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Amid Torrent of Anti-BDS Legislation, Columbia University Students Win Referendum Against Apartheid

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 5:38am in

In a political climate that broadly supports Israel both financially and ideologically, a student group at Columbia University has beaten the odds, passing a referendum that calls for circumspection of its school’s investment in the state.

What makes this accomplishment particularly striking is the fact that Congress and U.S. states are currently considering – or in many cases, have already passed – legislation to do the exact opposite.


Israel protected, free speech threatened

So-called anti-BDS laws, referring to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, are already in place in 30 states and have been introduced or are pending in 12 more. These laws make demands of individuals and companies contracted by the state requiring public employees to sign a document stating that they will not participate in a boycott of Israel in spite of that country’s many well-documented breaches of international law, human rights violations, and possible crimes against humanity. The laws are currently being challenged in several states.

In addition to states, Congress also has a slew of anti-BDS laws on the books or under consideration – this in spite of declarations by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that such legislation is unconstitutional on the grounds that it threatens free speech by “[sending] a message to Americans that they will be penalized if they dare to disagree with their government.”

Journalist Glenn Greenwald points out that states with anti-BDS laws require their citizens to be “literally more loyal to Israel than they are to the U.S., insofar as they may say and do things to their own country that they may not engage in vis-à-vis Israel.”

For its part, BDS asserts that it is a nonviolent, grassroots initiative, describing itself as:

A Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

Politicians who oppose the effort frame it as anti-Semitic. Its organizers, however, point out its roots in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its opposition to “all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”


Justice at Columbia

Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine SJP reported on the passage of their referendum on Tuesday morning. The referendum called on the school to consider divestment from, “companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians that… fall under the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid acts against Palestinians.”

The student group indicated that 61 percent of students who participated in the vote were in favor of the referendum; 27 percent were against it, and 11 percent abstained.

Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, also released a statement Tuesday morning warning that the referendum would not automatically result in investment policy changes, declaring, “Questions about possible divestment of endowment funds are not decided by referendum,” but through an advisory committee.

Bollinger has recently expressed his view that BDS is tied to anti-Semitism, and that it ignores “similar issues in other countries.” Both arguments are familiar to the BDS movement and are refuted on its FAQ page.

Romy Ronen, vice-president of Students Support Israel (SSI) at Columbia, commented that the vote “is making the majority of pro-Israel students on campus feel unsafe, victimized, and disappointed.”

SJP’s victory follows failed attempts 2017 and 2019 to pass the referendum. The group proclaimed yesterday that “the success of this vote reflects years of organizing and is a testament to the strength and power of the student movement for Palestinian liberation.”

It went on to say:

The student body at Columbia College has made it very clear they want nothing to do with Israel’s practices of settler-colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid.”


Executive protection

In 2019, after President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring protection for Jewish students against discrimination based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism – a definition that is highly controversial in that it considers criticism of Israel to be a form of anti-Semitism.

The ACLU wrote of Trump’s order that “Anti-Semitism is a real and present problem… People of all faiths must be protected against harassment and discrimination. But the government cannot equate speech criticizing Israel with unlawful discrimination.”

The first case to be filed under Trump’s order was at Columbia, where the Lawfare Project – which provides free legal services for pro-Israel disputes – requested an investigation on behalf of a Jewish Israeli-American student who complained of anti-Semitic discrimination because the university had allowed its SJP group to hold events advocating for Palestinian rights.

The Lawfare Project has brought a number of what Palestine Legal calls “meritless complaints” to various universities.

Palestine Legal also reports that in the last four years, the Israeli government has earmarked over $100 million to fight advocates of Palestinian rights.

Feature photo | Columbia University SJP

Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at

The post Amid Torrent of Anti-BDS Legislation, Columbia University Students Win Referendum Against Apartheid appeared first on MintPress News.

The Data Is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden

 Joe Biden ...

            Once again the Democratic Party is asking progressives to vote for a presidential nominee who says he disagrees with them about every major issue. This is presented as an offer they cannot refuse. If they cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate like the unionist and environmentalist Howie Hawkins of the Greens or stay home on that key Tuesday in November, Donald Trump will win a second term—which would be worse than Biden’s first.

            Which is better for the progressive movement? Fall into the “two party trap” and vote for Biden, or refuse to be coopted and possibly increase Trump’s reelection chances?

            My new book Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party documents the last half-century of struggle between the party’s left-leaning voters and its right-leaning leadership class. History is clear. When progressive voters compromised their values by supporting corporatist candidates, they were ignored after the election. Only when they boycotted a general election did the DNC start to take them seriously.

