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BDS and the refusal to see antisemitism in UK Palestinian Societies

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Roar writer and CAMERA on Campus Fellow Saul Levene discusses and questions the speakers invited on campus to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Earlier this term, KCL Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) co-hosted an event with 17 other Palestinian student societies across the UK featuring the co-founder of the anti-Israeli Boycott Sanction and Divest (BDS) campaign, Omar Barghouti. Barghouti co-founded the campaign in 2005. While BDS officially claims to oppose “anti-Jewish racism”, the UK, United States, Germany and others have called the movement anti-semitic.

At the BDS 101 talk, which took place on February 10, 2022, Barghouti described BDS as “a call to fulfil a profound moral mission” to end “Israeli apartheid.” He spoke expressly on how this must not include “bigotry towards Jews”, yet his talk included Holocaust comparisons, likening the current treatment of Palestinians to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.

The KCL Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP) society’s event with Barghouti featured a litany of falsehoods.

Most importantly, there is no genocide occurring against the Palestinians, let alone one comparable to the Holocaust. It’s an unfounded accusation that has no basis in reality. The current growth rate for Palestinians is over 2%, more than twice the global average. In fact, the Palestinian population has almost doubled in 24 years.

Claims of genocide are grotesque lies, designed to demonise Israelis. Worse than this, they are trying to demonise them through comparison to the Nazis, the group who persecuted the Jewish people in the most horrifying way the world has ever known.

A common claim within BDS rhetoric is that the Jews hypocritically experienced genocide and then went on to perpetrate it toward the Palestinians. Holocaust inversion as well as relativisation is a kind of “secondary antisemitism”. Indeed, denial or minimisation of the Holocaust is linked to increases in antisemitism. To accuse Jews of perpetuating a Holocaust is profoundly hurtful, ignorant of the historical and current reality; and indicative of a marked urge to demonise Jews regardless of fact.

For these reasons, Holocaust inversion is a recognised form of antisemitism according to the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition. “Stop Antisemitism Now” have also published a report detailing how support for BDS has been linked to antisemitism.

Barghouti also spoke negatively about the IHRA definition of antisemitism, claiming that it stymies Palestinian free speech. However, the IHRA explicitly states that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. It offers guidelines to identify contemporary forms of antisemitism. If Barghouti’s criticisms of Israel are legitimate and devoid of bigotry, as he claims in his talk, then he should not fear censure.

So, what’s the problem here, apart from Barghouti being a problematic speaker? In short, 17 Palestinian societies across the UK are willing to platform this kind of extreme language. This fact becomes more relevant considering the current antisemitism crisis that the National Union of Students (NUS) is facing right now.

President-elect Shaima Dallali is facing investigation for antisemitic comments she has made in the past including supporting armed resistance against Israel. Dallali has also been known to express support for BDS, helping push through a related motion at the City University of London student union.

KCL SJP wants the NUS to drop their investigation into Dallali’s alleged antisemitism. However, a President who tweets “Khaybar Khaybar O Jews… Muhammad’s army will return #Gaza”, a death chant to Jews from the Battle of Khaybar in 628AD, is clearly antisemitic.

It should disturb us that Dallali invokes a massacre of Jews as precedent for advancing the conflict. It should bother us that she has praised Yusuf al Quradawi, who was accused of inciting violence against Jews by the Anti-Defamation League. It should bother us that Dallali used the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan on her Twitter profile, called a cleric critical of Hamas “a dirty Zionist” and supported CAGE, an organisation accused of extremist sympathies.

How is it appropriate for a candidate representing all students to speak in this manner? How can the SJP campaign for NUS to drop the investigation as if it doesn’t matter? Dallali’s claim that the investigation is a clear example of racist gendered Islamophobia is farcical.

KCL SJP opposes the investigation into Shaima Dallali as it is a “direct decision to exclude those who stand for justice in Palestine”. If Jews refuse to disavow Israel, must we expect exclusion in the meantime? A prescient comparison would be the NUS’ ridiculous suggestion for Jews to ‘segregate’ at a Lowkey concert.

There is certainly a place for criticism of Israel just as there is against any government. But SJP should acknowledge antisemitism where it rears its ugly head and be open to investigations that only attempt to reveal the truth.

What exactly is Dallali against? Or, just as pressing, what does she stand for? In response to the Board of Deputies of British Jews bemoaning both Israel and Gaza escalating violence, Dallali posted: Take ‘any prospect of a lasting peace and shove it up yours’ followed by the hashtag “Free Palestine”.

It should go without saying that Shaima Dallali representing the welfare of Jewish students around the country should raise eyebrows. Equally alarming is that KCL SJP refuses to support an investigation into her behaviour.

It is not inconsequential for SJP to host a speaker like Barghouti or be blind to the problems with some of Dallali’s comments. Turning a blind eye to antisemitism and platforming people who use tactics like Barghouti’s will create an atmosphere where Jews do not feel comfortable identifying as Jews. This could create biases in the university structure and alienate anyone who dares speak out of line. It cannot continue.

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