Clowns to the left, fools to the right; fighting for a middle way on BDS

Jewdents. Sit on Us. Banning the boycotters. Satire, bad puns, poor policy, but no laughing matter.

Let’s start to the left.

A group of witty Jewish students (Jewdents) recently launched their #BridgesForBoycotts campaign, together with a Sit on Us Facebook page, a parody of Stand With Us.

Understandably they claim to offer an alternative perspective on Israel and Palestine.

Incomprehensibly, they assert this is driven by inclusion and representation of Jewish students.

Taking aim at #BridgesNotBoycotts they scorn at the overwhelmingly supported and consistently democratically decided policy of Jewish students to counter BDS and advocate for Two States for Two Peoples.

In the manner of the man I’m sure they despise, they accompany this with a Trump-esque distortion of facts, suggesting our campaign doesn’t include Palestinians.

In fact, the coalition backing our campaign includes bringing Mohammed Zoabi and Palestinian women (with their Israeli counterparts in Women Wage Peace) to J-Socs across the country.

They must be having a laugh when they reference representation; they are the same group who ran a UJS Presidential candidate campaign rejected by 92% of the 1,000 Jewish students who voted.

Surely they are taking the Mickey when they portend to passionately defend human rights and pursue peace; they endorse only one group’s national rights, rejecting the myths of Zionism whilst swallowing wholesale the bile and bias of the more extreme end of Palestinian nationalism.

Bridges Not Boycotts at LSE
Bridges Not Boycotts at LSE

Turning to the right, the Israeli government have passed a foolish law banning entry to those advocating BDS against Israel or Israeli Settlements.

Setting aside the intolerance for dissent that undermines Israel’s democratic foundations, this is a terrible tactic for winning over those not already on side.

UJS has regularly brought Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders to Israel who hold views on the conflict unpalatable for Bibi and Bennett.

Bringing these students to encounter the context and complexity of the conflict engenders a more intelligent and supportive approach to how Israel is handled within the student movement.

Putting up barriers to continuing this work hinders ours and many others continued efforts to tackle aggressive hostility towards Israel.

More concerning is the lack of distinction between blanket BDS and any targeted treatment of the settlements.

Those involved with Jewdents total a tiny fraction of the young Jewish population in the UK. However, there are plenty more young and proud progressive Zionists – Jews and allies – that have a principled objection to the expanding settlements.

Additionally, many centrist and right-of-centre Zionists recognise the threat posed to the viability of a two state solution, as well as Israel’s peace and security, by the entrenching of positions both physical and political caused by the settlements.

If the Israeli government insists on all who support Israel tacitly endorsing the settlements, they will find a significantly growing number of diaspora Jews and global allies, particularly among younger age groups, distancing themselves not only from the current Israeli government, but Israel as a cause.

The clowns of #BridgesForBoycotts and the fools passing the recent bill fall into the trap of defining the conflict as a zero-sum equation: pro-Israel or pro-Palestine.

They define this conflict as one innocent victim under threat from one wholly responsible oppressor.

A sensible and fair understanding of the conflict appreciates it is between two national groups, both with the right to national self-determination, and both with responsibilities for the continued failure to realise peace, justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Bridges Not Boycotts twibbon supporters!
Bridges Not Boycotts twibbon supporters!

Jewdents, Bibi and Bennett would do well to embrace a more nuanced approach, following the impressive leadership of over 100 student volunteers on 14 campuses from London to Liverpool.

Together they have engaged more than 10,000 students of all backgrounds with informed and intelligent discussion on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The examples mentioned earlier – the hosting of Mohammed Zoabi (in partnership with Stand With Us) and the campus tour of Women Wage Peace (in partnership with Yachad) –highlight the breadth of views and approaches offered by our talented activists.

When it comes to including and representing diverse and dynamic Jewish students; when seeking to broaden the base of support for Israel; when advocating for a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict; and when showcasing mutual respect instead of importing hate onto campus, all involved should stop clowning around with foolish and polarising positions, opting instead for a mature moderate middle way.

About the Author
David Davidi-Brown is Chief Executive of the New Israel Fund UK, has previously worked for the JLC, UJS, UJIA, and Jewish Care, has volunteered with Limmud and KeshetUK, and is a Schusterman Fellow.
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