Evaluating BDS in aftermath of referenda

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.


  1. This article, like J Street, is a joke. BDS is the bare minimum we should be doing for the conflict.

  2. The issue is not “occupation”. It is the continued desire of the Palestinians to annihilate the State of Israel. Israel withdrew from Gaza and got Hamas and worse terrorism A withdrawal from the West Bank would be suicide for Israel as an Islamic state there would bring unbearable terror to Israel. Until the Palestinians who are 95% Sunni Muslims reform themselves nothing Israel does or doesn’t do will lead to peace

  3. This op piece shows exactly how warped Vassar is. The debate on campus is between those who want to annihilate the Jewish state and a far left Jewish organization like J street. There are no centrists or heaven forbid right wing Jewish organizations allowed. J street buys the whole Palestinian narrative but not their means. Exactly what does J street think would happen if Israel were to leave the West Bank tommorrow?? That the Palestinian would establish a liberal peaceful democracy or a state which would with its Arab neighbors seek to destroy an Israel which would then b only 15 miles wide?? To the Palestinians Tel Aviv and Haifa are occupied territory. Just look at the rest of the Arab Middle East if u want to be honest about the Palestinians

  4. My profound thanks to those who had the decency and the courage to vote down both BDS proposals. This is the first time in the last three years I have reason to be hopeful about the future of a school I love dearly.
    Unfortunately, the vote will not end the matter. A quick internet search will confirm that the BDS movement is part of a national campaign to take control of student governments throughout the country to advance an anti-Israel agenda. Thus, you can expect SJP and related groups to propose a BDS resolution next year, in the hopes that opponents of BDS will tire and that students will become apathetic.
    The introduction of a BDS resolution succeeds even when it fails, because it invariably is highly divisive and mean spirited. You only need to read the minutes and accounts of the VSA meeting when the BDS resolution was passed to appreciate the effect of introducing a BDS resolution. It is undisputed that students who were openly crying while describing the negative effects of BDS, were mocked and taunted by BDS supporters. Politics aside, is this the way a Vassar student in pain should be treated by his or her fellow students?
    The closeness of the vote defeating BDS indicates how introduction of a BDS resolution is divisive. It pits Jewish students against other Jewish students, Jewish students against non-Jewish students and anti-Israel students against pro-Israel students.
    In order to prevent a repeat of recent events, I suggest you lobby the VSA to amend its rules to bar any resolution rejected in a campus wide referendum from being reintroduced two years in a row.
    And all of you who voted for BDS, please spare me your lame claim that support for an agenda that openly calls for the destruction of Israel as the Jewish homeland is not anti-Semitic. If Israel was named “Jewishland,” your seeking its extinction would eliminate your transparent attempt to pass off a hatred of the Jewish people as merely hatred of their homeland. Everybody knows that behind the curtain of your anti-Israel rhetoric lies good old fashioned anti-Semitism. Even you know it.
    Megan Tallmer
    Class of 1973

  5. “Acceptable Apartheid”
    Yay to JStreet. They have a solution to fight apartheid in Israel. Its going to be wunderbar. Jstreet is going to work with progressives in Israel to stop settlements. Gosh darn what a bold adventure. After 50 years of apartheid, in which the “progressive” did not stop a single settlement, JStreet has found the magic formula thats going to work.
    JStreet has a plan. It really has. No i mean it , they really have. Against a state which has an open veto on any UN Resolution, which has been paid for, JStreet has a plan. Its called write nice letters to the enablers of apartheid and they will stop. I’m sure you couldn’t find a better plan on this planet. Except of course the ones i get from my Nigerian buddies who stated that i won Ten Million dollars.
    Its all BDS’s fault. They destroyed the UN Resolution that created Israel. Every settlement is their fault. They destroyed the Zionist project of Israel. Ignore what Ari Shavit a speaker at JStreet said
    Ari Shavit –> “Neither the Arab nation nor the Palestinian struggle threaten Zionism today, but the disastrous consequences of Jewish messianism do. The destruction sown in the West Bank has become a whirlwind endangering the Zionist dream more than any Arab storm. The danger of diplomatic isolation is known, yet the right wing is ignoring it with ongoing obstinacy. But the danger inherent in Beilin’s brilliant, demanding proposal is a new peril, on that may finally open some eyes among the reasonable right.
    Its significance is simple: The settlement project will force Israel to accept the right of return. To uphold the extremist enclaves of Itamar and Yitzhar, we will be forced to accept Palestinian refugees in Haifa, Jaffa and Lod.
    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.571346

