The war in Indiana against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the broader Palestinian freedom struggle reached a fever pitch in mid-April when a Muslim student leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) was targeted by fliers on campus naming her a “terrorist.” Some bloggers added to the hysteria by branding her a “national security threat.”
The attacks were a reaction to the hosting at IUPUI of the Midwest Students for Justice in Palestine meeting April 1-3. Despite the threats, the meeting was held successfully at the IUPUI campus.
“I’m being called a terrorist,” said Haneen, the SJP leader at IUPUI, in a press conference arranged by student, faculty and community supporters in Indianapolis. Her image and last name are being withheld from press reports out of concerns for her safety. “My name is all over. How am I supposed to live?”
More than 75 faculty and staff at IUPUI wrote a letter to University Chancellor Nasser Paydar insisting that he release a statement condemning the attacks and asserting the right to safety of Muslim students and Palestinian activists. Several days later, Paydar did release a statement in which he wrote, “At IUPUI, we will do everything within our power to protect the safety of our students and ensure their rights to respectfully speak out on the important issues of the day.”
The attacks on Haneen are also part of a coordinated Zionist response to nearly two years of successful BDS and pro-Palestine organizing in Indiana.
During Israel’s invasion of Gaza in summer 2014, which resulted in more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths, hundreds of citizens of Indiana marched in protest at the state capitol. Out of these protests came three new student Palestinian advocacy groups in Indiana, a Jewish Voice for Peace organization, an interfaith coalition, and the statewide network Indiana Palestine Solidarity.
In late March, just days before the successful Midwest SJP conference, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at University of Indianapolis won a student government vote calling on the university to divest from Israel.
Members of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in Indianapolis had traveled to University of Indianapolis to try to defeat the resolution — by means of bullying and denunciations of student organizers.
In the heat of the divestment campaign, swastikas mysteriously appeared at both the University of Indianapolis campus and at Purdue University. The director of the JCRC blamed the swastikas on anti-Semitism whipped up by pro-BDS forces at both universities, despite not a shred of evidence connecting the two.
At the same time as these incidents, a group calling itself Sawtona — which means “our voice” in Arabic — began writing and calling pro-BDS faculty and students at IUPUI claiming to be Palestinians opposed to BDS.
However as reported by the Electronic Intifada last week, the evidence suggests that Sawtona is a fraudulent group likely based somewhere in Israel.
The campaign against BDS in Indiana has also been led by pro-Israel elected officials in state government. The state legislature has in the past year passed two pieces of legislation meant to discourage or punish BDS activism. HB 1378 Public Law 177 (2016), which has been signed into law and will go into effect July 1, condemns BDS as “anti-Jewish.” It also claims, without evidence, that BDS creates a “climate of intimidation, fear and violence on campuses in Indiana.” Public Law 177 is meant to force the Public Employees Retirement Fund (PERF) and the Teachers’ Retirement Fund to divest of any holdings in businesses involved in boycott or divestment from Israel by January 31, 2017.
The attacks on BDS and Palestine activism in Indiana should be seen as part of a larger coordinated national effort that in recent months has targeted individuals like Rutgers University Professor Jasbir Puar, CUNY Professor Sara Schulman, and most recently, in California, legendary scholar and activist Angela Davis and UCLA historian Robin DG Kelley, both of whom support BDS.
Last week, the notorious David Horowitz Freedom Center claimed responsibility for fliers appearing at the University of California Santa Barbara that featured a picture of Davis and the words “Anti-Israel BDS Supporter” and “#StopTheJewHatred.” Another flier referred to BDS as “The Final Solution to the Israel Problem.” A third referred to Davis as “Communist Anti-Israel BDS Supporter.”
The explicit racism of the Horowitz campaign is reminiscent of his effort to insert paid advertisements into university newspapers in the 1990s arguing against reparations for victims of slavery and their ancestors. Among the egregiously racist arguments in the statement was the question, “What about the debt Blacks owe to America?”
The re-emergence of Horowitz’s Freedom Center is also part of a rolling wave of well-coordinated and well-funded attacks on Palestinian and BDS activists. Las Vegas Zionist and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, for example, promised in 2015 to raise $50 million to destroy BDS.
Also in 2015, former University of California Chancellor Mark Yudof launched an organization called the Academic Engagement Network made up of well-connected academics and university administrators, like former Harvard President and World Bank Chief Economist Lawrence Summers, to overcome what it calls the “Orwellian efforts” of BDS campaigns.
Adding fire to this new anti-BDS fuel, Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz said on March 28 at a Stop the Boycott conference held in Jerusalem that individual BDS activists would need to be targeted using language that suggested possible violence or assassination. As reported by Electronic Intifada:
In Hebrew, Katz called for “sikul ezrachi memukad” against the “BDS leadership.” According to professional translator Dena Shunra, sikul memukad literally means “targeted prevention” or “targeted thwarting,” but is the precise term the Israeli military uses for “targeted killing” — an extrajudicial execution. By adding the wordezrachi — civil — Katz’s phrase may be translated as “civil targeted prevention.”
This slew of attacks is further evidence of the desperation with which Israel and its Zionist advocates seek to slow the momentum of the BDS movement. Indeed the Sawtona group also appeared at the City University of New York Graduate School just as students of the Doctoral Council were voting yes to a divestment resolution. A successful resolution passed nearly simultaneously at the University of Chicago.
These victories, and attacks, demand redoubled effort on the part of Palestinian and BDS organizers. We must continue to underscore the racist, violent nature of the Israeli occupation and apartheid while building new solidarity planks in the movement. We must also continually expose the abusive and dangerous tactics of opponents determined to crush BDS activists individually and collectively.
BDS remains one of the most effective tools for activists to confront US imperialism in the Middle East and racism at home. BDS organizers need to use this year’s presidential campaign as a platform to win new students to Palestinian solidarity, especially among younger, progressive voters for Bernie Sanders. We should not be satisfied with Sanders’ objections to “disproportionate” Israeli violence, or his support for imperial US drone wars.
Rather, our fight to support Palestinian self-determination should insist that occupation, apartheid and BDS become the dominant terms for describing, and ending, the nightmare of Israeli settler-colonialism and US support for it.