Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang sparked controversy by comparing the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to “fascist” anti-Jewish campaigns.
Writing for Forward, a Jewish American webzine, Yang, who is a New York City mayoral candidate, compared BDS “to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses” in the past, seemingly a nod at Nazi policies of the 1930s and 40s.
“A Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment,” Yang wrote.
“Not only is BDS rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses, it’s also a direct shot at New York City’s economy,” he said.
Inspired by the South African movement credited for ending the country’s apartheid in the 1990s, the 15-year-old BDS movement encourages individuals, nations and organisations to boycott Israel over its consistent violations of international law and human rights standards.
It does not target Jewish owned companies, or any company, in the United States or elsewhere that does not have links to Israel, despite Yang’s insinuation that BDS negatively affects New York’s “small businesses”.
‘This take is terrible’
The pushback against Yang’s statement came rapidly among progressive circles on Friday.
Alex Kane, a contributing writer for Jewish Currents with a strong online following, was one of the first on Twitter to criticise Yang’s comparison.
“What @AndrewYang just wrote: BDS is similar to Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses,” Kane tweeted, paraphrasing the candidate’s words, which he said were “messed up” and “wrong”.
— Alex Kane (@alexbkane) January 22, 2021
Several progressive American Jewish advocacy groups spoke out against Yang’s statements, including IfNotNow, an American Jewish organisation that works to end support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Speaking to Middle East Eye, Morriah Kaplan, the group’s spokesperson, denounced Yang’s remarks, pointing out that the U.S. is dealing with an actual re-emergence of white supremacy groups, which was on full display during the 6 January attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
“Comparisons that liken Palestinians, students, and advocates for Palestinian rights to Nazis and fascists, at a moment when neo-Nazis and fascists are attacking our nation and threatening our democracy, demonstrates that Andrew Yang is simply not serious about combating antisemitism,” Kaplan said, adding that young Jewish Americans are moving away from blanket support for Israel.
“Instead of repeating talking points from pro-Israel hawks designed to shield the Israeli government from accountability by intentionally blurring the line between criticism of Israel and antisemitism, Yang should listen to the rising generation of young Jews who demand freedom and dignity for all, no exceptions. We, too, are Jewish voters,” she continued.
The Andrew Yang for New York campaign did not respond to MEE’s request for comment by the time of this article’s publication.
Yonah Lieberman, one of the co-founders of IfNotNow, said Yang had lost his vote over the article.
“I sure as hell don’t want a Mayor who compares activists for Palestinian rights to fascists and Nazis. A shameful distraction from actual Nazis,” Lieberman tweeted.
The Adalah Justice Project also called out Yang for his statements, labelling them “simply wrong”.
“@AndrewYang misrepresents BDS to pander for Jewish votes. BDS is a Palestinian call for the international community to boycott Israeli state institutions and businesses until Israel respects international law and gives Palestinians basic freedoms,” the group said in a tweet that was shared by the Jewish Voice for Peace’s New York branch.
This is simply wrong. @AndrewYang misrepresents BDS to pander for Jewish votes. BDS is a Palestinian call for the international community to boycott Israeli state institutions and businesses until Israel respects international law and gives Palestinians basic freedoms. https://t.co/bhWKBMHioG
— Adalah Justice Project (@AdalahJustice) January 22, 2021
Linda Sarsour, a well-known pro-Palestinian activist and progressive organizer who had praised Yang in the past, slammed his take on BDS and called on the former presidential candidate to speak to NYC’s Palestinian population.