Last week, Stanford University’s student senate overwhelmingly rejected a resolution promoting divestment from companies that do business with Israel. Elsewhere in California and across the country, similar resolutions have emerged. These efforts are part of the broader boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate and punish Israel.
The first stated goal of the BDS campaign is the end of the “Israeli occupation.” Putting aside the unresolved status of the territories — which the parties themselves have agreed to settle through direct negotiations — this goal reveals its advocates’ bias. They do not seek an end to the conflict or a cessation of violence. And unlike groups such as J Street or Peace Now, they are not claiming to critique Israel in order to make it better.
Rather, no mention is made of history, Israel’s right to self-defense, or Palestinian rejection of the historic Jewish connection and valid claims to the land of Israel. Further, it ignores a number of occasions when Israel made offers to the Palestinians, which, if accepted, would have led to a Palestinian state and the end of the occupation. And nowhere is terrorism condemned. The objective is to blame one side, not to foster compromise.
Put differently, there is no acknowledgement of the power Palestinians have over their own fate, either as responsible for past acts or as capable of changing the current course by returning to peace negotiations. The argument is ironically racist, because it demeans Palestinians.
BDS proponents’ second goal alleges that Israel’s legal system does not afford equality to non-Jews. In fact, Muslims, Christians and other non-Jewish, Israeli citizens share basic rights, including the right to vote, to travel the country freely and to petition the courts. They also serve in the parliament and the army. And Israel’s immigration system is at least as liberal as in many other democracies, including Japan, Norway, Germany, India, Ireland and the U.S.
Certainly, there is discrimination and bigotry in Israel, as in any society. But unlike some of its neighbors, Israel affords opportunities to challenge such discrimination publicly and through its legal system.
The third BDS goal, the return of Palestinian refugees (and all their descendants) to the land of Israel is, in fact, a thinly veiled call for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state because it would inevitably lead to a “one-state solution” with a Jewish minority.
It is noteworthy that the BDS movement ignores the suffering of people elsewhere around the world. The campus community has been conspicuously quiet in the face of the ongoing slaughter in Syria, unrest across the Arab world and growing nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea. Moreover, acute repression against women, LGBT people and other minorities is a fact of daily life in Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. Just last week, the Hamas government in Gaza banned women from participating in an annual marathon. These are places truly in need of human rights activism.
The BDS movement sows division and conflict. Many students at Stanford appropriately questioned the basis of divestment, but also noted how it pitted segments of the community against one another. Those same constituencies ought to be engaged in a collective effort to combat racism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny around the globe.
BDS proponents claim theirs is an effort to effect positive change through nonviolent means. Perhaps some BDS advocates do not support the movement’s radical core goals. They may not appreciate that the right of return would lead to a “one-state solution.” But others in the movement certainly do.
There are people of good will who care about the plight of Palestinians and want to end the conflict. I count myself among this group. However, BDS is an extreme, one-sided approach to a complex problem. It makes an unfair analogy between Israel’s behavior and that of apartheid South Africa. (For a refutation of this canard, see Judge Richard Goldstone’s New York Times article, Oct. 31, 2011.) Then it proposes remedies fit for an illegitimate regime, incapable of change or compromise.
Supporters of BDS may think they are engaging in a peaceful form of protest; they are actually partaking in a movement that is disingenuous and prejudiced.
Seth Brysk is the Central Pacific regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.