This week, students at San Diego State University and the University of California Santa Barbara defeated anti-Israel and pro-BDS resolutions in their respective student governments, while at the University of California Riverside (UCR), a divestment resolution passed.
While on the one hand, I was happy to see the BDS motions voted down, and deeply proud of the successful efforts of my friends at SDSU and UCSB (and saddened by the events at UCR) I also have deeply mixed feelings over the continued BDS efforts at America’s (and at the UK’s, Canada’s, South Africa’s, and many other nations’) universities.
I should be clear: I am an ardent Zionist and deeply and profoundly oppose the hateful and destructive BDS movement. As Omar Barghouti, the progenitor of BDS has stated, the goal of BDS is the destruction of the State of Israel and thus BDS must be thwarted by friends and allies of Israel.
Yet, I have begun to worry that the current tactic at most US universities, whereby every year or so, various anti-Israel groups propose BDS resolutions in their student governments. Without fail, the local (and often national) Jewish and pro-Israel community rallies to heroically fight the resolution aided by only that most fickle of allies: facts.
The problem is that the BDS community has shown that it isn’t bound to the same truthful scruples as the pro-Israel side. I simply suggest watching a video of a divestment hearing to see the sort of outrageous claims BDS-ers make. Israel is accused of genocide, apartheid, and essentially everything short of eating babies (though it may only be a matter of time before even that behavior is alleged against the Jewish state).
The BDS community has a strategic first mover advantage. By authoring the accusations in the resolutions (i.e. the first move), the Jewish community is left in the perpetual position of reacting to allegations from BDS. The BDS-ers can essentially claim whatever they want, forcing the Jews to make a counterclaim. Given this nation’s Fox-MSNBC mentality, many of the unconvinced and uninvolved student government representatives will assume the truth is in the middle of the two communities. Due to the extreme (and generally untrue) nature of the BDS community’s allegations, the “middle” will in fact be a BDS position.
It doesn’t matter if the Jewish community is able to defeat the BDS resolutions one year. Within a year or (or possibly two or three), the attempt will be launched again. The transient nature of the student population means that the BDS movement will have a fresh audience, and eventually, it becomes close to certain that a resolution will pass.
So what can the pro-Israel community do to stop this vicious cycle? The answer is quite simple. The BDS movement, rather like an annoying child, thrives of attention. To defeat them, the pro-Israel students must withhold that attention. That is to say, I am suggesting that the pro-Israel groups on campus ignore BDS resolutions.
“I am not advocating that pro-Israel students simply stay home. The large crowds of Israel advocates that turn out to divestment hearings are a wonderful confluence of the broad and diverse community of campus Israel supporters. Instead, I believe that when the hearing begins, and the cameras start to roll, the first pro-Israel speaker should come up and say something like this:
“I am a Zionist, but I am also a proud student of (insert university name here). This university is widely respected for its diverse and intellectual community and I welcome the opportunity for a spirited and informed discussion on Israel.
“Tonight however, our esteemed student government has been hijacked by a group of students who offensively call for the unabashed destruction of the state of an indigenous people in their homeland. As their ammunition, these students use lies, half truths, and falsehoods, and have violated the principles of respect and truth that undergird this great institution of higher learning. As I said before, I believe in debate, and I am happy to discuss the relative merits or lack thereof of Israel’s policy with my fellow students.
‘However, I refuse to stand and listen to a parade of students telling me that my people, uniquely among the people’s of the world, do not deserve a homeland. I refuse to be forced to endure a torrent of false abuse and offensive comparisons.
To the representatives of the student government, I apologize that tonight your time is going to be wasted in such a manner. Our university can and will do better.
To the groups of students who have brought this offensive resolution to bear, I express my deep regrets. Instead of working towards peace, you have chosen to work towards hate. I pleadingly offer an olive branch of reconciliation and understanding; surely we could work to make peace not only here, but also in the Middle East. We have a choice between love and hate and I urge you to choose love. Let us leave this chamber and come together as friends.”
However, I also bring a warning. The hateful resolutions you have brought forwards, which seek the destruction of my homeland, will not succeed. No matter what occurs, you shall not take away our hope.”
At this point, the first speaker should leave the stage, and as he does so, launch into a rendition of Hatikvah. As he walks out, he should be joined by the entire weight of the campus’s Jewish community, who all join into the lyrics of Hatikvah. (It may be wise to distribute the lyrics beforehand). The entire group of Israel supporters, which may number in the hundreds, will then march into the quad and as the divestment hearing carries on, they will celebrate Israel.
Meanwhile, in a now half-empty student government room, BDS supporters stand. They can go and make speeches all they like. Maybe the campus will even pass an effectively meaningless divestment resolution. However, the cameras will soon depart, and the BDS movement will be reduced to a group of angry people shouting in an empty room. Now, the BDS movement is validated by debate; robbed of it, it will have no purpose.
Such a strategy will be admittedly difficult to implement. If even one speaker stays behind to argue with BDS, the BDS movement wins. But if the pro-Israel community is able to muster the discipline to principally ignore the BDS movement, to acknowledge that debating with the BDS movement is infra dig, and to promote peace instead of hate, our campuses may yet be free of the seemingly perennial divestment hearing.