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Influential left-wing Brazilian politician expresses interest in boycott of ‘certain Jewish companies’

(JTA) — Jewish groups in Brazil are expressing grave concern after a leading politician in the left-wing party of the country’s president called for a national boycott of Israel and expressed interest in the boycott of “Jewish companies.”

José Genoino, a two-decade congressman from São Paulo who spent three years at the helm of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers Party before being ousted in a corruption scandal, made the comments during an appearance on a left-wing TV show last week where he was discussing Lula’s support for South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Genoino criticized a petition by Brazilian business leaders against Brazil’s support for the ICJ investigation, then seemed to propose a boycott of them.

“I find this idea of ​​rejection interesting, this idea of ​​boycotting for political reasons that harm economic interests. It’s an interesting approach,” Genoino said. “There’s even this boycott in relation to certain Jewish companies.”

Alluding to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS, which calls for eschewing all goods and services from Israeli companies, Genoino offered full-throated support for a narrower form of an Israel boycott. 

“There is a boycott of companies linked to the state of Israel. In fact, I believe Brazil should cut commercial relations in the security and military sectors with the state of Israel,” he said.

Opponents of the BDS movement say that it is antisemitic because it opposes the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state. But even vociferous critics of Israel tend to say it is inappropriate to target Diaspora Jews or Jewish institutions as a form of anti-Israel protest. And Genoino’s comments have drawn criticism from Jewish and non-Jewish groups alike.

The Jewish Federation of the State of Sao Paulo said Genoino had suggested boycotting Jewish businesses. “Antisemitism deserves total condemnation,” it said in a statement. “We hope, once again, for retraction and, above all, the repudiation of good people who defend the values of peace and democracy.”

The Brazilian Israelite Confederation, known as CONIB, also swiftly responded, issuing a statement condemning Genoino’s remarks as antisemitic and highlighting that antisemitism is a crime in Brazil. 

Plus, the statement said, “The boycott of Jews was one of the first measures adopted by the Nazi regime against the German Jewish community, culminating in the Holocaust.”

CONIC also appealed to Brazilian political leaders for “moderation” and balance in the context of “the Middle East conflict,” alluding to the current Israel-Hamas war that has ignited global protests. They emphasized that “extreme statements, contrary to the tradition of Brazilian foreign policy,” could import tensions from the region into the country.

Geroino rejected the criticism. “I repudiate the note from CONIB and I affirm that I am not and have never been antisemitic,” he said in a statement. “I also repudiate any type of prejudice against the Jewish people and defend the existence of two states. … We have an obligation to denounce the Israeli government’s genocide against the Palestinian people. I have tirelessly defended the ceasefire, peace between peoples and solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Guto Zacarias, a 24-year-old Sao Paolo politician from a right-wing party, announced that he had asked the police to investigate Genoino over his comments. He cited a 2003 Brazilian supreme court ruling in a case about the publisher of antisemitic books that made Jews a protected class under the country’s anti-racism law. 

“Racism and religious intolerance will not be tolerated in SP!” Zacarias wrote. It was not clear whether the police would decide to open a case.

Brazil has undergone an abrupt shift from being a staunch supporter of Israel, under the past right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, to supporting the most extreme criticism of it. But locals said they did not believe that Genoino’s support for economic boycotts would find much practical support.

The Brazil-Israel Chamber of Commerce told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it did not believe “that this isolated episode could affect the business relationship between Brazil and Israel. Today, business between the two countries is solid, growing in volume and Brazil has made much use of Israel’s technology in various segments.”

And Sebastian Watenberg, regional director of the Brazil-Israel Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased that Genoino’s comments had drawn widespread criticism and that he did not expect them to have any significant impact.

“I think his statement was widely condemned, and I believe the BDS movement, which is actually behind all of this, has been around for years and has not worked. It has not harmed Israel’s business; it has not gained significant traction outside of the intellectual world,” he said. “I think business on the ground will not be affected by this, but in any case, manifestations of this nature are never good, especially because they are antisemitic above all else.”

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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