War on campus

The spring semester on American campuses is beginning. On some campuses anti-Israel groups will be preparing for another round of the so-called Israel Apartheid Week, which will unfold as the aftershocks of this past summer’s Israel-Hamas war are still being felt. 

Back in August and September, as the fighting in Israel and Gaza was winding down, the fighting between student groups on some campuses was picking up. At Ohio University, student senate president Megan Marzec, nominated by her school’s president to take the ALS “ice bucket challenge,” poured fake blood on her head instead of ice, to protest the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. In response she got death threats. At a meeting of the student senate shortly thereafter, some pro-Israel students were arrested after Marzec called in the campus police, because they were allegedly being disruptive. At this point Marzec, standing atop a table, reportedly said she would “never apologize for the people of Palestine,” nor would she ever “stand up for fascists.” The Hillel rabbi described the scene as “explosive.”

At Temple University a pro-Israel student got into an argument with pro-Palestinian students. Hateful words were said, and the pro-Israel student was allegedly assaulted. 

Recriminations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students at John Jay College in New York made news in October.

Tensions were so high at UCLA in November that rather than contest an anti-Israel resolution before the student government (which ultimately passed), the pro-Israel students decided to sit out the fight.

And at Wellesley College, Students for Justice In Palestine (who had put up a poster asking “What Does Zionism mean to you?” on which students wrote “genocide,” “murder,” “apartheid”) refused to meet with their Jewish counterparts, because to do so would violate an “anti-normalization” policy.

Events such as these may be repeated on other campuses this spring, as tensions remain high, and some student groups promote petitions and referenda calling for their universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel, or in support of a boycott (really a blacklist) of Israeli academics. 

Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are held in esteem, and knowledge and truth emerge from rigorous examination and discussion. But we are seeing vilification and hate, instead of discourse.

Debate over the Israel-Palestine conflict is often disabled because few can step back and examine the historical, political, religious, and legal issues dispassionately, let alone compare this conflict to others. Instead, passions on both sides are intensified with self-righteousness.  When injustices are at stake, dispassionate analysis may strike advocates as inappropriate, even sacrilegious. A cool head persuades some you do not really care.

Justice for Palestinians, who have been under Israeli occupation for nearly 50 years is set against respect for the rights of Jews, like other peoples, to have national self-expression in their historic homeland. Campus advocates identify with these narratives, and each side paints the other as unjust, racist, or both. Or in Marzec’s words, “fascist.”  This dynamic makes it impossible to conduct meaningful conversations.  Winning counts for more than learning. Each side rightly notes that one would not have a civil discussion with a neo-Nazi or a Holocaust denier. If that’s how they see each other, engagement becomes impossible. Everyone therefore has to reduce the amount of anti-racist “justice” they invest in their position in order to talk. Otherwise, rather than classmates engaged in dialogue, you see racists, idiots, and enemies.

Add to this the relatively new fashion of some anti-Israel groups opposing “normalization” on campus. It is bad enough that many BDS proponents insist that Israelis should be treated as pariahs (much like Nazis and Apartheid-advocates). It is doubly troubling when such hateful stances are adopted toward classmates, either because of their ethnicity or their political position. It is dangerous when abstract allegiances to people in battles thousands of miles away supersede the respect one ought to exhibit toward fellow students who are neighbors, classmates, and friends.

We sympathize with the students who say they are being forced to “choose sides,” when they insist they want to be both pro-Israel AND pro-Palestinian, but there is little space for them on campus. These students have a capacity for empathy. It helps   them hold more than one set of thoughts at the same time, and to seek knowledge that challenges, rather than confirms, their beliefs. They see the humanity and suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike. They reject the hatred that defines each people as mere roadblocks to the other’s aspirations. At best, they are passionate about compassion. And they think backward from the goal (peace and national self-expression for both peoples in their own lands), and focus on how to get there, rather than on how to be extreme advocates for one side or the other.

Zealots on both sides dismiss empathy, because each says the other doesn’t deserve it. South African Apartheid leaders were human too, and no responsible person should express empathy for them, so how can one have empathy for similar folk today—those who are seen as responsible for Palestinian or Jewish suffering?

But there were very few Apartheid advocates on campus when South Africa was a lighting rod for activism, whereas today there are two camps, each of which can claim justice is on its side. 

In this environment, learning requires academic leaders—administrators, faculty, and students alike—to display a capacity for empathy. What would it be like to be a Palestinian in Gaza? An Israeli in Sderot? Can you imagine either, both? Can you construct an argument that is logical, comparative, historically and evidence-based that takes a position opposite to your political beliefs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be ideal for demonstrating critical thinking skills—if the environment allowed for thinking rather than slogans, propaganda, hate, self-righteousness, threats, and violence. Our view is that faculty in particular have to work much harder to demonstrate what reasoned discourse means.

Cary Nelson is co-chair, and Ken Stern is an executive committee member, of the newly formed 120+ member Alliance for Academic Freedom, a project to protect academic freedom and promote empathy around the Israeli-Palestinian debate. Nelson is coeditor of the recently released The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel. Stern is the Executive Director of the Justus and Karin Rosenberg Foundation (jkrfoundation.org).

ASA conference revisits the boycott of Israeli institutions

Nancy Koppelman, an American Studies professor at The Evergreen State College in Washington, is well aware of how passionate things can get on college campuses over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003, had been a student at Evergreen. 

