The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions vote may be over, but its far-reaching effects on our campus are still evident. A particularly disturbing aspect of events surrounding the aftermath of the BDS campaign has been the use of language of victory. Individuals, both in favor of and against BDS, have resorted to terms like “winning” or “losing.” After the results of the BDS referendum went public, we, as the incoming co-chairs of J Street U Vassar, maintain that our organization did not “win.”
By militarizing this issue and using language that refers to the BDS campaign and its opposition as a “fight,” the only thing we accomplish is a diminished sense of empathy towards the real-life consequences felt by Israelis and Palestinians every day.
So long as Israeli soldiers can occupy the home of a Palestinian family in the West Bank and the Israeli government continues to approve and endorse the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land, no one is truly “winning.” However, it is important for our campus to find ways to move forward after BDS. The Vassar community has spoken and a majority agrees with us when we say that BDS is not the answer. We cannot know why each individual voted the way they did, but we can speak to how we made our own decisions.
We voted no to BDS because limiting our exchange with the most progressive members of Israeli society through academic boycotts would impede the peace process, not improve it. We voted no because we believe that the only viable solution to the conflict is the formation of two states, for two peoples, each of whom deserves their own right to self-determination.
We voted no because any process that seeks to end the occupation must validate not only the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland, but the Jewish people’s right to a homeland as well. BDS fails to acknowledge that latter narrative.
We hope that our peers who voted against the resolution also made their decision with these reasons in mind, just as we hope those who voted in favor of it consider these flaws in rethinking their methods of achieving peace in the region.
Much of the framing surrounding the issue has painted a vote against BDS as an anti-Palestinian action; we reject that description. Everything J Street U does, both at Vassar and as a wider movement, is done to enable Palestinians to self-determine, and to ensure Israelis of that right. On a national level, the path towards this goal takes shape through pushing Jewish communal leaders to actualize on progressive values that are truly representative of their constituents and that are not shaped through donor dynamics.
Specifically, this means speaking to the leaders of Jewish philanthropic associations to ensure that donated money isn’t going to any causes over the green line and into the West Bank.
In this way, J Street taps into the vital, structural power and influence the American Jewish establishment on the Israeli government. At Vassar, J Street U not only works towards these larger goals, but also provides programming and education that helps students realize the dire consequences of the occupation and the importance of ending it.
An issue as divisive as BDS brought high tension and emotional exhaustion to our campus climate. Many students on all sides of the issue have felt isolated, afraid to speak up or hurt beyond reconciliation. It’s vitally important, especially in times like these, that we refuse to let despair keep us from doing the work that is important to us.
At the end of the day, we’re all trying to make the world we were given a little better than it was before. Imagine the collective power we would have were we to put aside our differences and work towards a shared goal of ending the occupation. If we don’t support each other in our collective vision of peace, how can we possibly work to achieve it?
Despair keeps us from having these challenging conversations, from being confronted with viewpoints that oppose our own; despair suppresses hope and replaces it with apathy. In Hebrew, the word “hope” comes from the word “kav,” meaning thread or cord. This is exactly what hope is: a flimsy, frail little string that we must continue to hold onto if we are to turn our dreams into reality, our aspirations into action. This is exactly what J Street U Vassar intends to do.
Next year will mark the 50th year of occupation. With BDS no longer at the forefront of the Israel-Palestine conversation, we hope to focus campus dialogue on the one issue most students seem to agree upon: the occupation as the primary obstacle to peace. By shifting our conversations towards anti-occupation work, we can begin to mend our fractured and divided campus.
At J Street U, we want to contribute to this conversation by bringing groups like Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and the New Israel Fund, who represent just a few of the left-wing Israeli NGO’s who are doing crucial work in raising awareness and ending the conflict.
If you want to be a part of this movement, be it at Vassar or in the wider world, we encourage you to reach out, learn about our ideas and our work and perhaps help us to play a small part in the change we hope to manifest in the world.