“Zionism is racism, settler colonialism, white supremacy, apartheid.”
On April 29, the editorial board of Crimson, of which I am associate editor, published a staff editorial that embraced these claims, which were at the time plastered on the Palestinian Student Committee’s “wall of resistance.” The board “proudly” endorsed the associated boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, while making the display a “colorful” and “vivid” emblem of “passion.” The article made no mention of the fact that BDS student activism has been linked to antisemitic exclusion and violence on university campuses.
Having missed the meeting where the board changed its stance on BDS, I spent an embarrassing number of hours pondering the decision, trying to make sense of the board’s reasoning. . Yet the more I read the staff editorial, the more muddled its logic seemed to become. The Council, apparently seduced by the “colored” wall of resistance, pays almost no attention to a concrete or balanced exploration of the conflict, instead avoiding it by declaring that we “cannot nuance” the lived realities of Palestinians . And finally, after eluding all precision and nuance, he blindly accepts the erroneous and factually misleading mission of BDS.
And now BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has penned a crimson letter to the editor that repeats a host of misleading anti-Zionist talking points, recycling references to what others have dubbed “Jewish supremacy” while highlighting the connections that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. as a racial dispute. These statements are not just wildly distorted; they are dangerous. They paint a reductive portrait of the Jewish state, demonizing the nation and delegitimizing its very existence. But they are also provocative, moving and covered with a blanket of resounding humanitarian demands. For oblivious onlookers with a taste for justice, that seems to be all that matters.
This artful dynamic, I have come to realize, captures the essence – and the dangerous “artistry” – of the broader BDS movement.
I have a hunch that Zionism is not what the editorial board – or most people supporting an anti-Zionist agenda in the name of justice – think they reject or equate with racism and cruelty. Instead, they reject a false projection of Zionism – a projection that has been carefully constructed by movements like BDS, whose entire narrative is grounded in a massive misappropriation of Jewish identity and history.
The official BDS website explicitly writes that Israel’s origins can be found in a “racist ideology” of European colonialism, which it then links to the Zionist movement. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not rooted in a racial struggle, nor in an ideology of superiority or hatred. On the contrary, Zionism was born in 1896 as a movement for liberation, freedom and resistance to unjust power imbalances at a time when Jews across Europe were persecuted – excluded from government assemblies, attacked in the press and excluded from business relations. , hotels, social circles and clubs.
The first Zionist settlers in Palestine did not steal or conquer the land when they arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as is the case with most accounts of European colonization; they bought the land. And in fact, the early leaders of the Zionist movement, like Theodor Herzl, explicitly rejected the idea of displacing non-Jewish populations.
Nevertheless, as the area’s Jewish population grew in the years leading up to 1947, Jews increasingly came under violent attack, murder, rape, and mass looting from nearby non-Jewish groups.
After erasing this ancient history and redefining Zionism entirely, the BDS website goes on to reduce Israel’s “violent 1948 establishment” to an act of “ethnic cleansing” against the region’s “natives” designed to “uproot as many Palestinians as possible”. it can.” These words too reflect complete obliteration, perversion and demonization. First, Jews were already indigenous to the area, as both archaeological and biblical evidence have pointed out.
Then Israel’s declaration of independence came only after a United Nations two-state solution in 1947 was met with fierce opposition from Arab leaders – and the burning of Jewish houses, synagogues and murders. Crucially, this narrative not only ignores but subverts the post-Holocaust environment by accusing Jews fresh out of the Holocaust of a “premeditated” ethnic cleansing plot. I suspect this final decision reflects an effort to counter and deny the one part of Jewish history that cannot be so easily muted or transformed.
The particular form of anti-Zionist rhetoric fueled by the BDS movement is not only misleading – it is also brazenly anti-Semitic, with its origins traceable to a KGB propaganda campaign that flourished under the leadership of KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov. The aim of the campaign was to undermine the Israeli state in the midst of its growth during the Cold War period, and the outbreak of anti-Semitism was seen as a strategic means to that end. The leaders of the operation regarded Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a kind of bible, using it as a source of information on Zionism. In publications, the campaign circulated direct retorts of Nazi Germany cartoons that now attacked “Zionists” instead of “Jews.” The USSR also added new defamatory analogies into the mix – equating Zionism with Nazism itself and interpreting Zionism as an inherently racist ideology. Today, the BDS movement has thrived on these tacts: On the fringes of the BDS movement, comparisons between Jews and Nazis are militarized. And at the heart of the BDS movement, the denigrating amalgamation of Zionism and racism continues to resonate loudly.