            Throughout the 1980s party bigwigs manipulated the primaries in favor of establishment corporatist candidates over insurgent progressives: Jimmy Carter over Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis over Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Democrats were united but unenthused; all three lost.

            Jimmy Carter won once, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each won two terms, all three with progressive support. Democratic victories didn’t help progressives.

Most people have forgotten that Carter was the first of a string of conservative Democratic presidents. He brought back draft registration. The “Reagan” defense buildup actually began under Carter, as Reagan himself acknowledged. Carter provoked the Tehran hostage crisis by admitting the despotic Shah to the U.S., boycotted the Moscow Olympics and armed the Afghan mujahdeen who morphed into Al Qaeda.

            Carter became the first president since FDR not to propose an anti-poverty program. Instead, he pushed a right-wing idea, “workfare.”

            Progressives got nothing in return for their votes for Jimmy Carter.

            Like Carter, Clinton and Obama governed as foreign policy hawks while ignoring pressing domestic issues like rising income and wealth inequality. Clinton pushed through the now-disgraced 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration of people of color, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement that gutted the Rust Belt and sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and ended “welfare as we know it,” massively increasing homelessness. Obama bailed out Wall Street while ignoring Main Street, smashed the Occupy Wall Street movement and supported Al Qaeda affiliates that destroyed Libya and Syria.

            There was only one arguably progressive policy achievement over those 16 years: the Affordable Care Act, which originated in the bowels of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

            Progressives kept holding their noses and voting for Democrats. Democrats took them for granted. Democrats didn’t push to increase the minimum wage. They watched silently as generation after generation succumbed to student loan debt. As the earth kept burning, they hardly lifted a finger to help the environment except for symbolic actions like Obama’s fuel efficiency regulations, which required less than automakers were doing by themselves.

            Personnel, they say in D.C., is policy. Clinton had one progressive in his cabinet for his first term, Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Obama had none. Citigroup chose his cabinet.

            After the defeat of Bernie Sanders in 2016, progressives tried something new. Millions of disgruntled Sanders primary voters either stayed home, voted for Trump or cast votes for third-party candidates like Jill Stein. Hillary Clinton, who was so sure she could take progressives for granted that she put Sanders at 39th on her list of vice presidential picks, was denied her presumptive shoo-in victory. (Don’t blame Stein. Adding all of her votes to the Hillary Clinton column would not have changed the result.)

            Three years later, something remarkable happened. Most presidential hopefuls in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign emerged from the centrist corporatist wing of the Democratic Party yet felt pressured to endorse important progressive policy ideas. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and even Michael Bloomberg came out in favor of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Most of the mainstream candidates proposed some sort of student loan forgiveness and Medicare For All. Nearly all support a Green New Deal.

            What forced the Democratic Party to shift left after decades of moving to the right? Fear that progressives will withhold their votes this coming November. After years of empty threats from progressives, the November 2016 voter boycott proved they wouldn’t sell their votes without getting something in return.

            The answer to the question, what should progressives do, is easy in the long term. Progressives should boycott Democratic candidates who don’t credibly pledge to support progressive policies. Biden says he would veto Medicare For All. He opposes a Green New Deal as well as student loan forgiveness. He is hawkish on Russia and Venezuela. He doesn’t want your vote. Why give it to him for free?

            The trouble is, every election is also about the short term. Progressive voters have to game out the next four years.

            If Trump wins, he may have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court justice. He will certainly appoint more federal judges. He will continue to coddle hate groups and spew lies. Many of the weak and vulnerable will suffer. On the other hand, activism will be sustained. Resistance and possibly even revolutionary change may emerge. Trump will be a lame duck likely wallowing in scandal; very few presidents get much if anything done during their second terms.

            If Biden wins, his Supreme Court picks may not be significantly more to the left then Trump’s. He is likelier than Trump, who shows restraint on interventionism and ended the occupation of Afghanistan, to start a new war. Big problems will get small solutions or none at all. Streets will be quiet. If there are any demonstrations, for instance by Black Lives Matter, his Department of Homeland Security will suppress it as Obama did to Occupy. As under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the left will go back to sleep. Progressives will watch Biden appoint one corporatist cabinet member after another as their dreams of making the country a better place fade away.

            And in 2024, we will again face a choice between a rabid right-wing Republican and a wimpy sell-out Democrat. This election, Democrats will say as they always do, is too important for ideological purity. Progressives should wait until some future election when less hangs in the balance. Perhaps in 2028? Maybe 2032? 2036?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)