University of Pennsylvania Hosts Conference Promoting Campaign to 'Boycott, Divest, and Sanction' Israel

The University of Pennsylvania is the home of the 2012 “National Conference of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement” (BDS), whose origins lie in the actions of nations and groups including Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The three-day event will take place on the U Penn campus February 3-5 and feature a variety of speakers with antisemitic, extreme views, such as Ali Abunimah, who has stated, “none of the European and American leaders who constantly lecture about Holocaust denial will dare to admonish Netanyahu for his bald lies and omissions about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.”

The group’s official web page states:

PennBDS is a recognized student group at the University of Pennsylvania that advocates for, and educates the Penn community about, the growing global campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) the State of Israel until it complies with its obligations under international and human rights law. We categorically oppose all forms of bigotry and racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, including anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic racism and hate. We are presently in the process of formulating a two-tiered campus boycott and divestment campaign that will target Israeli products on campus and the financial services corporation TIAA-CREF. We hope to formally launch these campaigns at our 2012 National BDS Conference.

Front Page Magazine remarks that the university may be granting leniency to this group with rules that govern other organizations hosted by the school:

They say that the university is on record as not supporting this movement, yet they let the event go forward, providing space and possibly funding, despite the fact that the sponsors may not meet school requirements as a recognized group and that their anti-Semitic message is deeply hostile to academic freedom and basic human decency. The university appears to be bending rules that would be rigidly enforced for sponsors of another cause.

U Penn’s willingness to enable the BDS conference is particularly inexplicable given the fact that this growing movement to boycott Israel and Israeli-produced goods, force divestment from any companies that do business with Israel, and establish sanctions against Israel due to its supposed violations of human rights, was created by nations and groups seeking to delegitimize and destabilize Israel such as the terrorist-sponsoring nation of Iran and the terrorist groups Hezbollah, and Hamas.

As Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has noted, the BDS movement abets terrorism: “People who advocate boycotts and divestiture will literally have blood on their hands,” he said. “They encourage terrorism and discourage the laying down of arms.” Even Noam Chomsky stated recently that BDS was “hypocritical” in its pretense to be concerned about Israeli human rights violations and that the movement could be called anti-Semitic “with justice.”

Commentary argues that while the conference will have little effect on the economy of Israel, the BDS org is waging a larger cultural battle:

Practical effects, of course, aren’t really the intent of BDS, since even an effective divestment of Israel by every American university would likely have little effect on the country’s bottom line. The point is the symbolism of the thing.

But the schools in question are marginal to local and national conversation, the refusal to accept the calls by university administrators has a symbolism of its own, and even these small successes have little chance of being replicated at Penn or any other school. Last year, a laughably watered-down student referendum at Princeton that called only for the dining hall to provide alternatives to Sabra hummus was soundly defeated.

Just as it would be a mistake then to worry too much about campus BDS, though, it would be a mistake to take this record of failure as a sign all is well at America’s universities when it comes to Israel. For while students may not be lining up to sign off on divestment petitions, they are in many cases receiving the clear message the Jewish state is uniquely flawed.

The content of the critique or even its stated aims don’t matter as much as its ability to create, in many places, a campus environment of pervasive negativity toward Israel. Students at most schools these days don’t come away learning much. But many do pick up the idea that to be a member in good standing of the political left positive concern for the Jewish state is beyond the pale.

That is why the ongoing Center for American Progress affair should not be surprising. Many educated in a milieu negative to Israel are now finding themselves increasingly with something to say about the direction of the core institutions of the mainstream political left, and are turning them in a direction less sympathetic to Israel.