Has the BDS Movement Infiltrated Midwest High Schools?

A Minnesota school board meeting turned political when a student was invited to speak to the board and used the platform to espouse the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement’s talking points.

A large number of community members attended the latest meeting of the Stillwater (MN) Area School District (ISD 834) school board on Feb. 21, 2019.  During the meeting, two Sophomore Stillwater Area High School students were recognized by the district superintendent and school board for a professional development program they presented to a group of Early Childhood Family Education staff members in January.  The presentation was titled “Women and Islam.”  The two students were congratulated by Superintendent Denise Pontrelli and were each given a photo collage. Pontrelli then invited the students to address the board and those in attendance.

The “recognition” of the students took an interesting turn when one young woman used the school board meeting platform to read a poem called, “I Am From Palestine.” She began her time by saying her name and “I am speaking on behalf of my fellow Palestinians.”

The poem, “I Am From Palestine”:

I am from Palestine. Land of the holy city and the olive tree. A land that is supposed to be free and full of opportunity. 

Jerusalem: the sacred city for three major religions. A mosque that has been built for us, but I’m not allowed to visit it; I’m not allowed to see it, I can’t enter it. I can’t even pray in it because I, myself a Palestinian, apparently don’t have the rights to go to one of the holiest places on this earth.

War, controversy and conflicts occur in places of worship.

I’ve been blocked by the apartheid wall that stretches for 400 miles to stop me from visiting this holy place. Apparently this wall is to prevent violence from the Israeli side while they bring violence to us.

The oppressors cause the conflict by releasing bombs at me; pointing out a gun right across my forehead, humiliating and laughing. Abusing me from top to bottom.

Forcing me to get out of my home – the place where I’m supposed to feel safe. Invading a property where I should be protected and shouldn’t fear of death or being taken away.

They have all the military weapons from rifles to rockets and all I have is my native tongue to fight with: That’s the only weapon I use.

We are harmless yet we still get harassed.

How they treat children is so horrendous and traumatizing: Kidnapping, killing and threatening them every day all year long.

My dad told me many stories that occurred when he used to live in the occupation of Palestine. The one that struck me the most is when a group of 50 Israeli soldiers surrounded his home and marched in and started to brutally attack him. And held him captive for hours and hours away from his family, while he was innocent and only 12 years old.

How would you feel if your child was taken away from you and you didn’t have a clue of when you would get the back or even know if they’ll come back alive?

The occupation has been going on for 70 years, yet no problem has been solved. They blame the conflict on being religious differences but its actually called “ethnic cleansing.”

I find it amusing how on the news they don’t mention this issue that has been going on for almost a century; they only display irrelevant stories and don’t want to put the spotlight on the catastrophe and horrors that current Palestinians are facing. 

I’m only portraying hatred toward the oppressors and not the innocent. 

They try to fool the rest of the world that the Palestinians are the terrible people and the Israelis are the poor victims, but how are we not the victims?

They walk into Palestinian homes, steal their land, claim their culture, murder their children, exile their families, yet they’re still considered the victims.

I’m sick of this on-going war; I’m sick of the children who are dying every minute.

It’s not fair and its not humanity.

What happened to justice and equality?

I will not support those who terrorize and ethnically cleanse indigenous populations.

I will not support those who attack places of worship, schools, hospitals and homes.

I will not support those who kill and terrorize innocent civilians.

Imagine being so traumatized but you still have to live through this reality.

I’m not only from Palestine, but I’m from the land where precious souls were taken away from me.

So can we all accept the fact that we’re all human beings?

And can we treat everybody equally?

Also remember that one day Palestine will be free.

Thank you

The student’s speech was met with applause from the audience and the board members.

The poem read by the student brings forth many questions, the first being, “Was this screened and approved by the school district officials prior to it being read by the student at a school board meeting?” It seems odd that a subject as controversial as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a poem filled with inflammatory language toward Israel would be viewed as appropriate material for a board meeting.

In several emails between The Deplorable Housewives of the Midwest to Superintendent Pontrelli, board members and district staff, there seemed to be some confusion as to why the poem was read.  Pontrelli said, “The only part administration was aware before the meeting was that these young women would be honored for the professional learning work they did with our staff. When I asked if they would like to speak to the board, they read what are called “ I Am” poems that describe their perspectives and experiences.” She also said that she was not aware of any district staff reading and approving the poems beforehand. Pontrelli reiterated her stance and claimed she had no knowledge of an award given to the students when another staff member said that the students had been given a poetry award from “an outside equity organization,” and cited that as the reason the poems were read at the board meeting.

