By Nashiha Alam
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a group notorious for attracting Islamophobic funders, has recently launched a new project to monitor pro-Palestine activists. Alex Joffe, a fellow and assistant editor at the Middle East Forum, an anti-Muslim organization lead by prominent Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, will spearhead the initiative.The program, called “BDS Monitor,” aims to encourage students to spy on their peers and to “Report BDS Activity at Your School.” SPME announced the initiative in an email alert sent to subscribers at the end of July.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aims to apply pressure on the Israeli government to comply with the goals of the movement. Using boycott, divestment, and sanctions strategies, the campaign intends to echo similar sentiments used in the South African anti-Apartheid movement. In 2005, over one hundred non-governmental organizations and several campaigns initiated a global movement for a BDS campaign as a non-violent tactic, allowing people of civil society to play a role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.
This tactic was arguably very effective in South Africa. Anti-Apartheid hero Nelson Mandela himself has cited Israel as an apartheid state, with his famous note, “But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
In The Islamophobia Industry, Nathan Lean shows a clear connection between right-wing Zionists and the Islamophobia industry. He points to pro-Israel right wingers who have funded the Islamophobia movement, such as Barre Seid and Aubrey Chernick, both pumping millions of dollars into anti-Muslim causes such as the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs, and directly to prominent Islamophobes like Robert Spencer.
Student activist groups have moved to introduce bills in their legislative bodies, urging their schools to divest from Israel. At least nine universities, including UC Berkeley and Oberlin College, have been successful in passing divestment resolutions, and so far, three have been successful in boycott campaigns.
In response to similar activism, Daniel Pipes launched Campus Watch in 2002, a project that encourages students to report “anti-American,” “anti-Christian” and “anti-Semitic” activity, which also assumes activity against Israeli policies on Palestinians. This summer, Pipes, Horowtiz, and other anti-Muslim activists took aim at Sadia Saifuddin, a UC Berkeley student. They collaborated in an unsuccessful attempt to block her appointment as the first Muslim student appointed to the state Board of Regents, citing her involvement with a BDS campaign and the Muslim Students Association. They used the issue to promote their anti-Muslim and xenophobic agendas.
In addition to Pipes, the board of SPME consists of notorious leaders of the Islamophobia movement, including directors, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Charles Jacobs, Leila Beckwith. Rossman-Benjamin was recorded last year stating that groups like MSA and SJP have “ties to terrorist organizations” as well as stating that “many of them are foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world.” Rossman-Benjamin and Beckwith together started an initiative to criminalize criticism of Israel on campuses. Jacobs, on the other hand, has openly campaigned against Muslim students on campuses and openly addresses a concern for Saudi influence in universities.
SPME’s new BDS Monitor is clearly just another profoundly and inherently Islamophobic attempt to intimidate Muslim student activists on campuses.