PennLive

Posted by PennLive on April 12, 2017 in News Clips

By AMY KAPLAN and JAMES ZOGBY

The recent desecrations at a Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia, Mount Carmel, fit a pattern of increased anti-Semitic incidents and crimes throughout the United States.

Law enforcement and civil rights organizations have recorded an alarming growth of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in general.

These acts have brought American Muslims, Arab Americans and American Jews together to denounce these heinous episodes and raise funds to repair cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

That's the good news. Americans came together to stand against hatred and bigotry and will continue to do so.

But one other thing has been happening during this rise in anti-Semitism, and that's been the false and dangerous conflation of criticism of Israel, especially the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, with this hateful form of bigotry.

Modeled after legal tactics successfully used by many protest movements, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights Era and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, BDS is a non-violent campaign that seeks to pressure Israel to stop building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and to assure equal rights for Palestinians. 

Most alarming, this dangerous conflation has been reinforced by legislation introduced in Congress and passed in several states threatening First Amendment protected speech. 

Pennsylvania sadly has not been exempt from this dangerous conflation.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill seemingly prohibiting the state from contracting with companies, organizations, and entities that advocate for BDS. 

Last November, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate instructing the Department of Education to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include support for BDS and criticism of Israel that "demonizes," "delegitimizes," or judges it by a "double standard."

This act would have a chilling and devastating impact on campus discussion and debate and stigmatize students who support justice for Palestinians. 

Knowingly or not, Friends Central recently joined this national campaign to silence critics of Israeli policies by canceling Swarthmore professor Sa'ed Atshan's invitation to speak at the school.

Jewish centers and schools in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia were threatened, according to the JCC Association of North America.

The school also indefinitely suspended the teachers who invited him.

Atshan, who is a Quaker, teaches peace and conflict studies and supports BDS. The American Friends Service Committee supports putting economic pressure on Israel as a peaceful way to end the occupation of Palestinian lands.

Yet, Atshan's support for BDS prompted a few parent complaints and so the invitation was rescinded and the teachers involved suspended.

The Pennsylvania law, the Casey legislation and the fight against Atshan, all resemble the work and attacks of an anonymous and notorious website called "Canary Mission" which conflates criticism of Israeli policy and its occupation of Palestinian lands with anti-Semitism.

The sketchy site "outs" students and faculty who promote "BDS in any of its forms" and Palestinian rights.

These types of efforts serve as a warning to individuals, including young students, that advocating for justice or participating in nonviolent forms of political protest means that you will be blacklisted.

The effort to conflate anti-Semitism and BDS has already had chilling effects, stifling debate and maligning individuals, as it sadly has at Friends Central.

A 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man is the primary suspect in a string of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers.

Administrators, Governors, and Legislators are abusing their authority by predetermining the outcome of a necessary debate taking place across the country around BDS and Israeli human rights violations.

In environments of heightened sensitivities, like schools and universities, school administrators and public officials should be working to ensure that the free marketplace of ideas is protected - that students feel safe debating ideas on campuses.

Our public officials should be protecting our rights to engage in discourse, not stifling opinions and speech with which they may disagree.

Original Article