Some of America's most high-profile civil rights activists who took part in an event yesterday warning against efforts to outlaw the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement now face a backlash from vocal anti-Palestine groups. Harvard professor Cornell West and other BDS supporters who took part in the University of Massachusetts event "Criminalising Dissent: The attack on BDS and pro-Palestinian speech" have faced strong criticism from the Lobbyists who claim that it was an "anti-Semitic" programme.
The organisers, including UMass communications professor Sut Jhally, billed yesterday's event as highlighting "accelerating efforts by US political leaders, pro-Israel lobbying groups and college and university administrators to silence, smear and criminalise" BDS supporters.
The local Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that the programme was moderated by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, and featured Professor West; journalist and activist Shaun King; anti-racism advocate and author Tim Wise; Palestine Legal director Dima Khalidi; and, via Skype, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, whom the Trump administration barred from entering the United States because of BDS.
Local pro-Israel groups held rallies at the campus protesting against the decision to allow the pro-BDS event to go ahead. They were supported by the Chancellor of UMass, Kumble Subbaswamy, who released a statement distancing the university from the event. He criticised it as "polarising" and said that UMass is "firmly opposed to BDS".
Subbaswamy's comments were attacked by Jewish Voice for Peace. In a letter to the chancellor the campaign group denounced his remarks saying that they "contribute to the racist and Islamophobic harassment and intimidation that Palestinian students and community members routinely face for speaking out in favour of BDS."
Jewish Voice for Peace dismissed the claim that BDS was anti-Semitic. "To insinuate that BDS is anti-Semitic is to insinuate that Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land, human rights violations, and apartheid are Jewish values," the JVP letter said. "They are not."
It's also reported that an open letter criticising Subbaswamy's statement as falling "far short of the robust defence of academic freedom… that we expect of our chancellor" has now been signed by some 130 faculty members. Notable figures like Noam Chomsky and University of California Professor and activist Angela Davis have also denounced Subbaswamy for his remarks.