Last week, at the American Studies Association’s (ASA) annual meeting in Los Angeles, Koppelman addressed another aspect of this heightened tension that more directly involved her peers. She chaired “The Party’s Over: A Panel and Open Discussion on the Aftermath of the ASA’s Boycott Resolution,” examining the ASA’s 2013 controversial vote to forbid academic partnerships with Israeli universities. 

The criticism lobbed against the organization dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history in the aftermath of the vote came from both scholars and organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. (The ASA is the second U.S. academic organization, after the Association for Asian American Studies, to endorse such a boycott, according to insidehighered.com.)

“The symbolic boycott harnessed the ASA to a highly partisan goal, and then its advocates tried to drive it where they wanted it to go,” Koppelman, who voted against the boycott, said during the Nov. 6 panel. “But symbols are not like streetcars  — you can’t control them by turning the wheel or slamming on the brakes; once unleashed, symbols have lives of their own.”

The panel at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was attended by 30 people and also featured Michael Aaron Rockland, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University; Mohammed Wattad, a legal scholar and assistant professor at the Zefat Academic College School of Law in Israel; and Lisa Armony, director of the Rose Project and community outreach at the Jewish Federation and Family Services in Orange County. 

Rockland, who helped Koppelman organize the panel, described himself as a lifelong member of the ASA. Wattad joined the organization less than one year ago, so he could present at last week’s conference. So did Armony.

Only one-fourth of the ASA’s 5,000 members — many of whom are university professors — took part in the December 2013 vote to ratify the boycott. Two-thirds of the 1,250 votes cast supported the boycott, insidehighered.com reported. 

Over the course of the conference, which took place Nov. 6-9, several panels spotlighted the boycott issue. They included “Scholars Under Attack,” “Students Under Attack,” “I Want My ASA” and “Black Radicalism, Insurgency in Israel/Palestine and the Idea of Solidarity.”

The panels were created to “help bring into sharper relief the vibrant intersection of fun and fury in relation to local and global contexts,” the conference program materials explain. “Of particular interest in the program will be the wide-ranging responses to the ASA membership’s vote to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” 

Conference presenters who were critical of the boycott were few and far between, Koppelman said.

Matthew Jacobson, former president of the ASA and a professor of African-American Studies, history and American Studies at Yale, explained to the Journal that American aid to Israel makes what happens in the Jewish state an American Studies issue. He voted last year in support of the boycott.

“I thought it was a meaningful, symbolic way to raise protest against Israeli policy and also against U.S. policies that enable it,” he said. “I wish this year had been easier both for me and the organization, but I feel it is the right thing to do.”

More than 2,250 individuals registered for the conference, according to ASA Executive Director John Stephens. The conference was titled “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century.”

Stephens also acknowledged that tensions over the event were high. “My job is to hold this thing together, to make sure voices get heard and that we have a community,” he said, heading to the open bar at the close of late-afternoon sessions. “I’m a healer.”  

The majority of the panels had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — exploring gender studies and depictions of slavery in popular culture, for example — but there were plenty of conference attendees who had strong opinions on the matter. 

Eric Sandeen, University of Wyoming director of American Studies, seemed to have a hard time holding his tongue during the Q-and-A portion of “The Party’s Over.” 

“Oh boy, I got something to say,” Sandeen said while leaning against a conference room wall. “I don’t deny there are people out there who want to make a statement about the situation in the Middle East, but I don’t think an academic organization is the place to do it. I think something like a political action committee, which [the ASA] has kind of turned into, is the place to do it.”

University of Michigan professor June Howard, whose area of expertise is 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, disagreed. 

“It feels as if the pushback is as coercive as anything you are [speaking out against],” she told the panelists. 

Howard pointed to the mistreatment and marginalization of Arab-Americans in her area of southeast Michigan — a region heavily populated by Arab-Americans — as one example of how the conflict, despite being overseas, has an impact inside the U.S. 

Koppelman, for her part, also offered ideas for how critics of the boycott may proceed, including forming a caucus within the ASA that would focus on nurturing relationships with Israeli and Palestinian academics. Or, she said, she and her supporters could form an entirely new organization. 

“But, I’m kind of busy next week,” she said, “[and] that’s a very large order, and I am sure there are other possibilities and you may have some ideas. So we are here to get that conversation started.” 

Jewish donors leaving Britain’s Labor Party over Miliband’s anti-Israel stance

Jewish donors and supporters are deserting Britain’s Labor party over party leader Ed Miliband’s anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian stance.

Miliband has been warned of the loss of Jewish support, the U.K. Independent reported Sunday.

Miliband, the son of Holocaust refugees, last month ordered all party lawmakers to vote in favor of a nonbinding motion to recognize the state of Palestine.

The party reportedly also is having problem raising funds for next year’s elections.

Donations from the Jewish community in the past have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to the Labor Party, according to the newspaper, which reported that several previous supporters said that they and others are now very unlikely to support the party.

Last week, popular British actress Maureen Lipman announced that she would stop supporting the party after 50 years.

Miliband publicly and strongly criticized Israel for its 50-day operation in Gaza last summer.


Jewish couple attacked in NYC, apparently by Palestinian supporters

A Jewish married couple were verbally and physically attacked in New York City by assailants yelling anti-Jewish statements.

On Monday evening, a gang pulled up in two cars and several motorcycles and surrounded the couple on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the New York Post reported. Several of the vehicles displayed Palestinian flags.

