A First-Hand Account of BDS in Minnesota

09 Nov 2015
Moshe Halbertal (New York University)
Moshe Halbertal (New York University)

There is a distinctive, self-righteous ring to the hate-filled protest of the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It is coarse and unwanted, disruptive and raw. It is the chant of impassioned college students who purport to stand for social justice and human rights, but instead stand for anti-Israel and thus anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Moshe Halbertal, a noted Israeli academic and philosopher, came to the University of Minnesota to speak on the challenges of asymmetrical warfare. Halbertal is neither the rabid right-winger nor the “war crimes apologist” the protesters made him out to be. He was just a professor delivering an informative and prestigious lecture that the BDS movement would not let me hear.

I came late. Thoroughly lost, I asked a young woman to help me find the right room. She smirked, and said she could take me. She seemed to know something I did not; she looked at me funny. It was almost as if she wondered why I would want to go the lecture in the first place.

She led me directly toward chants of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” I saw a seething mass of aggressive and confrontational protesters wearing keffiyehs with Palestinian coloring and waving Palestinian flags. The protesters made me feel like a criminal for attending Halbertal’s lecture, which was, of course, their goal. They wanted me to feel guilt for “supporting Israeli war crimes.” They wanted me to regret defending the Jewish State. They wanted me to abandon any connection to my country.

Instead, I felt sick in the way that you can only be once everything you stand for has been wrongfully denounced as genocidal, terroristic, racist, and supporting apartheid.

A crowd of about thirty protesters shouted ridiculous, self-righteous slogans outside the room I so desperately wanted to enter. They brandished plastic babies “bloodied by Israeli war crimes.” They waved signs proclaiming that “Zionism is not Judaism”—at which point, I wondered—as a Zionist Jew, what do they see in me? A terrorist? A war crimes apologist? A 17-year-old girl? A human being? A student who wants to go to a lecture?

Their hostile chants were so loud and their manner so inflammatory that I was afraid to go inside. The chance of physical assault was minimal—there were, after all, policemen on site (sad if you think about it)—but not something I completely discounted. The threat of verbal abuse, however, was very real. I knew that if I went inside, I would be taunted and ridiculed and marked for future insults again. I had become paralyzed by the fear of going to a lecture by an Israeli academic. At that moment, the BDS had won. It had prevented me from publicly supporting Israel.

Eventually, I snuck in through the secret back door—not that it really mattered. Once I got in, I was not really interested in the lecture, but in what the protesters had to say. One after another, they stood up and shouted Dr. Halbertal down in rabid fits of rage, to the immense delight of the masses outside. Their feral rants grew louder and louder until, at one point, a woman broke through doors and screamed “free, free Palestine!”

Once several protesters were arrested, the crowd was moved to outside the building, and the atmosphere calmed down. Although the BDS-ers loudly claimed that their first amendment rights had been infringed upon, I could not help but think of Dr. Halbertal who couldn’t speak at all. I could not help but think of the lecture attendees who were unable to listen. I could not help but think of the intellectual enrichment the protestors were depriving themselves and others of through their bellicose display of intimidation and incitement.

That night, my little brother, upon hearing the chants of “free, free Palestine”, began to proudly repeat the dogma. I nearly broke down when I heard him repeat these horrible declarations. What do you tell a nine-year-old who repeats the words of protesters who use scare tactics to prevent his older sister from going to lectures? What do you tell a nine-year-old who has no idea what those words mean? What do you tell a nine-year-old who knows no better?

“Sweetheart,” I said, “please don’t say that. The people who are saying that are not being very nice.”

“Why?” he asked, ashamed for having said something that visibly perturbed me.

“They do not want peace.”

I was happy with that answer because it was the truth. BDS protesters do not want peace, social justice or human rights. Instead, they want to scream “Israel is an apartheid state” in front of lecture halls and intimidate 17-year-olds to the point that they are afraid to go to class—something that should never happen at a university.

When I went to bed that night, I could still hear the screaming and pounding of self-righteous protest. But I could also begin to hear the response of the international community to the true colors of the BDS.

I could begin to hear condemnations and outrage. I could begin to hear the world speaking out against the “peace-loving” movement BDS always pretends to be. With their rants still playing in my head, I could only hope that the truth of campus pro-Israel movements could drown out the hypocrisy that BDS has represented for so long.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.