(A follow-up email asking if it is usual district practice to not pre-approve pre-written statements made by students while acting in a district representative capacity received no response by the time of publication.)

I Am From Palestine and the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

Examination of the poem reveals the language and key phrases used are reminiscent of talking points used by the controversial Boycotts, Divest and Sanctions Israel (“BDS) movement. BDS has gained popularity on US college campuses over the past several years and has received endorsement from Freshman Congresswomen, Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and the Women’s March leader, Linda Sarsour.  Words like “apartheid, ethnic cleansing, equality, and occupation” are all used in statements by BDS to delegitimize and discredit Israel.

The BDS movement claims that it is working toward freedom and equality for Palestinians:

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

Use of accusatory and inflammatory language against Israel, such as seen in the poem above, is one of the tactics used by members of BDS to promote their belief that Palestinians are the victims and Israel is the oppressor.

According to a report by the NGO Monitor, BDS campaigns:

…are a major component of the political war against Israel. In this war, human rights principles and humanitarian frameworks are exploited in order to accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” “war crimes,” and “apartheid.”
BDS is not an organization or movement. It is a nonhierarchical network consisting of dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and radical activists, who coordinate their activities at various levels. Their BDS campaigns are facilitated by tens of millions of dollars and euros, which they receive from governments, religious institutions, and private donors. These resources enable ostensibly “grassroots campaigns” by activists and enhance the influence of anti-Israel voices in academic settings, labor organizations, and religious institutions.

Further cause for alarm for the poem read at the school board meeting comes from an Arizona court, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel:

In a brief filed by Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich as part of a case before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning his state’s anti-BDS law, Brnovich noted that the BDS campaign was not only motivated by anti-Semitism, but that it aids Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, as well as the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the latter of which provides payments and stipends to convicted terrorists or their families. (emphasis added)

“That is particularly true as the effect, and often goal, of BDS boycotts is to strengthen the hand of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which pays cash stipends to the families of terrorists, and its governmental coalition partner and terrorist organization, Hamas,” said Brnovich.

The article also states, “By using the ‘social justice’ movement as a veritable human shield for anti-Israel ideology and activism, terror groups are now succeeding in a type of reputational and commercial warfare against Israel.”

One of the clubs listed on the Stillwater Area High School activities page is an Amnesty International club.  Described on the school website as “a global organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people of all races, genders, sexualities, religions and nationalities.  Amnesty focuses specifically on aiding individuals or groups whose human rights are under attack.” In an email to The Deplorable Housewives, the SAHS Amnesty International club advisor, Robert Bach explained the school’s role in student clubs: “The SAHS Amnesty group is an extra-curricular club.  Our clubs form each year on the basis of student interest and are primarily student run.  Their meetings are held outside of school hours.  If students are interested in a particular topic, have a critical mass of students who share that interest, and can find a staff adviser, we work to support their club by giving them a space to meet and freedom to advertise their events.  As these clubs are extra-curricular and student run, the school does not endorse the positions of the groups so much as provide a forum for students to find their voice.”

Recently, Amnesty International signaled its support of BDS with a report titled “Destination: Occupation,” in which the organization accuses digital travel companies, Expedia, AirBnB, TripAdvisor and Booking.com, of profiting from Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

These companies also know that the United Nations and independent international organizations, including Amnesty International and many Palestinian and Israeli organizations, have documented, for years, how Israel’s policy of developing, expanding and guarding its settlements is inherently discriminatory and behind a wide range of human rights violations. Any basic preliminary risk assessment by the companies would reveal that any business activity in or with settlements would unavoidably contribute to sustaining an illegal situation, as well as a regime that is inherently discriminatory and abusive of the human rights of Palestinians… In doing business with settlements, all four companies are contributing to, and profiting from, the maintenance, development and expansion of illegal settlements, which amount to war crimes under international criminal law. ~ “Destination: Occupation

In a response to the AI report, Professor Gerald Steinberg (founder of The NGO Monitor) told Fox News “In the foreground of Amnesty’s campaign is a long history of anti-Semitism. Amnesty has tolerated blatant anti-Semitism within its own ranks and has treated anti-Semitism as the one form of discrimination not worth fighting against. Unsurprisingly, Amnesty is now fully embracing discriminatory BDS and singling out Israel. The timing is clearly aimed to coincide with the UN’s upcoming BDS blacklist.”

The question has to be asked: if a student in a district representative role is allowed to read a poem that grossly attacks a group of people during a school board meeting under the guise of “personal experiences,” does that mean that all students will be allowed to do the same?