The wife was hit with a water bottle and her husband was punched in the side of his head, according to the newspaper, which cited law enforcement sources.

Police reportedly believe the couple was singled out because the husband was wearing a yarmulke.

The Upper East Side is an affluent neighborhood with a large Jewish population.

Don’t dismiss California system’s fights over Israel divestment

Experts disagree about who first observed, “academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so low,” but when it comes to the ongoing student debates about divestment in companies doing business with Israel, the sentence is only half true. The conflicts have been remarkably emotional and acrimonious, but the stakes are so high that I recently wrote University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano urging her to become personally involved.

As the nation’s former Homeland Security Secretary, President Napolitano should recognize that it would be a grave mistake to dismiss recent divestment votes on five of the 10 UC campuses as just symbolic expressions of misplaced youthful idealism.

Organizers of the so-called “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement, or “BDS,” ostensibly seek the economic isolation of Israel through divestment of university assets in companies doing business with Israel, boycotts of Israeli companies and universities, and sanctions against trading with Israel. Their stated aims are an end to what they call the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with recognition of the right of return of all 5 million “Palestinian refugees” to Israel.

While relatively few are aware of the issue, divestment advocates have been at work on the UC campuses for several years, with an important and insidious motive: to poison the minds of the next generation of American decision-makers against America’s only reliable ally in the Middle East. In this, we cannot permit them to succeed.

Vicious politics? You bet. One former UC San Diego (UCSD) student government president has written that she watched the perennial UCSD disputes over divestment unfold “like annual disasters.” Last year’s vote by the governing body of the UCSD Associated Students had to be conducted by secret ballot due to concerns about the safety and security of the elected student representatives.

Nationwide, debates on various student divestment resolutions have been notable for their frequent use of virulent epithets like “Kike” and “dirty Jew.” At least one student has reported receiving death threats.

A university is a place where all ideas — even bad ones — should be freely and passionately discussed. It is in academia that we first learn how to analyze competing ideologies and to discern fact from fiction.

This isn’t harmless student debate, however, but rather a highly organized, well-funded, global campaign of propaganda and disinformation. The Facebook page of one pro-Palestinian BDS organization, the “official” page of the BDS National Committee, has over 27,000 “likes” worldwide and its Twitter feed has nearly 20,000 followers.

On campuses across the United States, BDS advocates routinely employ ludicrous hyperbole that begins with comparisons to South African apartheid and takes off from there. Israel, students are told, is a rogue nation like Iran and North Korea, guilty of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian people and an “illegal occupation” of Palestinian territory.

It is a non-stop barrage of shrill, anti-Israeli bombast that frequently crosses the line into anti-Semitism — and it is long past time for mature, responsible and knowledgeable voices to set the record straight. 

In my letter to Napolitano I cited the long history of the UC system in fostering academic partnerships and international programs in building better understanding of Israeli history and culture. I urged her to become personally engaged in the discussion, and to expand UC programs that enable students to see the marvels of this unique nation, and the contrast between Israel’s freedom and the stultifying atmosphere of its neighbors.

It is critical for Israel’s defenders to be heard, whether we are students, faculty, alumni, donors or simply concerned members of the community. Considering all that is at stake in the perceptions and opinions of an emerging new generation, we cannot leave it to the students alone to make our case.     

Not only must we correct the false premises at the core of the BDS movement, we must expose its real motive, which is the isolation — and ultimate destruction — of the Israeli state.  

We must be as relentless as our adversaries, who are like pit bull puppies attached to a pants leg — they are just as tenacious, but their teeth are much sharper.

 DR. HERB LONDON is President of the London Center for Public Policy Research and is co-author, with Jed Babbin, of “The BDS War Against Israel: The Orwellian Campaign to Destroy Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”

Moeen banned from wearing pro-Palestinian wristbands

UPDATE: After England cricketer Moeen Ali sported pro-Palestinian wristbands (with slogans “Free Gaza” and “Save Palestine” inscribed on the bands) at a Southampton match on Monday, July 28, the International Cricket Council issued a public statement the following day, threatening to ban Ali if he continued to overtly display his personal politics on the field.

On Monday evening, a spokesperson for the England and Wales Cricket Board said that although Ali wasn’t given permission to wear the wristbands, they don’t believe he committed an offense.

The ICC responded: “Moeen Ali is free to express his views on such causes away from the cricket field but he is not permitted to wear the wristbands on the field of play during an international [match].”

If the ICC decides that Ali breached regulations, he could be fined by the board.

Hundreds ignore ban in Paris to protest Israeli offensive in Gaza

Pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with police in central Paris on Saturday when hundreds of marchers defied a ban by French authorities to rally against Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned organizers in a television address that they would be held responsible for any clashes and could be prosecuted for ignoring a ban that was confirmed by the country's top administrative court.

TV footage showed a minority of demonstrators wearing balaclavas and traditional Arab keffiyeh headdresses throwing projectiles at riot officers. Paris police said they had made 40 arrests.

French authorities have refused to permit several pro-Palestinian protests because they feared violence. Marchers clashed with riot police in and around Paris in recent weeks, with some targeting synagogues and Jewish shops.

“Anti-Semitic violence exists: we must face it head on,” Cazeneuve said.

Some protesters, NGOs and even ruling Socialist politicians have criticized the bans on the rallies as counter-productive.

