Jews who misunderstand BDS are part of the problem

This year I endured the misfortune of sitting on a panel discussion of Toronto students put on by a group called J-Space Canada. Calling themselves a “progressive Jewish voice”, J-Space Canada, a relatively smaller organization, partnered with Hillel of Toronto to host a “discussion on Anti-Semitism” in the Hillel building at the University of Toronto, where (as I was told prior) we would be sharing stories of experiences of anti-Semitism on campus. While I was extremely wary, as J-Space Canada had in the past partnered with the leftist anti-Israel and anti-peace group “Peace Now”, I figured that simply sharing stories of dealing with Anti-Semitism on campus might allow me the opportunity to share with some left-leaning people just how difficult the situation on campus really is.

However, almost as quickly as I arrived, the head organizer pulled me aside to inform me that the panel wasn’t really about sharing our stories about anti-Semitism, but more so about giving a situation, and letting the panel discuss whether or not the incident was indeed anti-Semitic, in a “PBS style” sort of format.

I do not like falling victim to the old ‘bait & switch’, but I played ball. The panel discussion came after a speech by a University of Toronto professor whose ultimate thesis was that BDS was “not that big a deal”, and in fairness, did feature students will viewpoints to the left of my own. But I did make sure that I expressed that this group and the audience and the professor did not in my opinion grasp what BDS really is. I did make sure to let the professor know that as long as a Jewish student is afraid to wear a kippah, or as long as there are groups on campus that don’t recognize Israel, that BDS was indeed an issue, as did my colleagues who shared stories of being screamed at and outright discriminated against in their student environment.

One woman, who I noticed was sporting a bag with the logo of the deceptively anti-Israel and BDS-sympathetic organization J-Street, approached me at the end to engage with me about what I said. First admiring the courage I had to speak at this panel, she questioned if I really had the authority to speak this way about BDS. “How can you say this is what BDS activists want? You don’t really know what they want because you haven’t asked them all.” I explained that the BDS movement is, by the founder’s own admission, a plan to destroy Israel, but she would not listen, and insisted that I was wrong. I then insisted I end the conversation.

During the actual panel none of the other more left-leaning students really outwardly said anything tacitly untrue, but some did agree that the Jewish community’s reaction to BDS is alarmist, and that there are not enough “critical spaces” to talk about Israel. One man in the audience asked a question about “Open Hillel”, and this was what really divided the students down the middle, with four expressing disdain (including myself) and three expressing sympathy for the idea.

In the US, Jewish students are pestered with recent progressive group, “Open Hillel”, Jewish groups of “progressive Zionists” who want Hillel to scrap its international policy of not allowing groups or speakers who promote BDS take advantage of their resources, which includes using their spaces and platform on campus – to their Hillel audience. I commend Hillel for having such a wise international policy, which has been under attack in recent years by “Open Hillel” and groups in the same deluded ideological camp as J-Street.

Obviously this idea of opening up Hillel to dialogue and intellectual diversity sounds nice. It’s meant to. But it isn’t. In pressuring Hillel to abolish this international guideline Hillel is being pressured to leave open the sometimes only safe space for Jewish students on campus who are increasingly susceptible to the racism and anti-Israel bigotry that is making campuses hostile and toxic environments for Jewish and pro-Israel students all across the continent. There is a very obvious reason that there is a push to keep rhetoric about hating and boycotting Israel away from Jewish spaces.

Because BDS is racism against Jews.

I would never elevate BDS to a debate. I would most definitely expose the movement’s racist and hypocritical motives and methods, but I would never give it the dignity of a debate. You cannot dignify racism or give it intellectual legitimacy, by treating it like an equal. Racism must be treated for what it is: with contempt and disgust.

Curious that this push to debate with racists at the podium is only placed incumbent upon Jews as a legitimate expectation. You will NEVER see a group of Black students engage in a debate about whether or not slavery is a legitimate option. You will NEVER see women debate if they should have suffrage and give up their right to vote. You will NEVER see LGTBQ people debating whether or not they should have the right to be spared execution for their sexual and gender orientation. And likewise, you should never see Jews debating their opponents on whether or not they should be allowed a home in their ancestral, indigenous homeland, versus whether or not it should be the targets of boycotts and divestment in an organized campaign to eliminate it.

You also would never see members of those minority groups encourage their fellow members to engage in debate with people who openly espouse views that are racist or sexist or homophobic. Yet for some reason you have groups like J-Space Canada, Open Hillel and J-Street doing this, and encouraging Jewish students to have dialogue with people who want to take away their ancestral rights and destroy their homeland.

Critics of Hillel’s anti-BDS policy and advocates for “openness” and “dialogue” with people who want to destroy the world’s one Jewish state need to get their heads out of the ground. A simple Google search, or better yet, a visit to StandWithUs’ material on the subject, will quickly expose BDS for exactly what it is: a well-funded, multi-generational campaign to destroy the State of Israel. With this fact being openly admitted by its founder Omar Bagouhti, any argument about BDS’ nature and goals being contrary are clearly impossible to defend.

Critics might say that my analysis is “one sided” and biased. They might say that I am afraid to have my ideology, namely, my Zionism, subjected to intellectual scrutiny.

In reality I just want my people’s rights to our ancestral homeland to remain intellectually unmolested.

Call me biased.

About the Author
Willem Hart is a social science and Jewish studies student at York University in Toronto. He is an active member in the pro-Israel scene, and a lifelong disabilities service worker and advocate.
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