CHAPEL HILL — An upcoming ICON lecture will tackle the issue of the disturbing increase of antisemitism and the growth of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS) on American college and university campuses.
The lecture will be given by Prof. Miriam Elman, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a world-renowned expert on conflict and the Middle East.
Elman has written extensively on the BDS movement at the website Legal Insurrection and in numerous chapters and reports related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the pathological nature of anti-Israel groups and the rise of campus antisemitism.
About 12 years ago, Elman said she saw things “getting nasty” on the campus, which at first seemed to be a larger phenomenon of intolerance to diverse viewpoints and the shutting down of speech and speakers.
“There seemed to be an increasingly hostile environment to just a normal kind of scholarship that you would do on conflict and terror and militarized conflict,” said Elman. “It was sort of around the start of the boycott divestment and sanctions movement on campus around 2005 to 2006.”
The hostility “heated up” with the first Israel-Hamas war in 2008-2009.
“Nobody wanted to hear about how theory or political science practice applied to this conflict. It was a rally. It was a teach-in and it was meant to be a teach-in,” said Elman of a speaking engagement from that time period.
Elman went on to describe how anti-Israel protesters started screaming “genocide to Israel” and “down with Zionism” and said that was the first time she had felt threatened as a faculty member and was afraid she could be hurt physically.
“It had turned into something that was anti-intellectual. The street had come onto the campus,” said Elman.
In addition to her academic role, Elman is the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an organization opposed to the anti-Israeli Boycott Divest & Sanction movement.
AEN is a network of several hundred faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the country which was formed to promote academic freedom, freedom of expression, and dialogue on Israel.
On her work with AEN, Elman said the organization has around 700 faculty members on over 230 campuses around the country who joined with AEN because they are fed up with what they see happening.
“What we’re seeing, for example, are Jewish students who identify as Zionist, conservative students, and sometimes Christian students who are being ostracized, isolated, marginalized, shamed, and not able to field an organization like other groups might be able to,” Elman said.
“Identities are besmirched and the administration says nothing. That’s not acceptable on the campus and that’s not acceptable to us or our organization,” said Elman.
Elman says the BDS movement has “hot spots” around the country in areas they believe will yield the next thought leaders, journalists or state department employees, and that D.C. schools are particularly problematic.
Elman’s lecture is timely, given the uptick in BDS activities by the Durham City Council and on the campuses of both UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke Universities.
The Durham City Council voted in 2018 to make Durham the first city in the United States to boycott a police training program with Israel. As a result of that vote, the Durham City Council and its police chief C.J. Davis are facing a civil discrimination lawsuit filed by multiple legal groups on behalf of two Israeli volunteer police officers.
“That was a great example of [BDS] using institutional mechanisms and decision-making processes to foist this on a community,” said Elman of the Durham Council vote.
In March of 2019, the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies hosted a conference titled “Conflict Over Gaza.” During the conference, a performance by Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar went viral after undercover footage was released by filmmaker Ami Horowitz. In the clip, Nafar sings a song called “Mama, I fell in love with a Jew,” where he tells the audience, “You look beautifully antisemitic.”
Congressman George Holding (R-NC) sent a two-page letter to Education Secretary Betsy Devos asking for an inquiry into the “reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and explicit anti-Semitism” at a joint UNC-Duke conference which was funded through $235,000 in federal grants. The Dept. of Education responded on June 17 that a formal investigation of the conference had been initiated.
This past August, the Zachor Legal Institute filed a complaint with N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein (D), asking for an investigation into possible terror recruitment activities at Duke University. The complaint alleges that anti-Israel groups covered travel expenses of students sent to a “resistance leaders” training camp in an area in the Middle East controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Hamas, both of which are designated as terrorist organizations.
Prof. Elman’s lecture will be given on Sept. 24 and tickets can be purchased through the ICON website at http://www.iconlectureseries.com.