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Boycotts Go Both Ways

It's time for pro-Israel campus activists to fight fire with fire

Another day, another report about a boycott, or a threat, or a sanction, or an insult, or a divestment, or a subjective resolution from an objective collegiate organization. The American Historical Association is going to be presented with two new resolutions to condemn Israel in its coming annual meeting. They will try to avoid its passage, but the fact it is being brought at all really should be a deathnail for a long-ignored strategy for Israel’s activists and the collegiate Jewish community:

Fire must be fought with fire itself.

A November 2012 pro-Israel rally held in front of the Erb Memorial Union (student Union) at the University of Oregon. (courtesy of Oregon Hillel)

As a campus Hillel activist, our thinking back in 2008 when the BDS movement was a footnote was that boycotts could not be fought with boycotts. We were weary of legitimizing a movement whose method itself was abhorrent.

But my views have changed. The situation on campus has changed. True perpetrators of human rights violations deserve boycotts and sanctions, so the sudden momentum for BDS should be forcibly turned on the countries and organizations who are endorsing it.

Israel is nowhere near the perpetrator of human rights violations, or civil rights violations if even that, that a number of other countries in the Middle East are which have flourishing academic programs and might even being seeing a relief in pressure on sanctions directed against them. Israel’s supporters are eclectic, Jewish and non-Jewish, with activists working on a number of causes aside from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or domestic Israeli issues. That being said, and with such a strong base, the strategy deployed against Israel should be turned against its employers: boycott, sanctions and divestment.

It is much, much easier to make a case to boycott a country like the UAE or Iran than it is to boycott Israel. Even if student governments and academic associations might feign exhaustion upon hearing clearly retaliatory resolutions calling for boycotts of other states, those governments and academic associations will have to justify to its members and petitioners why such a resolution should not be considered or pass while highly debateable anti-Israel resolutions are debated.

The crux of what makes this strategy effective is it would force either the diluting of previous boycotts, or the repeal of those boycotts.

No student government or academic body can justify ignoring more boycott resolutions once they’ve passed previous ones. Israel’s rivals are clear violators of human dignity while accusations against Israel are more often disputable, if not totally rhetorical and absurd. If a student council or academic body can debate if there is any justification to sanction Israel, then for damn sure it cannot justify ignoring other boycott proposals against blatant human rights offenders.

A counter movement would meet mixed success, but probably higher success than anything launched against Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas needs to answer for his justification of attacking Jews who support freedom of religion on the Temple Mount, attacks against civilians in general or equating apolitical murderers sitting in Israeli jails with freedom fighters or legitimate combatants. If Abbas wants to try to sully Israel’s reputation in The Hague, it is worth noting how truly abominable and preposterous his actions and accusations have been in a counter movement against the Palestinian Authority-Hamas government.

So I call on all the Hillels in North America, every Jewish Student Union and any on-campus supporter of Israel in its fight against delegitimization and diplomatic discrimination, to employ this strategy in the coming semester and going into next academic year. Fight fire with fire.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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