BDS resolution stifles student activism, erases complexity

J Street U Vassar would like to formally an­nounce their opposition to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) resolution pending at Vassar and reiterate its opposition to the wid­er BDS movement. We want to highlight that J Street U Vassar’s primary purpose isn’t to fight BDS, but to play a role in the larger fight to end the occupation of the West Bank and develop a two-state solution. Fighting BDS does neither of these things, but as the sole pro-Israel orga­nization on campus, we intend to be an active participant in the dialogue surrounding the res­olution. At the same time, this won’t be our sole focus for the semester, and we will continue to engage in projects to meet our goals as a pro-Is­rael, pro-Palestine, pro-two states organization.

We believe that BDS is pat-on-the-back activ­ism. It does more to make individuals feel better about themselves than it does to tangibly support the rights of the Palestinian people. By not specif­ically targeting the movements and parties that directly perpetuate the occupation, BDS is pas­sive and doesn’t take courageous action on behalf of Palestinians. BDS is also dismissive of Israelis who are pro-Palestine, anti-racism and pro-human rights. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex and the reductive nature of BDS doesn’t account for this complexity. Therefore it isn’t an appropriate or effective strategy to end the occu­pation and the oppression of Palestinian people. Additionally, BDS is not the end-all solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is certainly not the only way to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.

We do not subscribe to the false dichotomy that to be against BDS is to be against Palestine or the Palestinian people. As an organization that is ex­plicitly pro-Palestinian, we know that that is sim­ply untrue. Since our founding in 2013, J Street U Vassar has demonstrated a commitment to human rights and to amplifying Palestinian narratives and perspectives. From hosting representatives from the American Task Force on Palestine, to frequently condemning Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, to fundraising for Palestinian NGOs, J Street U Vassar has provided the campus community with opportunities to engage in dia­logue across differences and actively fight against the continued occupation of Palestinian lives and lands. We believe in the Palestinian right to self-determination and intend to continue to work towards empowering the Palestinian people.

Just as we stand with the Palestinian national cause, so too do we believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. For us, being pro-Israel means advocating for policies that promote the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. While we don’t support every action or policy put forth by the Israeli government, we do support the country’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state alongside a Palestinian state.

This is the very reason we exist—to fulfill our obligation to fight for a two-state solution. As a na­tional organization with over 100 chapters in cam­puses across the country, we are working within their own communities to dismantle the settle­ment enterprise. J Street knows that the American Jewish establishment holds power in dictating Is­raeli governmental policy, and has been working to direct that power towards ending occupation and oppression. Right now, many of these establish­ments financially support settlements, and J Street actively tries to change that. In order to succeed, we need your support in lifting up student voices that are pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace.

Finally, we want to clarify that J Street U Vas­sar does not exist in opposition to Students for Justice in Palestine and/or Jewish Voice for Peace. Throughout our time at Vassar, we have consis­tently tried to collaborate and engage with these organizations based on our shared anti-occupa­tion values, but it has been to no avail. Not only is this disheartening, but it is also an impediment to ending the occupation of the West Bank. If our pro-Palestinian organizations worked together, we would be much closer to achieving Palestinian statehood. As Vassar students, we should be taking active, meaningful steps towards achieving peace. BDS inhibits activism rather than fostering posi­tive discourse and effective action towards ending the occupation of the West Bank.

12 Comments

  1. The thing is that israel is ruthless in its ways. You cant just want a two state solution and keep hampering on it. Israel has proven that words and goodwill dont mean jack for them. So its only consquences of their arrogance (bds) that can make them perhaps at least think. No its not bringing them to thinking, instead it wants to defend its evil. Being against bds’ ways i guess can be debatable, but theyre against the total idea of bds standing up for someone else’s rights they dont wanna deal with at all. Israel would rather keep demolishing houses, occupy more land and byiild settlements. Thats the real trend thats going on

  2. “Israel is ruthless in its ways”?

    Really? Can you name an instance where Israel has initiated hostile activities? You somehow believe the indiscriminate attacking of innocent bystanders is the same thing as defending your citizens? Wake up. Israel wants peace. Do you?

