Asaf Romirowsky, Abstract Key Lecture BDS

Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, Executive Director SPME (Philadelphia, USA)


Combating BDS requires a deep understanding of the movement, its funding, organizational architecture, and the plethora of Jewish and Muslim NGOs who fundraise and train on its behalf, for example, the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

There is finally movement in the anti-BDS camp to break down some of the basic elements that need to be addressed and educate the still scattered opposition. In general, parents and the mainstream Jewish Community, we seek to empower and educate students on the responsibilities of free speech and the facts pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But a greater concern that often fails to receive attention are professors, who represent a permanent fixture in any university.

Most academics who support BDS fall into the category of scholar-activists, a phenomena that has been growing in North America since the 1960’s, where individuals focus more on political theater rather than enduring scholarship. Academic boycotters have increasingly retreated away from serious engagement of issues surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict and replaced it with anti-intellectual demonology of Israel and its supporters.

Today, many Palestinian factions and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have engaged in what’s known as an “anti-normalization” campaign: they are demanding that all contact between Palestinians and Israelis be severed, lest they “normalize” the existence of Israel. The reciprocal response by Israelis and American Jews is denial.

The idea of anti-normalization originated with Arab nationalists during the 1970s and was then picked up by Islamists like Hamas and radical Marxists like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. At every stage of normalizing Palestinian relations with Israel — especially during the 1990s, when negotiations were taking place — extremist factions opposed the very idea of talking with Israelis. It is now a mainstay of the BDS movement.

That anti-normalization is first and foremost a Palestinian strategy against other Palestinians cannot be denied. Gaza BDS activist Haidar Eid recently complained that the Palestinian Authority was “authorizing pro-normalization American organizations, such as One Voice, Seeds of Peace or the Peace Alliance, which was established after the Geneva Accord, which gave up the right of return of the Palestinian refugees” to operate in Gaza.Winning the BDS war requires a playbook that understands the opposing players and their respective strengthen and weaknesses. We know that the BDS movement for now is only tacitly endorsed by many departments and professors, given a platform to single out Israel as absolutely the worst society on Earth in the name of “free speech” and political correctness, more than university acquiescence in the goal of dismantling Israel. With a more unified front, which engages both students and professors, pro-peace forces could help recapture the narrative that is slowly getting lost in the sea of propaganda.

Finally, navigating a university is not a simple task. Administrators and trustees are self-interested stakeholders devoted to seeing that peace and quiet prevail at any institution. But faculty and students are the heart of the university. Only a small minority of both is implacably opposed to the existence of Israel, perhaps ten percent  of less. But this minority successfully shapes the larger university environment, by playing to politically correct views on racism and violence, hijacking other causes such as minority rights and fossil fuels, and cowing its opponents with harassment and intimidation, false claims of persecution, and undertones of violence.