Editors Note: This article is a part of “Swat Takes,” a curated conversation between two authors about a contentious topic. This article is in conversation with an article written by Matthew Koucky entitled “Swarthmore Should Divest from Israeli Apartheid Now.” The headline in the online version was changed to its current form at 2:11 p.m. on 10/25/18 to cohere with the headline in the print issue.
The views below are the author’s own and do not represent the opinions of any group or organization of which she is a part.
The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement completely undermines the dialogue and conversation necessary to even begin to unpack the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because at its basic level, it as an antisemitic attack. BDS and National Students for Justice in Palestine, its loudest proponents, do not support a solution to the conflict that allows for Jewish self-determination. As a movement it completely stifles the conversation necessary to even begin to unpack the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it denies my identity’s right to exist; my Judaism is fundamentally indistinguishable from my Zionism.
BDS claims that its purpose is to put pressure on the Israeli government when in reality it implies the end of the Jewish state and therefore Jewish right to self-determination. This, among other reasons, is where the antisemitism resides. Antisemitism, according to the U.S. State Department, is partially defined as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” I am a strong advocate for recognizing nuance, and so I believe that the proponents of BDS here at Swarthmore are not, at least purposefully, being antisemitic like their national representatives are. Nonetheless, in the same way that some people see my love for Israel as a threat, many Jewish people like myself see BDS as a threat.
Not only has BDS’ co-founder Omar Barghouti said, “we ought to oppose categorically a Jewish state,” but the national charter itself indirectly advocates for destruction of the Jewish state by calling for the right of return for all Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as their descendants. A number totaling more than 7.2 million individuals, this demographic shift would effectively end the Jewish majority in the Jewish state.
I fundamentally believe in Zionism as it is defined as the right for Jewish self determination and for Israel to exist as a Jewish state. BDS as a movement inherently denies that.
Zionism at its roots means liberation of the Jewish people through their own state; BDS at its roots means destruction of that state.
Because I believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, the automatic assumption is made that I am pro-settlements, pro-apartheid, pro-Netanyahu. It takes hard conversation that cannot begin from the starting point of erasure of my identity for others to learn that the reality is, the only “pro” that I really am, is pro-Jewish state. It takes hard conversation to truly make it so that the conflict is not perpetuated as an us-versus-them binary.
I have had to challenge myself over the last few years to not hear basic criticism of Israel as an attack on my identity. As such, criticism of Israel is not inherently antisemitic. Statements like “I oppose the Netanyahu administration’s policies regarding settlements in the West Bank” are necessary, and in my opinion, valid. I will even say it out loud: I personally oppose the Netanyahu administration’s policies regarding settlements in the West Bank. While I certainly can’t speak for the entire pro-Israel community, my stance on Israel is progressive; I believe in a two-state solution, I believe in Palestinian sovereignty, and I also believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
In my experience, however, advocates of Students for Justice in Palestine don’t necessarily see my viewpoint. They often make the claim Zionism is defined as white supremacy and colonialism, and advocate for BDS as a solution to that erroneous definition, and fail to recognize the spectrum of opinions within the pro-Israel community. If they’re going to draw these conclusions, than they also need to understand how the organizations and movements they support reflect terribly on the cause they claim to be fighting for. When I see Students for Justice in Palestine, I see their co-founder Hatem Bazian perpetuating blatant antisemitism on Twitter by retweeting memes of a foolishly depicted Hassidic men with the overlay “Mom, look! I is chosen! And now I rape, smuggle or steal the land of the Palestinians! #Ashke #Nazi;” I see aggressive and intimidating protest exhibited at UCLA’s Indigenous Peoples Unite panel discussion; I see major activists tweeting (and deleting) things like “‘I would have killed all the jews in the world, But I kept some to show the world why I killed them’ -Hitler- #PrayForGaza #PrayForPalestina.” I see support for indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza landing in civilian homes filled with mothers and children and stabbing attacks and shootings, and blatant conflations of anti-Zionism and antisemitism perpetuated by their own advocates despite my hearing their own constant assertions that they are not the same thing.
I love Israel with all my heart. It is a haven, a shelter, a home, a protection. Saying that support for Israel equals unapologetic support for all things Netanyahu is drastically unfair, and believing that the Jewish people don’t have a right to their national homeland denies the blatant need for one. 80 years after the Holocaust and living in a country where the Jewish population is primarily white and European can numb anti-Zionists to antisemitism around the world, and give rise to the argument that I have oft heard that Jews are “are safe enough” to not need that homeland as a level of protection. Yet this is a myopic view that focuses on white European and American diasporas, ignoring the need for a safe haven for victims of modern expulsions — Jews of color in the Yemeni, Mizrachi, North Africa, Sephardic, and Arab communities. For more information on this, I would recommend the film “Expulsion and Memory: Descendants of Hidden Jews.
To advocate for the disintegration of the Jewish state via BDS is to advocate for the displacement of these very people. And so how do I disregard the reality that the Jewish people are still in danger to this day, that six million of my people were massacred no more than 80 years ago and the constantly impending fear that there’s no telling when a massacre may happen again? How am I supposed to throw away the level of protection that Israel provides by supporting its disintegration? How am I supposed to ignore the millennia of pain my own people have faced? And so, how could I possibly support a movement that, at its core, threatens to take that away?