    • Haven’t heard of Israeli settlement programs and ethnic cleansing. James. Your criticisms are like criticizing the ANC in Apartheid South Africa for violence. Nice.

      • Spoken like a person lost in the woods. Name another country in the middle east, besides Israel where a Palestinian has the right to self-expression, vote and freedom of sexual and religious choice, Israel is far more heterogeneous than any other country in the region which would lead a peaceful existence, with muslims, christians and Jews of all races and denominations, if not for people like you who have no respect for the right or dreams of other.

  3. The responsibility for establishing peace and two states living side-by-side rests with both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Characterizing the occupation as such and even calling it evil does not build the trust that both sides need to move forward constructively. Bold steps are needed from both parties to demonstrate a commitment to the vision of two states. That might include a cessation of settlement expansion by the Israelis. The West Bank remains “the territories.” Those seeking to create a greater Israel must not be encouraged. What steps can the Palestinians take to show good faith? Changing the hearts and minds of the people on both sides can effect change to the policies of those that govern. The work needs to be on the ground holding both sides accountable and responsible.

    • That’s a lot of bold talk Rabbi Levin. You obviously aren’t for the settlements. That’s nice. However any human on this earth is fully aware that Israel hides behind a US veto at the UN. Which means it has been settlement activity full speed ahead, cause there are no consequences. Therefore all the well meaning mumbo about “holding both sides accountable and responsible” are just vacuous statements. The mainstream Jewish community is now waking up to an Israeli state, that they nurtured, that is open about its apartheid (re Naftali Bennet) and open about its racism (re Netanyahu). And what have the mainstream Jewish community done about it. NOTHING.

  4. Well Done! This is proof that Vassar and other college students can dissect and understand a complex issue such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and not paint everything with the broad brush of anti-Israeli or Anti-Palestinian the way BDS has. Every individual is entitled to express their view – its only when institutional organs promote one side over another or make it uncomfortable for those with a dissenting voice. Opinions, Dissent and Activism should be nurtured and encourage at Vassar in an appropriate manner. This is a good start!

  5. JStreet folks, this article pretty much describes you. You claim that BDS is pat on the back activism. A question. STATE A SINGLE RESULT THAT JSTREET HAS ACHIEVED. I’ll be back for your response.

  6. You cannot have a state that it is both Jewish and democratic. A Jewish state, or a Christian state or a Muslim state, inherently makes second class citizens of non-Jewish citizens. A Jewish state is not for them.

