We, the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) affiliate at Vassar College, support voting yes on both of the BDS referenda that will come before the student body on April 26 through 28. We consider it our responsibility as American Jews both to voice our opposition to crimes committed by the Israeli government in our name, and to take productive action to stop these crimes and end our economic support of them.
In 2005, well over 100 Palestinian organizations representing the broadest cross-section of Palestinian civil society called for non-violent resistance to colonialism in the form of boycotts of, divestment from and sanctions against the Israeli government and its supporters. We feel compelled to respond to and amplify this call.
The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Resolution and Amendment call on Vassar College and student organizations to divest from and boycott several companies that fund and/or contribute to violence and oppression in Israel/Palestine. If this legislation passes, orgs will be prohibited from using VSA monies to purchase items from Ahava, for example, because the company produces cosmetics in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
These settlements, along with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and annexation of East Jerusalem, are all illegal under international law (UN Resolution 478). No part of either the resolution or the amendment attempts to control who can or cannot come to campus to speak, nor do they concern VSA allocation of funds to Vassar student organizations.
As a response to the Palestinian call for BDS, the proposed legislation would remain in place until the State of Israel meets the demands enumerated within the BDS call and respects Palestinians’ basic human rights. According to the call, economic pressures are to remain in place until Israel:
- Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Apartheid Wall that separates Jews and non-Jews in the West Bank,
- Recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and
- Respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
The BDS Movement targets companies and institutions complicit in colonial violence in Israel/Palestine. Contrary to popular claims, it does not target solely Jewish-owned companies, nor does it target all Israeli companies.
We believe that attempts to construe the BDS movement as antisemitic exploit the existence of historic antisemitism, in our community and elsewhere, in order to support a political agenda. As Jewish activists working in solidarity with Palestinian civil society, we seek to ensure that antisemitism plays no role in our organizing and rhetoric, and to combat any instances of it where it may arise.
The BDS Movement combats anti-Arab racism inherent in Israel’s ongoing colonization of Arab lands. At Vassar, we see how some administrators and faculty privilege particular conversations about antisemitism while simultaneously turning face from real, immediate instances of other forms of oppression, particularly anti-Black racism and transphobia.
We hold an understanding of antisemitism that does not take an apocalyptic view of Jewish history and that does not occlude critical reflection on pressing, imminent issues in our community. Rather we acknowledge legacies of oppression and resistance in Jewish history and see them as sites from which our solidarities grow.
BDS is not only ethical, it is effective. With support from both Palestinian and Israeli politicians and activists, the BDS Movement provides a growing threat against Israel’s discriminatory policies and racist violence. This rising pressure from abroad has shifted conversation significantly within Israel and though Israel and the United States are beginning to attempt to stifle and outlaw the BDS movement, we believe that its continued growth will make possible real and substantive policy changes both internationally and within Israel/Palestine. Vassar has a chance now to join the movement that will eventually lead to true peace and justice in the region.
Given that the BDS Movement seeks to challenge colonialism, that it is not antisemitic and that it is a grassroots, non-violent movement which affirms the right of the colonized to direct their own liberation, we firmly support BDS at Vassar and beyond.
JVP meets on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. There is no hierarchy and all students, regardless of identity, are welcome. And join us on Wednesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. to learn more and make matzo pizza!