A roster of international leaders of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement – led by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters – will lead a panel discussion at UMass-Amherst next month.
The event, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” will take place at the UMass-Amherst Fine Arts Center on May 4 at 6:30 p.m. The event will be free, and open to the public.
According to its official website, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement or BDS, “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”
The UMass event, which is being co-sponsored by the university’s Department of Communication, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Resistance Studies Initiative UMASS, is not a UMass-sanctioned event, and no university or taxpayer funds are being used to support it, according to UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski. Blaguszewski said UMass does not support academic boycotts.
“Some departments have chosen to list themselves as co-sponsors to individually express their support for the event, but the departments have not provided any funding,” said Blaguszewski. “Some student organizations have expressed ‘support from’ for the event, but they also have not provided any funding. Their decisions are a matter of academic freedom and free speech.”
In a letter to UMass-Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, Anti-Defamation League New England Regional Director Robert Trestan expressed his concern about the event taking place at the state’s flagship public university.
“The program, featuring speakers who engage in rhetoric that demonizes the State of Israel and seeks to marginalize its supporters, has raised significant consternation among Jewish students and many others on campus and in the community, who not only care about Israel but worry about civility on campus.
“Regrettably, this event links the university with a discredited concept having a singular outcome: the elimination of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. Our experience indicates that programs of this nature are highly divisive, impacting Jewish students’ sense of belonging, as well as their sense of safety and security on campus.”
In addition to Waters, the panel will include longtime Israel critic Linda Sarsour – a Palestinian-American and co-founder of the Women’s March. Earlier this winter, at the Women’s March in Washington, Sarsour advocated the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel during her speech. “We will protect our constitutional right to boycott, divest and sanctions in this country,” Sarsour told the marchers. In a previous note on Twitter, she wrote, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
Over the years Sarsour has embraced the anti-Semitic messages of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In 2015, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his 1995 Million Man March in Washington, Sarsour took aim at Israel supporters in a speech and implied that they should be held responsible for the troubles of Palestinians and the murder of young blacks. “The same people who justify the massacres of Palestinian people and call it collateral damage are the same people who justify the murder of young black men and women,” she said.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors will also be a panel member. After a trip to Israel several years ago, Cullors called Israel “an apartheid state” and said those who disagreed with her view were “part of the Zionist violence.”
The event is being organized by the Northampton-based Media Education Foundation, and the organization’s executive director Sut Jhally. Jhally is also a tenured professor of Communication at UMass-Amherst, and served as a producer of “The Occupation of the American Mind.” That film, which was shown by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead in 2017, caused dozens of local Jews and Christians to protest outside of the church. The film was narrated by Waters and painted a web of conspiracy theories – ultimately concluding that, Israel, through an organized public relations effort, has been able to control how the American media covers the conflict. In an interview before the screening, Jhally admitted that he had never traveled to Israel or the Palestinian territories.
The film’s narrative also borrows from anti-Semitic tropes. As Waters narrates, a song plays in the background with the words, “Money, money, money.” In the past, Waters has used anti-Semitic imagery in his concerts, and in a 2017 Facebook chat, compared the Israeli government to Nazi Germany, and said there were no harsher regimes in the world.