy DeVos: Efforts to boycott Israel are a ‘pernicious threat’ in colleges

US education secretary says BDS movement claims it is concerned with human rights, but really ‘stands for anti-Semitism’

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, September 17, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP)
US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, September 17, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP)

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Monday that a movement to boycott Israel has become a “pernicious threat” on college campuses and is fueled by bias against Jews.

Speaking at a Justice Department summit on anti-Semitism, DeVos issued a scathing rebuke of the BDS movement, a campaign led by pro-Palestine activists calling for a boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

The movement has inspired activism at many US universities but is often a source of tension, especially among students and professors who support Israel. DeVos said Monday that Israel has friends in the Education Department and that the BDS campaign is “one of the most pernicious threats” of anti-Semitism on college campuses.

“These bullies claim they stand for human rights,” she said. “But we all know that BDS stands for anti-Semitism.”

Students protest at an anti-Israel demonstration at the University of California, Irvine. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/JTA)

DeVos, who is Christian, warned of an “alarming rise” in anti-Semitism but said US President Donald Trump’s administration is committed to stopping discrimination. She spent much of her speech defending Israel, and she drew applause when she referenced Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that drew condemnation from the United Nations.

“Peace in the Middle East begins with recognizing Israel’s right to exist,” DeVos said. “Israel is a light to the region, but we all know it’s surrounded by jihadists who embrace evil.”

Her comments supporting Israel followed a series of Twitter posts in which Trump accused four congresswomen of color of being anti-Semitic. In an online diatribe that drew scorn from Democrats, Trump said that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat-New York, and her allies are “a bunch of Communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own Country.”

DeVos made no mention of the president’s comments Monday and instead focused on her own agency’s work to fight anti-Semitism.
She noted that the Education Department recently intervened at Williams College after the student government rejected the creation of a pro-Israel group. The department negotiated an agreement that gave the pro-Israel group recognition as a student organization.

She said the department is now investigating a March conference on the Middle East that was organized by Duke University and the University of North Carolina. The event, which was funded with an Education Department grant, drew complaints of anti-Israel bias.

“We’re looking at whether the conference violated grant terms and perpetrated anti-Semitism,” DeVos said.

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