Exclusive — William Jacobson: BDS Boycotting Israeli Universities ‘Is Basically the Old Anti-Jewish Boycott’

US and Israeli flags are seen as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on November 24, 2015
JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty

William Jacobson, a professor of law at Cornell University and founder of Legal Insurrection, said the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) campaign’s call for boycotts against Israeli universities — the home of many left-wing academic BDS allies — demonstrates the bad faith of the BDS operation’s architects.

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), a leftist 501(c)(3) organization describing itself as an academic society committed to pursuing high pedagogic standards for scholarships of the Middle East, will vote in January on a “BDS resolution” proposing an “academic boycott” of Israeli institutions.

“As many countries in the Middle East — including Muslim Arab countries — are opening relations [and] exchanges with Israel, academics in the U.S. are moving in the opposite direction,” Jacobson said on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Sunday with host Joel Pollak.

He added, “[MESA is] fighting this dead-ender war. … These are people living in a really different world than current Middle East academics. Our U.S. universities are far more radical in many ways than the people who run some of the Arab Muslim countries.”


Pollak noted that BDS’s push for an academic boycott of Israeli universities amounts to the organization cutting off its own ideological partners given the dominance of left-wing ideology across Israeli academia.

He remarked, “It’s not like Israeli universities are bastions of conservatism. If you want to find left-wing people in Israel, you go to the universities. … You’re talking about American academics, punishing their ideological allies in Israel for the policies. … How does this make sense?”

Jacobson replied, “Because it’s not about the boycott. They actually don’t care if somebody goes to study in an Israeli university, just like they don’t care if a school dining hall or university serves Sabra hummus. They boycott that, too. The boycott is just a tactic. It’s a tactic that they used to try to delegitimize Israel.”

“This is a generational project to demonize Israel, to ostracize Israel,” he continued, “in the hope that when 30 or 40 years of students have moved through academia — being told over and over again how evil Israel is — that those people will then be in power, and some of them are in power now in the Democratic Party.”

The boycott “makes no sense,” Jacobson remarked. “They’re actually boycotting people who politically are, in many ways, aligned with them, but it’s a chance to demonize Israel. That’s the whole point of it. … This is also an outgrowth of the anti-Jewish boycotts in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, and then the Arab League boycott of Jews. It wasn’t originally Israel. The Arab League boycott started before there was an Israel. It was a boycott of Jews, and then it was repackaged in social justice garb, and now they call it ‘Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.'”

Jacobson concluded that BDS is committed to undermining U.S.-Israel relations as part of its anti-Zionist strategy.

Jacobson emphasized, “It is an attempt to eliminate Israel and to delegitimize Israel in the United States because they recognize that that U.S. is Israel’s greatest ally, and frankly, it would be hard for Israel to survive if the U.S. were to abandon Israel, which is their project.”

Legal Insurrection reported on Wednesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office responded to MESA’s proposed BDS resolution in the context of colleges and universities in Florida receiving state funding.

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s press secretary, wrote, “It is our expectation that Florida State University will not permit MESA to operate a boycott of Israel through a public institution, will not accept the academic boycott of Israel, and will not allow university funds to be paid indirectly or directly to any organization that endorses BDS. The same goes for any other institution that receives state funding.”

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