Today, leaders of the BDS movement, like Barghouti, can openly oppose anti-Semitism. But disinformation was an integral part of what made anti-Jewish hatred, and ultimately genocide, a viable project in Nazi Germany. This is what turned Soviet Jews into targets of persecution and hate years later. Today, the BDS movement is driven by strikingly similar notes of factual manipulation. One can only expect that the legacy ramifications of this rhetoric will continue to fuel anti-Semitic violence today.
This is exactly what has taken shape amid the growing reach of BDS, which extends to today’s college campuses: report explicitly attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents on campuses to the rise of the BDS movement. Anti-Zionist and pro-BDS student groups also produce outright exclusion, such as legions students across the country pledge not to affiliate with pro-Israel student organizations and isolate Zionist students. Sometimes these attacks are transposed more openly on Judaism itself. Just a few years ago, at Stony Brook University, a student member of the pro-BDS and anti-Zionist Students for Justice in Palestine chapter was quoted in the school newspaper as saying, “We want let Zionism leave this campus, so we also want Hillel off this campus.
Jews are also systematically suppressed by supporters of the BDS movement when they try to speak out: According to the Anti-Defamation League, one of the main targets of the SJP, one of the main sources of BDS activism on campuses academics, is to protest pro-Israel campuses. events by heckling the speakers until quietude. As dialogue is stifled by anti-Zionist and pro-BDS students, slurs and defamatory nicknames, new and old, also tend to spill into the air – from the reference to the trope of a “smelly Jew” to chanting “The Zionists are terrorists”. to spit out the words “fucking Zionist”.
BDS’ strategy of ideological warfare is all the scarier the more it works – after all, it has led some of the most decent, kind and thoughtful people I know at Harvard to become patrons and propagators of the anti-Semitism.
The Council admits, still in line with past precedents, that BDS is a “brutal tool”. I believe this tool is finer than we think. It has been sharpened by societal forces and historical precedents, to wage what is not, at its core, a fundamentally economic war of boycotts and sanctions, but a more sinister and violent ideological war. People like me – a “fucking Zionist”, a “smelly Jew”, a modern-day “elder of Zion” – are not just “collateral damage” in this war. We are targets – directly hurt by rhetorical weapon signals and signals, and rejected when we respond to what we know has been historically written on the wall.
Writing this wasn’t easy – not just because of the complicated story, to which I have personal ties. It has also been difficult because BDS is the embodiment of everything I have known the Board against – and, in light of the Board’s failure to acknowledge this, I cannot keep from feeling a strange mixture of sadness, disappointment and fear. In February 2020, we felt as a board that portraying either group as “evil” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a counterproductive approach, and we explicitly called for nuance. . Now the Council has tacitly endorsed the demonization of Israel while maintaining that “we cannot qualify” the lived realities of Palestinians. In my opinion, this is yet another testament to the chilling “artism” of BDS; it is an embodiment of the fact that BDS messages invoke an emotional response that bypasses thinking on a visceral level. When nuance is present, it becomes harder to demonize a part – so BDS does all it can to reject that complexity and that thinking.
This denial of nuance does more than mobilize secular anti-Semitic machines. It also fuels discord and division, while what mitigation and eventually resolution of this conflict that is most desperately needed for unity, objectivity and impartial advocates calling for peace. Yet I have to believe that we all fundamentally want to pursue progress, productive dialogue and peace – it’s just that some of us have been seduced, by misinformation and “passion”, into thinking that BDS could bring it there.
I don’t know what you see. Maybe it’s the color; maybe it’s the spirit. I see a violent history that has been reproduced in a camouflaged modern form.
Gemma J. Schneider ’23, associate editor of Crimson, is a government hub at Pforzheimer House.