A Conflict of Interests

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/1/23

Last week, the National Association of Scholars published a new report by Senior Fellow for Foreign Affairs and Security Studies Ian Oxnevad, The Company They Keep: Organizational and Economic Dynamics of the BDS Movement, on the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement that has swept across higher education. The BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic, as it threatens Jewish students and scholars by cultivating hostility toward Israel on campus. It also threatens the political neutrality of our institutions of higher education, to the “detriment of academic freedom, freedom of speech, and constructive civil discourse.” The report dives into the origins of the BDS movement, the power dynamics of BDS activism on campus, and how the movement is being supported and funded. Ultimately, the BDS movement does not benefit any party involved and must be curtailed. Oxnevad states,

The BDS movement promotes a one-sided narrative that demonizes the Jewish state while disproportionately amplifying narratives of Palestinian grievance and Arab victimhood. Anti-Israel student activism is a growing problem that threatens the political neutrality of colleges and universities due to widespread connections between pro-BDS student groups and a larger network of progressive and left-wing organizations.

The BDS movement got its start in academia. Led by pro-Palestinian groups, BDS gained traction when academics banded together to create the first major pro-BDS group, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. From there, the BDS movement’s power has grown exponentially, drowning out supporters of Israel.

The BDS movements’ politicization of free inquiry is alarming. Institutions of higher education must remain neutral, uphold intellectual and academic freedom, and foster civil discourse to provide students with the best education. The BDS movement (like so many other modern movements) pulls colleges and universities away from such principles. As Oxnevad explains,    

The BDS movement threatens the integrity of universities due to its attempt to capture university policy to suit its own political goals. Far from a movement centered exclusively on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, BDS operates as part of a larger progressive, left-wing movement that is well-funded and connected beyond the university. The placement of BDS within a larger ecosystem of progressive political organizations affords it legal support, ties to electoral politics, and funding from a network of charitable foundations oriented toward social justice.

It's worth reading the full report to learn about the extent and influence of the BDS movement—for now, here are some major takeaways that higher ed reformers can use to continue the fight against it.

The long-term solution to BDS isn’t necessarily cut and dry. Oxnevad helpfully recommends several options to counter the BDS movement and restore institutional neutrality. One such recommendation is to create Abrahamic Academic Centers and programs like Birthright Israel to counter anti-Israel activism on campus. By adding Israel–friendly classes and groups on campus, we take away the BDS movement’s monopoly power. Also, by penalizing colleges and universities that only offer funding and support to pro-BDS groups, we can regain some neutrality.

The BDS movement cannot continue to grow unchecked without further damaging institutional neutrality and fostering intellectual conformity on a nuanced conflict. BDS must be understood for what it is: “one component of a larger left-wing social justice movement that politicizes higher education.” That’s why the solutions proposed by Oxnevad in this report are wise and will encourage productive discussions in academia on the Israel–Palestine conflict—dispersing BDS’s monopoly power and benefitting all parties involved.

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Photo by daniel0 on Adobe Stock

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