Cazeneuve noted that over the last two weeks, five marches had been banned, out of about 300 such protests across the country.

“Freedom of protest was thus the rule, and bans the exception,” he said.

According to the interior ministry, some 2,000 police were sent to the Place de la Republique to surround the demonstrators, which Reuters photographers estimated numbered between 800 and 900.

The photographers saw one police officer slightly injured, the front windows of the Crowne Plaza hotel smashed and a bus shelter wrecked.

Organizers denied accusations of anti-Semitism.

“Our goal is not to attack the Jews, it is to condemn the policies of a government,” Tarek Ben Hiba, a local politician and head of one of the 20 associations organizing the protest told Reuters.

Protesters were seen waiving Palestinian flags, chanting “We are all Palestinians” and carrying placards reading: “Zionists, terrorists”. At least one Israeli flag was burned, a Reuters photographer said.

In the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles, some 2,000 people marched peacefully on Saturday in an authorized demonstration.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have often in the past added to tensions between the two communities.

Israel began its offensive earlier this month, citing a surge in rocket attacks launched from Hamas militants in Gaza.

The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip on Saturday climbed to 1,000, most of them civilians. Thirty-seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians have also died.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met counterparts from Europe, Qatar and Turkey – prime interlocutors with Hamas – at French-hosted talks in Paris.

Air France fined for kicking pro-Palestinian activist off flight to Israel

A French court ordered Air France to pay a $12,800 fine for ordering a non-Jewish pro-Palestinian activist off a flight to Tel Aviv.

In its ruling Thursday, the court in the Paris suburb of Bobigny also ordered the French flagship carrier to pay nearly $3,000 in damages to Horia Ankour, a nursing student, and her legal fees, the L'indépendant daily reported.

Ankour, 30, had attempted to fly to Israel from France last April to take part in the Flytilla campaign, which saw hundreds of activists seek access to Israel in a bid to travel to the Palestinian territories.

Europe's main airlines faced a wave of passenger fury during the campaign after canceling some 300 tickets at Israel’s request.

Ankour was taken off the plane in the southeastern city of Nice after an Air France employee asked whether she had an Israeli passport and was Jewish. When she replied that she was not Jewish, Ankour was escorted off the flight.

French prosecutors had backed her in the case, saying it was a clear case of discrimination.

An Air France spokesperson said the company was acting in compliance with the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, which requires airlines to refuse to fly passengers who are “declared inadmissible in the country of destination.”

Poll: Big drop in Israelis who see Obama as pro-Palestinian

The number of Israelis who view President Obama as pro-Palestinian dropped by 20 percent following his first presidential visit to Israel, according to a new poll.

In the poll, conducted Sunday by Smith Research for the Jerusalem Post, 27 percent of 500 Israeli respondents said they considered the Obama administration more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian, 16 percent said he was more pro-Palestinian, 39 percent were neutral and 18 percent did not an express an opinion.

In a pre-visit poll conducted March 17, 36 percent of respondents said they thought Obama was more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, 26 percent said Obama was more pro-Israel and 12 percent expressed no opinion. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Palestinian disappointment with Obama’s positive messages about Israel and his failure to visit former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s grave was widely reported in the Hebrew press.

Among Labor voters who participated in the post-visit poll, 51 percent said Obama was pro-Israel. That figure was 29 percent among Yesh Atid voters; 27 percent for Likud-Beiteinu and Shas supporters, and 20 percent for those who supported the Jewish Home party.

The proportion considering the administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel was 40 percent among Shas voters, 20 percent for those who voted Jewish Home, 19 percent for Likud-Beiteinu, 11 percent among Yesh Atid supporters and 6 percent among Labor voters.

Israel denies pro-Palestinian activists entry to West Bank

Pro-Palestinian activists were denied entry into the West Bank from Jordan by Israeli authorities.

Approximately 100 members of the Welcome to Palestine movement attempted to cross into the West Bank on Sunday via the Allenby Bridge.

The activists said they were carrying one ton of school supplies to give to Palestinian children in Bethlehem-area refugee camps, The Associated Press reported.

They traveled in two buses: One crossed from Jordan to the Israeli side of the crossing, where it was denied entry. The second was not permitted to leave Jordan, according to reports.

In April, Welcome to Palestine campaign activists arrived from several European countries and North America at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, where they declared their intention to travel to the West Bank in order to highlight that there is no way to visit what they call Palestine without traveling through Israel. Dozens were detained at the Israeli airport, and dozens more were prevented from leaving from their point of origin.

Last July, some 300 activists flew to Israel for a protest fly-in. About 120 were detained.

Israeli military commander loses post following rifle-butt incident

Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner was dismissed from his command post following an investigation into an incident in which the Israeli soldier hit a Danish pro-Palestinian activist in the face with his rifle.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz relieved Eisner of his position as deputy division commander on “moral grounds,” according to the IDF. Gantz said the probe also showed professional and command failures.

In addition to losing his command, Eisner will not become deputy commander of the Bahd 1 officers’ training school and will be ineligible to serve in commanding positions for the next two years.

Eisner had been suspended from his post late Sunday, hours after a video of the incident was posted on YouTube by the International Solidarity Movement. The incident occurred during a protest bike ride in the Jordan Valley. Four activists were wounded, Haaretz reported.

Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, the Central Command chief of the IDF, on Sunday ordered an immediate investigation into the incident. Military Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avi Mandelblit also ordered a criminal investigation of Eisner.

Eisner was interrogated by Military Police investigators for the first time Monday evening, Ynet reported.

Eisner reportedly said he regretted the incident, but said the video represents one minute out of a two-hour event in which the protesters attacked the soldiers, breaking one of Eisner’s fingers and injuring his wrist. He is seen later in the video with his wrist and finger in a white bandage.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office on Tuesday night released a statement condemning the incident.

“The defense minister has determined, in closed conversations, that there is no contradiction between carrying out operations, appropriate behavior and preserving the principles and spirit of the IDF,” said the statement.

The statement also said that Eisner’s statements in defense of his actions “are not accepted by the defense minister and were never acceptable by the IDF.”

Approximately 200 activists, including Palestinians from the West Bank and foreign activists, rode their bikes along Route 90, the Jordan Valley’s main north-south route, on April 14 to protest what the ISM calls on its website “regular harassment and attacks from Israeli settlers and soldiers.” Israeli soldiers halted the activists, who were blocking the main thoroughfare to traffic and began taking away their bicycles.

According to Ynet, Eisner said he did not use a water cannon that he had at the scene in order to disperse the protesters because there was an ongoing dialogue and he wanted to end the event peacefully.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, saying that “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu orders pro-Palestinian ‘fly-in’ activists be stopped

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country’s security services to prevent pro-Palestinian fly-in activists from entering the country.

“Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs into its borders,” Netanyahu said Wednesday at Ben Gurion Airport during a meeting with security services officials.

He told the officials to “act with determination, while trying to avoid unnecessary friction” with the hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists who reportedly are planning to fly to Israel’s international airport to protest the country’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Activists hope the “fly-in,” scheduled for July 8, will disrupt airport operations, including departing and arriving flights. Most of the activists are from Europe, according to reports.

The activists plan to declare “Palestine” as their destination once they land in Israel, according to reports. They face being denied entry to Israel and deportation. They reportedly will demonstrate if denied entry.

Hundreds of additional police and Border Guard officers have been stationed at the airport in preparation for the fly-in, Ynet reported.

Israel often prevents international activists it believes are planning disruptive demonstrations to enter the country

The activists who are allowed in to the country plan to tour Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the Jordan Valley, and to take part in solidarity activities with the Palestinians, as part of the Welcome Palestine event sponsored by 40 pro-Palestinian groups.

Boston-area towns back pro-Palestinian resolutions

Voters in three Boston-area districts backed a nonbinding resolution supporting Palestinian rights in Israel.

The ballot question passed with 56.6 percent in favor in Tuesday’s election. Tallies were incomplete in two additional state legislative districts within Boston where the initiative appeared on the ballot.

The referendum, sponsored by a group called Massachusetts Residents for International Human Rights, an offshoot of the Somerville Divestment Project, asked voters if the state representative from their district should be instructed to vote in favor a no-binding resolution calling on the U.S. government “to support the right of all people, including non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel, to live free from laws that give more rights to people of one religion than another.”

A question with the same text as Tuesday’s nonbinding resolution was passed in the Boston suburbs of Somerville and Cambridge in 2008.

Two years earlier, Somerville had voted against questions asking whether Palestinian refugees had the right to “return to their land of origin” and whether Massachusetts should divest its holdings in State of Israel Bonds.

U.K. academic union drops proposal to boycott Israel

The decision by Britain’s largest academic union to drop its proposed boycott of Israel may not spell the end of the union’s campaign to ostracize the Jewish state.

Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) announced last Friday that union leaders, after consulting with lawyers, had determined that an academic boycott of Israel probably would breach British anti-discrimination laws and the union’s own guidelines.

Jewish groups, which had roundly condemned the boycott after it was first proposed at the union’s annual congress in May, cheered the decision.

“The community should be emboldened by this victory and should see that we can successfully fight back and can have a real impact defending Israel’s reputation,” said Lorna Fitzsimons, chairwoman of the Stop the Boycott Campaign. “We will continue to win the intellectual argument, showing why any boycott of Israel is unbalanced, unfair and ignores the difficult complexities of the Middle East.”

The boycott had been proposed to consider the “moral implications” of ties with Israeli institutions in light of the “denial of educational rights” to Palestinians.

After last week’s determination, however, the union said it would continue to “explore the best ways to implement the non-boycott elements of the motion passed at Congress.”

It was not immediately apparent what that meant.

“We remain concerned that the UCU still intends to explore ways to implement the motion, such as calling for a moratorium on E.U. research and cultural collaborations with Israel,” said Ronnie Fraser, director of Academic Friends of Israel.

But union staff said the “non-boycott elements” of the resolution refer to efforts to “actively encourage and support branches to create direct links with Palestinian educational institutions and to help set up nationally sponsored programs for teacher exchanges, sabbatical placements and research.”

The legal opinion that dealt the boycott its crippling blow said: “It would be beyond the union’s powers and unlawful for the union, directly or indirectly, to call for or to implement a boycott by the union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions, and that the use of union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful.”

It went on to say, “To ensure that the union acts lawfully, meetings should not be used to ascertain the level of support for such a boycott.” As a result, the union canceled plans to hold debates throughout the country on the efficacy of the boycott.