  7. If you can, please publish this as a NEW opinion piece rather than a comment on previous opinions.

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    In a recent opinion piece in the Misc (February 10, 2016) J Street U Vassar describes itself “as the sole pro-Israel organization on campus.” It is indeed a sad state of affairs when J-Street, a group which misses no opportunity to blacken Israel’s reputation, continuously delegitimizes Israel and consistently lobbies the American government to oppose Israeli policies, is the only self-proclaimed bearer of the pro-Israel narrative. In their own words, J Street “has been working to direct (the) power (of the American Jewish establishment in dictating Israeli governmental policy) towards ending occupation and oppression.”
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    The opinion piece goes on to say that J-Street is a role player in the “larger fight to end the occupation of the West Bank” and that they wish “to end the occu¬pation and the oppression of Palestinian people and they “stand in solidarity with Palestinians.” J-Street U Vassar intends “to work towards empowering the Palestinian people.” By their own words, no one at Vassar ever stands in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people.
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    At Vassar College, the terms “occupation,” “oppression,” “colonialist settlers” and “apartheid” have become part of the unopposed native group-speak with respect to Israel. The Big Lie, the mammoth whopper of our time, is that the provinces of Judea/Samaria, often called the “West Bank,” are “occupied territories.” Having been said thousands of times on campus, this has become “the accepted truth” at Vassar, even to people of good will.
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    “Occupation” occurs when one sovereign state moves into the territory of another sovereign state. There has never been an Arab or Palestinian state in the “West Bank,” Gaza or the rest of Israel. There has been historically and archeologically confirmed continual Jewish presence in the region, however, for thousands of years, with establishment of modern-day Israel as the third Jewish nation in the area. The only time there were no Jews in Judea-Samaria was from 1948-67, when Jordan ethnically cleansed the region of all Jews. During the 19 years that Jordan and Egypt were in possession of the “West Bank” and the Gaza Strip, it didn’t occur to the Arabs or to anybody else that the Palestinians should have a state or even that they were a distinct nationality. The claim for that did not arise until after the 1967 Six-Day War.
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    Where is there anyone on the Vassar campus who recognizes the fact that Israel is the only true light of freedom and democracy in the Middle East? When will J-Street publicize that there are no inferior or second-class citizens of Israel, unlike non-whites in South Africa or minorities in Islamic or Arab countries? When will the administration, faculty or students at Vassar openly voice the facts that there are 1.6 million Arab citizens integrated within Israeli society and Israelis Arabs have found success in all facets of Israeli society, including parliament and the supreme court. Arabs occupy senior positions on the Israeli police force, and all levels of the judiciary and there are Palestinians and Arabs in Israeli universities who both study and teach as professors. Israeli Arabs have their own political parties in the Knesset, some of whom are Israel’s harshest critics. I am impatiently waiting for Vassar to admit that Arabs and Israelis receive the same treatment in hospitals, Arab citizens are allowed to seek redress through the courts and government if they feel they have been wronged and that Arabs in Israel have more fundamental rights than other Islamic and Arab countries in the Middle East, including in the Gaza Strip and the “West Bank.” Incitement to racism is a criminal offense in Israel, and in Israel, since gender equality is enshrined in law, women pursue all careers and have full personal freedoms and reproductive rights. Unlike the rest of the Middle East, gays and other members of the LBGTQ community are fully accepted under the law. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that ensures free access to all religious holy sites and each religious group’s right to administer its own holy sites. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where all citizens are equal under the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. All Israelis can take part in free and fair elections, are free to speak their minds and have the right to a just and open trial.
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    Why does Vassar continue to hurl invectives at Israel, the only country in the Middle East that received a number one rating from the Freedom House, which evaluates democracy and freedom around the world? There are 130 Christian-majority countries in the world, 49 Islamic and three Hindu. Israel is the only Jewish-majority country in the world. The reason for that hate is that Israel, although it makes up only is 1/6 of 1% (1/625) of the land of the Arab world, is Jewish, and that is too much to bear for those at Vassar who shout, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
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    The recent long-overdue articles in the national press emphasize that there is no one at Vassar who stands up in solidarity with Israel and with the Jewish people.
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    The degree of intimidation by the aggressive pro-Palestinian campus voices has just been affirmed by the February 21, 2016, decision by VSA to make the March 6, 2016, vote on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel an anonymous one. Although this vote had been planned since August of 2015, VSA has, out of fear of reprisals, suspended the by-law that makes all VSA votes public, in order to allow a secret vote on only this issue. In addition, VSA representatives expressed major trepidation regarding peer pressure, public ridicule and ostracization given the overwhelming anti-Israel factions. Those representatives expressed the concern that mere discussion of BDS within a forum would violate their “safe spaces.” (see minutes of VSA).
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    The majority of the anti-Zionism on the Vassar campus has the intent of removing the State of Israel from the world map. The false and discriminatory slurs about Israel, the only Jewish nation in the world, are indeed anti-Semitic. Although J-Street states that they “believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state,” their actions, “as the sole pro-Israel orga-nization on campus” have been painfully pitiful in that regard. Martin Luther King, Jr., at a dinner in Cambridge, MA, shortly before he was assassinated, rebuked a student who made an anti-Zionist remark, by saying, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who worked closely with Dr. King, has confirmed this statement of Dr. King’s.
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    Those at Vassar and elsewhere who seek to delegitimize, malign and deprecate Israel, while ignoring Israel’s accomplishments and the human rights abuses of Israel’s neighbor, are anti-Semites and have lost their moral compass.

  8. Man ^ this guy’s really lost it. Your claim that the West Bank is not occupied territory is disputed by basically every country in the world except unsurprisingly for Israel.

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