    True, BDS is destroying Israel. Ari Shavit is lying that Israel and its apartheid enablers destroyed Israel. How dare BDS ask for an equality in that destroyed country. But lets remember JStreet has a plan to walk back all of this. Right folks.
    In fifty years of Occupation BDS is the only one that has shown an iota of success in countering the Israeli narrative. But gosh darn JStreet with its series of feel good letters to a state that laughs at any UN Resolution is going to defeat apartheid. They have a plan. Its just that its a secret. But they have a plan.
    BDS is no longer going to be the forefront of conversation. True. All of them are just going to give up and join JStreet. They have a plan. Join them. It’ll make you feel good that you “fought” apartheid in Israel. You can now boldly claim that you fought apartheid in Israel. Cause JStreet has a plan. Bring your pen, paper, a lot of hershey’s kisses and postage stamps. Its going to work. You fought apartheid. And then you can cash in your Ten Million dollars from Nigeria.

  6. “Sanctions for Starvation, No way”
    I oppose sanctions. Not against North Korea. Not against Israel. What did they do so bad ? Starve their prisoners in Gaza like North Korea. And sanctions or boycotts for that. No way.
    All that Israeli diplomats did was boast about their starvation plan stating that they would keep Gaza “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.”
    No way to boycotts. BDS has set the bar too low against any constructive dialogue. Especially when its been so effective. I agree with JStreet, no way to boycotts even when we have a live footage of Israeli soldiers just mulling around while a Palestinian is shot execution style by one of theirs.
    What’s the problem. Its just apartheid. You want sanctions for that ? No way. It does not meet the high bar that JStreet has set.
    We just have to trust JStreet. There should be no sanctions against starvation and murder. That is too low a bar.

  7. A common thread among narcicistic college liberals is the desire to protest against liberal democracies which poses all gain and no risk to them Anti American, anti Israel and even anti coal and gas company protests never result in fatwas being issued threatening death to the protestor. Let them draw a cartoon of Mohammed in defense of free speech. Or travel to Iran or Syria or Saudi or Gaza to protest the daily abuse of gays women and non Muslim religious groups Those type of protests would require true courage and there for will never occur at Vassar

    • Liberal democracies….that practice apartheid while people like you pretend we had no role in creating those dictators and fundamentalists. Nonsense like yours surely requires a lot of Fox News.

  8. There are more women that fly F16 jets in Israel then can drive cars in Saudi Arabia. The Arabs in Israel have the highest standard of living the most rights and the best education of any Arabs in the Middle East. As for the other crap posted here I don’t remember Jews getting on buses in Ramallah screaming Allahu Akhbar and detonating scores to death. While we are at it can any one name even one Palestinian contribution to the human race besides terrorism?

    • I do see Palestinians getting ethnically cleansed from their homes. And gosh after 50 years of that you wonder why they go bat ,,,,, crazy. But then again try explaining that to a Judeo Chrisitan fanatic.

    • bds writes “While we are at it can any one name even one Palestinian contribution to the human race besides terrorism?”

      The lack of any response to this generous invitation speaks volumes for the achievements of the “Palestinians”. Unless, of course, anyone wants to mention graduate degrees in tunneling…

  9. What amazes me is that so many Vassar students are up in arms about Israel/Palestine when NOT ONE faculty member who knows Arabic and/or Hebrew or has published so much as a book review on the subject teaches courses that deal with the issues. The blind lead the blind.

  10. Having J street invite speakers to give the Israeli viewpoint is like having the wolf invite his brothers into the hen house for an objective viewpoint. J street is a rabidly left wing organization with a deep hatred for Israel who casts all blame for any and all Palestinian aggression on Israel. Please can we have just one or two centrist Israeli speakers and not the usual garbage Jstreet trots out

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