Jon Benjamin, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, “Sadly, immeasurable damage has been done to the reputation of British academics who have unfairly been associated with a policy which most of them abhor and against which increasing numbers were speaking out.”

“This is a victory against the boycotters on two fronts,” said Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and co-chairman of the Stop the Boycott Campaign. “Firstly, the legal opinion endorses our contention that the proposed UCU boycott was a form of discrimination that had no place in a U.K. trade union. Secondly, last week’s explicit admission by the main pro-boycott faction that they would have lost a ballot proved our assertion that a boycott is not supported by the vast majority of UCU members.”

The turnaround by UCU is the latest victory for pro-Israel activists in their efforts to stem the tide of anti-Israeli movements among the far left in Britain.

Other union efforts to introduce Israeli boycotts over the last four years also have run aground. Boycott motions were defeated in the Association of Union Teachers in 2003, and though a motion was able to pass in 2005, it was overwhelmingly overturned at a special council of the union following an international outcry.

A boycott motion narrowly passed at the National Association of Teachers in Higher and Further Education conference in 2006, but the resolution expired with the merger of the union with the teachers’ association.

This summer, the National Union of Journalists scrapped a motion to boycott Israeli goods in the wake of protests from within the union, the media industry and Jewish community leaders.

Even within the UCU, support for a boycott was hardly universal.

The original boycott motion passed by a vote of 158 to 99. Anti-boycott campaigners pointed out that a winning margin of only 59 votes for a constituency of 120,000 members was by no means representational.

At the time of the motion’s passing, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt agreed.

“I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members,” Hunt said.

After the May vote, Britain’s minister of state for education, Bill Rammell, denounced the proposal.

“The U.K. government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of Israel or Israeli academics,” Rammell said.

Jewish groups in Britain and around the world condemned the proposal. U.S. union leaders and many influential academics in Britain and abroad petitioned against the boycott.

After last Friday’s decision, Hunt said she hoped the matter would be put to rest.

“I hope this decision will allow all to move forwards and focus on what is our primary objective: the representation of our members,” Hunt said. “I believe if we do this we may also, where possible, play a positive role in supporting Palestinian and Israeli educators, and in promoting a just peace in the Middle East.”

‘Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid’ comes to UCLA

As part of UCLA’s Palestine Solidarity Week, on Sunday, May 20, the Southern California Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid (CEIA) staged a forum titled, “Israel, Zionism and Apartheid: The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”

Part of a movement developing nationally on behalf of Palestinians, this is one of many events leading up to a scheduled June 10-11 protest in Washington, D.C., dubbed, “The World Says NO to Israeli Occupation!” In what was a one-sided day of criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and advocacy for divestment, including Arab, Jewish and Christian speakers, the event drew a small crowd of roughly 100 guests to a humanities lecture hall on the UCLA campus. The group ranged in age, though most appeared to be middle-aged, and they came from within and beyond the UCLA community.

Greeting attendees was extensive literature on the topics of occupation, Marxism, socialism, feminism and more set out on tables run by the American Friends Service Committee, the student leg of the Socialist Party, a national group called Radical Women and others.

With a guard at the door at all times, the event kicked off with a speech by Zahi Damuni, co-founder of Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, an association of activists and students. Damuni’s speech, titled, “The Consequences of Zionism: The Inherent Inequalities of the Jewish State,” raised the question of a Palestinian homeland, asking, “Why must we advocate for a fundamental right to return home?”

Damuni spent much time outlining a history of the Jewish people, with many inaccuracies. He described sympathy for “Jewish oppression,” which he used, unconvincingly, as a tool to imply sensitivity and an ability to see both sides.
He outlined the oppression of Jews in Europe beginning in the mid-19th century and ending, with pogroms, with no mention of the Holocaust.

“Zionism,” Damuni said, “developed because of a huge amount of discrimination that restricted their movements. The Palestinian cause is a direct consequence of Zionism.”

Appearing increasingly angry and red in the face, Damuni referred to the “exclusive Zionist state of Israel” as a “colonial project,” rooted in racism, that could have been established in three ways: 1) expel the people, 2) kill them or 3) slow transfer. Slow transfer, as he described what he believes has occurred in Israel, consists of the squeezing of a people. It has resulted, in his words, in “ethnic cleansing.”

“Although personally,” he said, “I don’t see what’s so clean about it.”

“We must be aware of our own power to make change,” Damuni said. “Boycotts, divestment and sanctions led to the dismemberment of apartheid in South Africa.”

Damuni advocated for these in America, although precisely “how” was yet to be determined.

Damuni is an Arab Israeli citizen from Haifa who identifies as Palestinian. His wife is from the village of Petunya. They cannot live together in their home, he said, because of the geographic division of their roots.

“But,” he said with clear derision, “I am a citizen. A happy-go-lucky citizen of Israel.”

Paul Hershfield of the CEIA followed Damuni with a short speech on “The Misuse of Anti-Semitism.”

A tall, thin man, Hershfield wore a black T-shirt and black pants, had a tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve, and addressed a question from the audience, “What is the difference between a Zionist, an Israeli and a Jew?”

He described how he was raised in a middle-class Jewish household. Born a Jew, he said he hopes to die “a human being.” He said he is more interested in humanity than racial/ethnic identity. For this choice, Hershfield described how Jews and Zionists often label him a “self-hating Jew” and discredit his voice on the topic of Israel. Because he criticizes Israel, he is often, he said, deemed an anti-Semite.

