With international reports linking SJP chapters in the USA with terrorism, and BDS in the UK with violence and antisemitism, what are we really being asked to vote on?

Trinity College students want to be on the right side of history. Told about oppression and injustice, we want to fall firmly behind the latest human rights project – and where better to start than the Middle East, the site of so many colonial crimes? In these circumstances it is easy to be drawn in to the web spun by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), convinced that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement will solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and issue in an era of peace, tranquillity and justice. However, recent reports for the United Kingdom and the United States should give us cause for concern.  

A 52 page report recently issued by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs (JCPA) provides details of their investigation into SJP chapters in the United States, of which there were some 189 in March 2017. The executive summary describes SJP as “an extremist organisation that maintains affiliations with Arab and Islamic terror groups, is overtly anti-Semitic, incites hatred and violence against Jewish students, and rejects the existence of the state of Israel in any borders.”  Like SJP Dublin, the US chapters have adopted a policy of “anti-normalisation” and they reject any cooperation with progressive organisations that engage in joint Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and peace initiatives. Polls in US universities indicate a strong correlation between the existence of an SJP chapter and a rise in campus anti-Semitism. In the United States and here, SJP members have issued statements supporting “innocent” hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.  Amongst those prisoners is Marwan al-Bargouthi, imprisoned for life after making bombs that killed 66 people and injured over 500, as well as members of Islamic Jihad.

SJP was founded in the United States by Palestinian-American Professor of philosophy and Islamic studies Hatem Bazian. Regularly accused of anti-Semitism, Bazian has described a student newspaper as full of “Jewish spies”, written a rap song comparing Zionists to Nazis, and written speeches for an organisation later dismantled by US authorities for funding the terror group Hamas. The JCPA report describes numerous links between Hamas and organisations headed by Bazian.

Meanwhile, in the UK a Jewish student recently described her experience of joining the BDS movement and attending BDS events. At the Schools for Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) she heard a collection of largely false horror stories about Israel, including a description of jailed terrorists as innocent academics and the shocking blood libel that Israel harvest organs from Palestinian corpses. At the London School of Economics she learned that the delegitimisation of the state of Israel is deeply ingrained in the BDS movement; Max Blumenthal spoke, justifying violence and terror, and encouraging Palestinians to join Hamas. At King’s College London last January, pro-Palestine students disrupted talk by an Israeli peace activist, breaking windows and throwing chairs. At every event she was told there is only one side to the story, not two, that all Zionists are racists, and that the BDS movement doesn’t care what happens to Jewish Israeli citizens once the “occupation” is over. She concluded that “the BDS movement hides behind slogans of values and justice, but its wheels are greased with extremism, with encouraging a violent struggle, and, ever so quietly—also with antisemitism.”

Of course, none of this is to suggest that SJP Dublin is currently funded by Hamas-linked organisations or peddling anti-Semitism. The issue is not so much what SJP is now as what the experience of SJP and BDS has been in other universities in the UK and USA, and what that means for the future of the group in Trinity College Dublin. Amongst the objectives of their referendum is formal affiliation with the global BDS movement. Critics argue that the ultimate objective of the movement is the destruction of the state of Israel; this aim has been quite clearly stated by BDS leader Omar Barghouti, who lives and studies in Tel Aviv while asking others to boycott Israel. In addition, the terrorist group Hamas has tweeted its support for BDS.

Having said that, students behind the BDS movement in Trinity College have also started to use a similarly alarming rhetoric. One SJP Dublin leader on campus is regularly photographed wearing a T-shirt with an image of all of Israel and Palestine covered in the BDS slogan ‘From the river to the Sea, Palestine will be free” written in Arabic. This slogan is widely accepted as referring to a one-state Islamic Palestine, requiring the end of Israel. Another was quoted in Mondoweiss in April 2017 referring to “the dream of a socialist borderless Palestine”, a dream that clearly leaves no room for Israel.  A third, tweeting support for the people of Gaza in July 2017, used the hashtag #3rdintifada, a clear statement of support for violence: violent resistance and the destruction of Israel are apparently supported by members of SJP Dublin.  

There can be no doubt that behind the slogans of ‘peaceful resistance’ and demands for justice, the BDS movement and SJP chapters are hiding affiliations with terror, violence, antisemitism and destruction. Trinity College students should vote wisely.

Voting times can be found here (courtesy of the SU).

Posted by Rebecca Buckley