Rutgers rejects speaker’s call for Israel boycott
McCormick assures Hillel as BDS activist gives campus lecture
Omar Barghouti, a leader of the campaign to boycott Israel, signs a copy of his book during an April 12 appearance at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Photo by Debra Rubin
April 14, 2011
The Palestinian cofounder of a campaign to boycott Israel spoke at Rutgers University on the same day that the university’s president assured Jewish leaders that Rutgers has “absolutely no intention of boycotting, divesting, or otherwise distancing itself from the State of Israel or any of its component parts or resident corporations or individuals.”
The pledge by Richard L. McCormick was included in an April 12 response to an e-mail sent by leaders of the Rutgers Hillel.
That evening, Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, spoke at Kirkpatrick Chapel on the New Brunswick campus to about 40 people, including several members of Rutgers Hillel.
Speaking in support of his new book, BDS — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, Barghouti said that opponents of the BDS campaign are trying to “smear” it with charges of anti-Semitism and divert attention from its message.
Referring to “the apartheid occupation and colonization of the occupied territories,” Barghouti claimed the BDS campaign launched by Palestinian intellectuals was turning Israel into a “world pariah nation.”
The talk was sponsored by American Muslims for Palestine and Haymarket Books, his publisher, in conjunction with BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice at Rutgers.
Barghouti’s appearance on campus, following a series of pro-Palestinian events sponsored by BAKA, raised concerns among Hillel leaders and pro-Israel activists. Ahead of the talk, Hillel wrote McCormick and urged him to issue a “clear and unequivocal statement” disassociating Rutgers from the BDS movement.
In the same letter, Hillel did not challenge Barghouti’s right to speak on campus but asserted that his “call for an academic boycott of Israel is particularly repugnant on a university campus.”
In his talk, Barghouti, who holds master’s degrees from both Columbia and Tel Aviv universities, claimed the campaign to isolate Israel is succeeding among businesses, academic institutions, and in countries around the world, although it has had more limited success in the United States, where, he said, BDS is misunderstood.
In five years, he said, Israel “will be even more of a pariah state."
Barghouti asserted the BDS campaign is not anti-Semitic and includes a growing number of Jews.
Anti-Semite are not welcome in the movement, he said and claimed that charges of anti-Semitism have been used to deflect criticism of Israel.
In a letter to supporters, Hillel noted that Barghouti “opposes not just specific policies of the State of Israel, but the existence of Israel altogether.” It cited Barghouti’s support for a single binational state in Palestine, which would effectively end Jewish sovereignty in Israel.
“This delegitimizing attack against a member of the family of nations, a democracy, an ally of the United States, is an affront to all Americans,” wrote Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer.
In an April 13 news release, Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he was “pleased” by McCormick’s rejection of anti-Israel boycotts. However, he continued to press ZOA’s complaint, contained in an April 6 letter, that Rutgers is not doing enough to combat a “hostile campus environment for Jewish students, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (See related article.)
Cosponsoring the Barghouti talk were the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, TCNJ International Socialist Organization, Hub City Anti-Racist Action, Palestine Children's Relief Fund of Rutgers, PalestinianGandhis.org, and Arab Cultural Club of Rutgers.