In mid July, Hamzeh Daoud, a student at Stanford University, publicly posted on Facebook: “I’m gonna physically fight Zionists on campus next year.” If his meaning wasn’t clear enough, Hamzeh continued, “And after I abolish your ass I’ll go ahead and work every day for the rest of my life to abolish your petty ass ethno-supremacist, settler-colonial state.” While not reflective of Stanford’s values, the sentiment of this hateful post reveals the state of contemporary life on campuses. Daoud’s post is particularly telling, and its damage outlasts his reactive retraction.
A thought experiment: Replace the word “Zionist” with “LGBT” or “supporters of #BlackLivesMatter” in Daoud’s post. Almost certainly, the outcry would be universal and deafening. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to threatening physical violence against fellow students who support Israel, the response is indifference or, worse still, support. Somehow, the target of hate becomes the villain and the aggressor becomes the victim. How has this come to pass?
Let me answer by way of illustration. Among the most striking and powerful museums in the world is the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. But at first glance, it contains a structural oddity.
The exhibit fills three floors. The top floor covers the rescue of the survivors and the aftermath. The middle floor portrays the Holocaust itself. But the entire first floor — which can take hours to go through — consists of the Holocaust’s prelude: the propaganda of the 1930s and the relentless Nazi campaign to dehumanize the Jewish people.
One might wonder: Why is the prelude to the Holocaust given as much space as the events of the Holocaust itself? The answer is simple: Crimes against the Jews have not emerged out of thin air. Rather, they have been preceded by lies, dehumanization, vilification, and slander. Before Jews have been attacked, they have been made pariahs. In order to be attacked, they have to be put beyond the pale.
It would be wrong to overstate the comparison: This is not the 1930s. Nevertheless, it is necessary, now, to remind ourselves how the seeds of violence are sown, and the tacit indifference that allows them to grow. The threat of violence at Stanford is a symptom of a larger assault, spearheaded by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, of which Daoud was an active member. This broader movement’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel betrays a prejudicial and sinister logic. It is tempting to dismiss BDS and its allied efforts as mere hot air, far-left radicals frolicking in their playpen of demagoguery. But that misses the point.
The overriding objective of BDS is to brand one country and one people as uniquely evil. The whole point of the BDS campaign is to delegitimize the planet’s single Jewish state — and thus turn a new generation of future American leaders against Israel. It aims to put Israel outside of the global community of shared humanity and solidarity.
It’s time for universities across the country and all those committed to common decency to join together in opposing the immoral and dangerous BDS movement.
Of course, it is absurd that Israel, the country that brought democracy, free press, independent judiciary, academic freedom, and women’s rights to the Middle East, is the one that stands vilified and accused. But just because the accusation is Orwellian does not diminish its danger.
It is worth remembering that Daoud does not retract portraying Israel as a colonial state. And not just colonial, but ethno-supremacist. Everyone agrees ethno-supremacism and colonialism are evil and their eradication is a positive good. To place Israel in that category is to make the destruction of Israel and harm to its supporters an act of righteous justice. Violence is not only threatened. It is legitimized.
Daoud’s post is a demonstration of how insidious the BDS campaign and its rhetorical tropes against Israel have been. This is not hot air. This is a vicious movement to demonize Israel and to establish the psychological basis for hatred and violence against Jewish students.
It’s time for universities across the country and all those committed to common decency to join together in opposing the immoral and dangerous BDS movement. Punches in the face may start with the Jews, but they never end with them. If we do not act now, it is our most cherished values and ideals that will come under assault. The news from Stanford is that they already have.