“Anti-Semitism,” Hershfield said, “is the hatred of Jews for no reason.”

He argued that in his opposition to Israel, “we know what our motivations are.

If it’s for justice — it is not racist to oppose a racist ideology.”

Introducing the next speaker was Barry Weiss of the CEIA, a descendant of Holocaust survivors. Weiss explained his Holocaust roots as “all the more reason why I oppose Israel’s policy of oppression on another people.” Appearing solid and peaceful in his belief that Israel should not echo the oppressive past inflicted upon his ancestors, Weiss was the most convincing in his arguments.

Weiss introduced Samuel A. Paul, an ordained Pentecostal minister who holds a doctorate in religious and public policy from Fuller Theological Seminary and was active in the 1980s student movement in South Africa.

In his speech, “Lessons From South Africa,” Paul described the demise of apartheid in South Africa in 1994. It was the first time in the history of his nation, he said, “that white and black joined to find solutions.”

“Out of the struggle for revolution,” Paul explained, “came liberation for all.”

A South African Christian of Indian descent, Paul is not a citizen of India, he explained, but also not white, so he was not allowed to be considered South African under the apartheid rules. Despite the fact that he is Christian, he said, his color negated his inclusion in that group, as well. This changed in 1994 under the new regime, when he was finally deemed a South African citizen.

Paul’s presentation reached near-gospel outbursts that came at unexpected and often flat moments. His optimism about South Africa today preserved the idealism of the “rainbow nation” while negating the large gap between upper and lower classes, neglected and impoverished townships, and unemployment that continues in his country. To bolster his argument, he painted things prettier and more equal than what has been depicted of today’s South Africa in news and other accounts. Paul created a simplistic recipe for change, attributing negotiations and compromise as having been the solo means of reform in South Africa.

“Dialogability,” he explained, “only survives under positive intellectual pluralism.” Apartheid government was anti-dialogue, he said.

Scary Hummus

On this side of the Mediterranean, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays out less like a war and a more like a team sport.

That is to say, we don’t pick up arms — thank God — we pick sides. And we follow our side, and root for it, thinking somehow our cheers will help push it closer to the end zone.

Just as with professional sports, most Angelenos aren’t even spectators — they couldn’t care less.

A smaller but substantial number pay close attention only during wars and crises — the equivalent of those of us who only tune into sports games during the finals and bowl games.

An even smaller number — mostly Jews and Muslims — follow developments in the news and online, send money and grill candidates. These are the season ticket holders.

And then there are the die-hard fans, the ones who write one letter to the editor per day, organize the rallies and shout down the opposing sides. In sporting terms, these are the guys who strip off their shirts when it’s snowing to show off their chests painted in team colors.

Last Sunday, it turns out, was Game Day in Los Angeles. I counted no fewer than six events related to the Middle East, stretching from Pacific Palisades to Simi Valley. I set out to go to three of them, because sometimes the spectators can tell you more about the game than the players.

First stop was UCLA, where I dropped in on a daylong seminar titled, “Israel, Zionism and Apartheid: The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.” Inside a Humanities Building lecture hall, about 100 activists spent a day reiterating why Israel is awful.

I arrived just as a lunch break was finishing up. A man was inspecting a container of hummus. “It says ‘Sabra,’ but it’s from America,” he reassured a participant. “We were really scared when we saw the label.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that two years ago a majority share of the Queens, N.Y.-based Sabra was bought by Strauss-Elite, an Israeli conglomerate.

Before the next speaker came on, another middle-age man urged audience members to buy bottles of olive oil available for purchase among the stacks of anti-Israel brochures outside the hall.

“The land and sky of Palestine brings you this gift of extra-virgin olive oil,” he said.

I stayed for one speaker, Dr. Laila al-Marayati, an American-born OB-GYN whose slide show depicted miserable conditions faced by Palestinian women and children in Gaza and the West Bank.

The audience — mostly middle age or older and white — never tired of hissing and tsk-tsking whenever the speaker accused Israel of some heinous act.

Then Al-Marayati told the audience that she was using an Israeli Jewish lawyer and the Israeli legal system to challenge the government’s decision to bar her from entering.

“Israel is a democracy,” she said.

Someone in the audience groaned.

The fans had come to cheer their team and their team only.

On my way out, I bought a bottle of extra-virgin Zatoun olive oil. I’m a nonpartisan lover of olive oil. The saleswoman told me part of the purchase price goes to plant olive trees in Palestine.

“Just like the Jewish National Fund,” I said.

“Huh?” she said.

When it comes to food and fundraising techniques, I guess, we are all one.

Across town in the Fairfax district, Israeli music blared across the parking lot of Shalhevet High School. Sixteen-year-old Maxine Renzer had organized an Israel Street Fair there. Kids and teachers at the observant Jewish school walked from booth to booth, collecting pro-Israel pamphlets, tossing balls at a dunk tank, buying pro-Israel T-shirts and falafel. Renzer expected to donate about $4,000 in revenue from the event to Israel-based charities.

This wasn’t a place for argument or debate, just a way to support and celebrate. The festivities felt at once connected to, and also a world away from, that day’s news of missiles dropping in Sderot and civil war in Gaza.

I skipped my plan to drive out to a conference on Islamic radicalism in Simi Valley and instead headed to the Beverly Center, where Pups for Peace was holding its event.

