BDS: Seeking Human Rights or Silencing the Truth?

The current approach to fight Israel with economic boycotts is not a new phenomenon. Arab League official Mohamad Ali Allouba Pasha made the purpose of these boycotts clear in 1964: “[Israel] is not an easy thing to destroy by military means. But there is a force which is not steel and fire, with the aid of which we can win, namely, the economic boycott.”

The Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement infesting the halls of a growing number of universities disguises itself as a legitimate political movement aimed at justice and basic human rights of the Palestinian people. However, if human rights really were the concern, why haven’t they sanctioned Syria, where over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed or starved to death as a result of Assad’s civil war? Or in Gaza, where under the authority of Hamas political and religious freedoms are scant and citizens are used as human shields? It would make sense to target Gaza and Syria before Israel, the only nation in the Middle East that affords full rights to women and minorities, but instead BDS exerts full energy on Israel.

Activists know right now they won’t be able to bring significant economic pressure on the Israeli government, so they use the BDS argument as a ploy to demonize, dehumanize and delegitimize Israel to bring about a change in public opinion. The problem is this isn’t done in a moral fashion aimed at peace. Activists push a biased and dishonest version of Israel, which turns out to be more self-defeating than progressive.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions? More like Biased, Dishonest and Self-defeating.

BIAS: pushes a one-sided view while selectively picking and distorting facts to demonize Israel.
DISHONEST: ignores major obstacles to peace such as terrorism and the extremist goals of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian groups as well as Israeli peace offering and Palestinian rejectionism.
Self-Defeating: focuses on defaming Israel, not on helping the Palestinians build a state, destroys a fundamental value of joint international academic and scientific research, and undermines Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, cooperation, and reconciliation.

Activists at the University of California, Los Angles UCLA took this initiative to a whole new level when they asked candidates running for student government to sign an “ethics statement” pledging they will not go on a organized trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and Hasbara Fellowships, all groups with a pro-Israel stance. The initiative based its claim that these groups “marginalize” communities on campus. The statement made no reference to pro-Palestinian, Islam, or Christian groups, so in essence this initiative not only aimed to marginalize any student who affiliated with a pro-Israel group from participating in student government, but also aimed to marginalize an entire view from campus politics and activities. President of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger shared his thoughts on an academic boycott of Israel, “[a boycott] threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.”

The political culture of academia already swings far to the left with discussions about the Middle East often titled against Israel so students with first-hand knowledge and experiences to raise a different view of Israel would pose a major threat to support of BDS. As students at UCLA said “this initiative is actually about denying our narrative and represents a frontal assault on dialogue, education and constitutionally protected rights.”

What is equally shocking is that the administration at UCLA choose to leave the matter to be resolved by the students, essentially allowing an entire community of voices to be silenced. Student government are free to lead their own affairs, but within the context of University policies, and an initiative the single out an entire community definitely runs contrary to the university’s anti-discrimination policies. Not only is the administration tolerating discrimination, its allowing the suppression of knowledge and education on campus.

The purpose of these trips is to give students first hand knowledge of the conflict, allowing them to draw their own conclusions rather than follow the mainstream interpretation which poisons Israel’s name. Participants are exposed to both sides of the conflict meeting with a variety of different professionals to paint a complete picture of Israel. These trips are offered to Jewish and non-Jewish students, students who have a connection to Israel, and students who simply want to understand the region for themselves, so claims that these trips marginalize students simply are not true.

Last summer I participated in two sessions of AIPAC’s Advanced Advocacy Mission to Israel, both sessions involved an area “sensitive” to BDS. The first session was a briefing by UNICEF on children affected by the conflict. We explored both sides of the conflict speaking of children in Gaza, the West Bank, Sderot, and Beer Sheva. What I learned from this session was that Israeli and Palestinian children are both suffering from the conflict and rather than pointing fingers at whom to blame we need a practical solution. The second session delivered the needed practical solution. We met with the group Blue and White Human Rights. Unlike ordinary human rights groups that wait for conflict to erupt, Blue and White Human Rights prevents conflicts from erupting. Stationing themselves at areas of tension, Blue and White Human Rights monitors rights violation at West Bank checkpoints providing assistance to crossers, collate testimonies of apparent IDF war crimes, and provide medical assistance to Palestinians and African asylum-seekers.

The BDS movement has stepped to new levels with the “ethics statement” attempting to blacklist any education on Israel that doesn’t fall in tune with their biased, dishonest and self-destructing version of Israel. The administration at UCLA cannot sit on the sidelines and watch an entire community of pro-Israel students be silenced while the voice of anti-Israel propaganda prevails. BDS activists concerned with human rights should focus on supporting constructive solutions such as Blue and White Human Rights rather than adding flame to an already very hot fire. Or better yet, they could focus energy on Syria, where Palestinians die daily in Assad’s civil war or on Gaza, where political and religious freedoms have been curtailed by Hamas.

About the Author
Samantha Greenberg is a research associate at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)