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Proud Boys and blacklists: BDS activists in the US facing new threats

Activists on campuses across the United States are facing new threats from violent white supremacist organisations

Just in time for the new school year, Stanford University published a paper last week that said Jewish college students in California have not witnessed anti-Semitic situations and feel comfortable with their religion.

“Contrary to widely shared impressions, we found a picture of campus life that is neither threatening nor alarmist. In general, students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, comfortable as Jews on their campuses,” the report's executive summary reads, adding that the students surveyed study at San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, Stanford University.

Despite the report's findings, arch-conservative organisations have scrawled graffiti on campus walls from Georgetown University to Washington State University to the University of Hawaii, generally within days, even hours before schools open their doors to students. And while this unnerving phenomenon is not new, it may be gaining traction this year with the national rise of the so-called "alt-right".

One of the new campus threats is the “Proud Boys,” a “Western chauvinist” men’s rights group founded in 2016, whose tactics reveal both anti-Semitism and an anti-Palestinian, anti-BDS agenda. The “Proud Boys” are mostly former military, armed, and some chapters include members of colour, which complicates the “white supremacy” accusation.

Vice Media co-founder and conservative speaker Gavin McInnes reads a speech written by Ann Coulter to a crowd during a conservative rally in Berkeley, California on 27 April 2017. (AFP)

They proclaim to promote “Western” supremacy and a banner on their Facebook page clamours “Proud Boys Are Not Alt-Right,” even as they explain that they are pro-gun, pro-Trump, pro-police, anti-Islam, and anti-feminist (among other issues).

There are many internal inconsistencies in the organisation. For example, even though they claim to be “pro-gay,” one member was heard saying they needed to fight “the faggots wearing black” at a New York University protest at which "Proud Boys" founder Gavin McInnes was speaking.

The "Proud Boys" have been planning rallies and recruitment campaigns on campuses around the country, and their social media chatter also reveals deep-seated anti-Semitism.

As the battle lines are being drawn, with many faculty and university staff joining the new and fast-growing Campus Anti-Fascist Network and committing not to let these groups on their campuses, the "Proud Boys" may escalate the violence, especially since the final step in their membership hazing involves “a major fight for the cause”.

"You get beat up, kick the crap out of an antifa” and possibly get arrested,” said Proud Boys and Vice media co-founder McInnis.

BDS 'blacklist'

The other new campus battlefront, which has been limited to only New York thus far, but with stated plans to target people nationally, is the new group “OutlawBDS”.

They openly call themselves a “blacklist”. Over the past week, students, faculty, journalists, non-profit staff-members, and cultural workers have received this email (forwarded to MEE by one recipient):

[Name] Be aware that you have been identified as a BDS promoter.

According to new legislation in New York State, individuals and

organizations that engage in or promote BDS activities with US allies

will no longer receive public funding or support.

Moreover, the state and its agencies will no longer engage in business

or hire these organizations and individuals as they have been deemed

problematic and anti-American.

                 You have been marked.

                 You have been identified.

You have a limited window of opportunity to cease and desist or face

the consequences of your actions in legal proceedings. In case you

have ceased your past wrong-doing, please contact us at

[email protected] for your profile to be removed from the Blacklist.

For your profile, visit us here:

As threats against BDS organisers have increased over the past few years, lawyer activists founded Palestine Legal, a Chicago-based organisation dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom.

Several BDS supporters who received this email contacted the organisation, which issued a statement saying that all attempts to “blacklist” boycott supporters are anti-constitutional, and strictly serve to intimidate and threaten activists.

“As faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine and member of Faculty for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis, and an academic boycott organizer involved in national campaigns, I've noticed the chilling effect that Zionist blacklists and smear campaigns have had on activists involved in the Palestinian justice movement, especially on campuses where administrators routinely discipline students who dare to demand equality and justice for the Palestinian people,” Sunaina Maira, professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California Davis, and member of the US campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told MEE.

“The tactics that alt-right activists and white nationalist groups are using to attack faculty and undermine academic freedom have long been used by Zionists across the US to create what Steven Salaita called the 'Palestine exception' to free speech,” she said.

I've noticed the chilling effect that Zionist blacklists and smear campaigns have had on activists involved in the Palestinian justice movement

- Sunaina Maira, University of California Davis

“Palestinian/Arab and Muslim students, in particular, struggle with the erasure of their identity and ignorance of their history in classrooms and also have to deal with anti-Palestinian/Arab racism and Islamophobia, which is only intensified in the current moment.”

University administrations have also been quite unforgiving of pro-Palestine, pro-BDS student organisations, as evidenced by the disciplining measures against them.

Fordham University, for example, did not approve the formation of an SJP chapter last year, and most recently, the SJP chapter at UC Irvine has been placed on probation for two years, even though UC Irvine is one of the campuses surveyed in the Stanford study, which shows Jewish students feeling comfortable, safe, and unthreatened on their campuses.

'Cheap scare tactic'

Some BDS supporters, however, are ridiculing the “blacklist” threat, as many posted on social media that they want to be included in that fine list, giving details of their affiliation and activism. And many blacklisted individuals are also dismissing the threat.

"As outlined by Palestine Legal, Outlaw BDS's email is a cheap scare tactic with no merit.” Remi Kanazi, a New York-based poet and BDS organizer who was listed on the “outlawBDS” site, told MEE.

An Antifa demonstrator has a heated exchange with a pro-Trump supporter during the Denver March Against Sharia Law on June 10, 2017. The march was supported by two right-wing groups, The Proud Boys, and Bikers Against Radical Islam. (AFP)

“This is another attempt, albeit a shoddy one, to silence Palestinians and BDS organisers through coercive means,” she said. “But BDS is only gaining ground by the day. We may not have a multi-million dollar PR machine and state representatives backing us, but we have truth and history on our side.

“From the Movement for Black Lives to student groups and academic associations across the country, folks are stepping up, often at great risk of attack, to show principled support for Palestinian liberation, and that foundation will only strengthen going forward," Kanazi said.

With its ultimate goals being an end to the violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people, BDS has always stated that it is above all an anti-racist movement. As such, it opposes and denounces all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Indeed, a significant percentage of the membership of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters nationally is Jewish, as are many organisers within various pro-Palestine justice groups, from the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights to the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, to Jewish Voice for Peace, and more. 

The [Proud Boys] agenda is consistently - and violently - anti-Semitic, anti-indigenous, racist, and patriarchal

- Cynthia Franklin, co-founder of Jewish Voice for Peace Hawaii

"As I have observed at the University of Hawaii, the Proud Boys have a structure that depends on making public statements about racism and anti-Semitism that are contradictory and confusing,” Cynthia Franklin, faculty member at the University of Hawaii, co-founder of Jewish Voice for Peace Hawaii, and a member of the Organising Collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told MEE.

“This incoherence and their frat-like idiocy does not mean we should not take them seriously,” she said.

“Their agenda is consistently - and violently - anti-Semitic, anti-indigenous, racist, and patriarchal,” Franklin said. “Along with other influences, they are creating a lack of safety on my campus where swastikas have been appearing. This is unnerving and frightening, and as a Jewish person who is also anti-Zionist, it calls for new strategies in organising against anti-Semitism as well as against Zionism."

Indeed, as the national political tensions find their way onto campuses around the country, students and faculty will undoubtedly be gaining a lot more than strictly academic knowledge this year.

Nada Elia is a Diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin' "Demographic Threat?" Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of Gender and Global Studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Gavin McInnes speaking at the 'March Against Sharia,' New York, 10 June 2017 (Reuters)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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