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Betsy DeVos Watch: Secretary of Education equates criticism of Israel with Anti-Semitism

July 18, 2019

On Monday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made comments that would seem to be outside the lines of what someone in her position would say.

At what was billed as a Summit on Anti-Semitism, DeVos stated, “a movement to boycott Israel has become a pernicious threat on college campuses and is fueled by bias against Jews.”

For those who are not familiar with Betsy DeVos, the DeVos and Prince families, taking a position in support of Israel has been something that the Secretary of Education, along with her family of origin (the Princes) and the family she married into (the DeVoses) have done for many years. In fact, the Prince and DeVos families could be categorized as Christian Zionists,

What is Christian Zionism? According to those who embrace it

Christian Zionism merges theology and politics. It teaches that the secular State of Israel is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Christian Zionism believes that this fulfillment of Biblical prophecy began when European Jews started moving to Palestine in the 1800s, and continued as Israel became a nation in 1948. Christian Zionists believe that modern Israel is a continuation of Biblical Israel and therefore should enjoy special privileges. They declare that it is the responsibility of Christians to support the State of Israel and its policies.

In addition, as Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos does deal with issues that arise on college campuses, such as the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement, which began in 2005. The BDS Movement is using the same kind of strategic approach that the South African Anti-Apartheid movement used, which is to boycott, divest and call for sanctions against Israel for its internationally recognized illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

On Monday, DeVos also stated, “Peace in the Middle East begins with recognizing Israel’s right to exist. Israel is a light to the region, but we all know it’s surrounded by jihadists who embrace evil.”

Such a statement by DeVos is rife with exaggerations and half-truths. Israel, is surrounded by countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Now, many of these countries have poor human rights records, but this has not prevented the United States government from providing military and selling weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq since WWII. However, Israel has been the largest recipient of US military aid since the mid-1970s, at an average of roughly $3 billion per year, regardless of who sat in the White House. 

What Betsy DeVos and Attorney General William Barr were stating at the Summit on Anti-Semitism, a summit that was hosted by the Department of Justice, is that criticism of Israel or support of the BDS movement are forms of anti-Semitism. This is simply not true. There is nothing anti-Semitic about people being critical of Israeli human rights violations, particularly in their treatment of Palestinians. The BDS Movement addresses the issue of anti-Semitism on their website saying: 

BDS campaigns target the Israeli state because of its responsibility for serious violations of international law and the companies and institutions that participate in and are complicit in these Israeli violations. The BDS movement does not boycott or campaign against any individual or group simply because they are Israeli.

While some of the speakers at the Anti-Semitism Summit address real examples of anti-Semitism, some reporters acknowledged that the summit was more of a Pro-Israel rally, which is exactly what a Yahoo News reporter called it

However, the effectiveness of equating criticism of Israel or involvement in the BDS Movement with anti-Semitism is a very effective strategy, since people generally do not want to be accused of being anti-Semitic, even if what they are saying or involved in is not anti-Semitic.

It is important to note that even the most credible organization in the US, which monitors anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) states in a 2018 report

ADL is careful to not conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with anti-Semitism. However, Israel-related harassment of groups or individuals may be included when the harassment incorporates established anti-Jewish references, accusations and/or conspiracy theories.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US and it should be condemned whenever it occurs. However, it is not accurate or honest to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, no matter what Betsy DeVos or any other member of the US government says.

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