The University of California, Riverside student government recently rescinded its student senate resolution that urged the University of California (UC) system to divest from Israel. After having passed similar resolutions in other UC campuses (UC Irvine and recently in UC San Diego) we can see that there is no guarantee that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) resolutions, even in places where they already passed, will remain in effect for long time, which is encouraging. To better confront and understand the process of delegitimization, some important lessons must be drawn from existing experience with the BDS campaign on campuses. Clearly, there are several contributing factors: lack of education of the general student body regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lack of understanding as to the BDS movement’s real agenda, and back-door maneuvering by pro-BDSers of the internal voting procedures. All have become their recipe for success.
Grasping the true nature of BDS claims and countering them with well formed arguments is a lengthy process. BDS uses false premises to mischaracterize Israel in order to justify calling for sanctions against it, while ignoring that Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy that enshrines in law and enforces fully equal rights for its 1.6 million Arab citizens who form 20 percent of the population. Israel’s open and self-critical society, with its hundreds of human rights groups, attempts to uphold the highest international standards of conduct. Furthermore, Israel has sought peace with all its neighbors, particularly with the Palestinians. In 2000 and 2008, Israel made concrete proposals for a Palestinian state that would exist alongside it in security and mutual recognition. The Palestinians rejected those offers. BDS advocates intentionally ignore these historical facts.
BDS deceptively claims that its purpose is to champion the Palestinian cause, but its real purpose is to eliminate the Jewish state. Some examples:
- Norman Finkelstein, a prominent advocate for Palestinians, declared that BDS activists care less about human rights than about destroying Israel, stating that “there’s a large segment…of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel,” primarily through their demand for a Palestinian “right of return” which would effectively flood Israel with Palestinians and turn it into a Palestinian Arab country.
- Omar Barghouti, BDS founder and leader, openly admitted that BDS against Israel would continue until Israelis and Palestinians form one Palestinian Arab state.
- Judith Butler, a UC Berkeley professor and staunch supporter and colleague of Barghouti, propagates a perverted idea that Jewish values are incompatible with the idea of a Jewish state, since nation-states exercise violence and are a form of racism.
All illustrate that BDS is an attempt to delegitimize an ancient people’s ethnic identity and deny Jewish self-determination. By obsessively focusing on fabricated Israeli misdeeds instead of on other countries guilty of rampant human rights abuses, BDS claims are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent,” according to former Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers.
To avoid such lengthy conversations that might put BDS arguments at a disadvantage, the BDS proponents employ political blitz tactics. The proposed resolutions are kept “under wraps” until the last moment, as Amal Ali, president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Riverside, told Haaretz this was “the only way to ‘level the playing field.’” To allow more “student impact,” explained Ali, students are being “protected” from the Jewish lobby, since “students could be swayed by someone from AIPAC or Congress.”
At UC San Diego, the plans for the vote were known weeks in advance, but the pro-BDS students’ tactics were not much different. The student body was convinced not only to limit public discussions on the topic, but also ruled unprecedentedly for a secret ballot. “The sad truth is that a small faction of anti-Israel activists has manipulated a broad spectrum of marginalized student groups and radical A.S. Council members at UCSD to identify with Palestinians as the ‘cause du jour,’ wrote Michael Rabkin, director of Hillel San Diego, after the resolution results were announced. “They resorted to undemocratic means to keep the vote secret.”
Yet, not all supporters of peace in the Middle East fall into that moral trap. There are indeed strong voices in the community as well as faculty who are willing to stand up against the BDS fallacies and question their merits and as a result the BDS resolution as UC Riverside was defeated. Organizations such as StandWithUs (SWU) and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) were quick to respond to the pro-Israel student needs. Within hours they furnished strong statements against BDS signed by multiple faculty from different UC campuses and helped students present strong arguments against the BDS. In order to battle BDS one must openly explain why it subverts all hopes for peace and promotes an extremist agenda.
All and all, BDS is a misguided form of cognitive warfare against Israel which violates decades of pledged agreements for a peaceful, negotiated settlement. Moreover, BDS gives support to Palestinians extremists and their allies world-wide who seek to oppose peaceful coexistence and the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to self-determination, while at the same time maligning Israel’s supporters.