Founded five years ago in Los Angeles, the group trains dogs to detect explosives for use in Israel. The idea is to prevent terror attacks before they happen, saving lives and reducing overall violence in the Mideast.

The group took over an upscale furniture showroom. Guests dined on fancy hors d’oeuvres and sipped wine and mingled with distinguished guests.

One of the dogs, a German shepherd named Rex, went through the crowd on a search for mock explosives, He couldn’t stop wagging his tail. “To them this is a game,” Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Faulk explained.

There is a sense that all these gatherings are, well, sport. We gather with like-minded friends and celebrate or defend our agreement to ourselves. What a shame that in a country where Jews and Muslims do live peaceably together, we find so little reason to work together on Middle East issues.

Dialogue between pro-Israel Jews and pro-Palestinian Arabs in this town has broken down to the degree that we’re ensconced with our own teammates, when in America, of all places, we needn’t be.

Only one of the day’s events tried to bridge the gap — a musical concert with Arab and Jewish musicians at UCLA organized by the Yuval Ron Ensemble.

Otherwise, everybody had broken up according to their own teams — and so it goes.

I got home and turned on the “Sopranos.” Anthony Junior, the suicidal spawn of the great mobster Tony, was in his therapist’s office, explaining why his class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict depressed him.

“People blowing each other up because their God says they’re allowed to live in a certain patch of f—–g sand,” Anthony moans, “and then other people’s God says they’re supposed to live there.”

I dished out a plate of scary Sabra hummus, then poured some of the Palestinian olive oil on it. I swiped a piece of pita bread through it.

Guess what? It tasted really good, just like extra-virgin Israeli olive oil.

Conflicts on Campus

"Israel Independence Day, 2002 and Counting…" read the sea of royal blue T-shirts adorning members of the UCLA Jewish Student Union (JSU) — a positive statement at a time when Jewish students are receiving a great deal of negative publicity on college campuses across the country.

More than 120 Jewish students, including JSU members, gathered at UCLA’s Meyerhoff Park on April 11 to oppose an anti-Zionist rally organized by the Peace and Justice Coalition. The coalition, a new group on the UCLA campus, is an alliance of student organizations, including the Muslim Student Association, the African Student Union, Samahang Filipino, the Asian Pacific Coalition, the Vietnamese Student Union, Concerned Asian Pacific-Islander Students for Action, the United Arab Society, the Iranian Student Group and the Pakistani Student Association.

"Our purpose in being here is that we believe before the average student makes a decision on this issue, they should be given accurate information," said Justin Levin, president of the JSU. "The Palestinian leadership is the organization that is truly oppressing the Palestinians…. Israel is trying to make peace."

Countering Levin’s opinion, members of the Peace and Justice Coalition vehemently condemned Israeli procedure. "This is not about Palestinian politics. It is about land, occupation and justice," said one pro-Palestinian student. Li’i Furumoto, a Muslim convert and director of a Muslim outreach program for high school students said, "I don’t agree with what is going on with suicide bombings, but I am not in their position, and they are reacting in such a way because of their terrible conditions."

Despite tensions, the rally remained peaceful. "My mom told me not to come," said Jewish student Viki Rapoport. "I’m glad I did. It shows how united the Jewish students are."

Peaceful is more than can be said for many college campuses in California. "Thank God we live in Westwood and not Berkeley," Levin said.

The Berkeley Hillel was recently the target of anti-Jewish graffiti, one of many anti-Israel incidents on campus.

With the conflict escalating in the Middle East, Jewish students in Southern California are feeling the tension more than ever. At UC Irvine, the UC campus with the largest Muslim population, an April 11 rally put on by Muslim students was "supposed to be a peaceful march for humanitarian rights, but it wasn’t any of the above," said Sheila Nowfar, president of the Orange County Hillel. "There were signs saying, ‘Zionism and Nazism: two heads on the same coin,’ and signs comparing Hitler to Sharon."

UC Riverside has experienced anti-Semitic vandalism, as well as a threatening response to a letter to the editor by Hillel Director Chaim Shapiro. "There were attacks against me personally, slamming Israelis, slamming Israeli soldiers and calling Jews ‘animals,’" Shapiro said.

While many Jewish students have been increasingly vocal, others are "less eager to be publicly Jewish," said Becca Birken, Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow at California State University Northridge. Birken, who organized a Hillel trip to Disneyland that was planned to include a "Havdalah" service in the park, changed her agenda when students decided that it "would be too visual for them."

However, the majority of the Jewish student population has refused to be subdued. "I don’t expect violence on this campus, but I do expect to see more rallies," Levin said.

Other campuses are working to organize programs that have a generally educational focus. Nowfar and the Orange County Hillel are planning a tolerance program at UC Irvine with the Museum of Tolerance that focuses on accepting religious differences.

Also at UC Irvine is Anteaters for Israel, a new student-run, pro-Israel political organization started by student Sarah Tolkoff. Tolkoff, along with the Israeli consulate, Hillel of Orange County and Betar on Campus, a group that says its mission is to present the public with accurate facts about the Middle East, are planning a panel discussion titled, "Did You Know: Before You Take Sides, Ask Questions." The panel will feature speakers such as Tashbeih Sayyed, editor of Pakistan Today, David Suissa of Suissa Miller Advertising and Avi Davis of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies. "We suspect that the event will be protested heavily. Two of the speakers have death threats against them," Tolkoff said.