I’ll add my perspective to the discussion on Israeli Apartheid Week between Ben Sales and Sam Melamed by pointing out a terrific piece on the J Street U blog by University of Pittsburgh senior Benjamin Kamber.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is entirely counterproductive in its pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet at the same time, many pro-Israel groups on campus respond to this movement in equally counterproductive ways.
Benjamin is spot-on in his analysis of why IAW is so important. Â IAW is a problem not because it’s anti-semitic (I’ve written about this on Jewschool) or because it is run by evil people. Â No, most of them are very well-meaning (many, in point of fact, are Jewish [and even if they weren't, I still wouldn't think they were anti-semitic]), and they do have command of the facts of the situation. Â It’s a legitimate political movement, one with targeted, specific goals. Â The use of economic pressure to address a political wrong is an established tactic. Â These are not reasons to criticize IAW and BDS.
However, Benjamin points out exactly why we should criticize it, particularly on a college campus.
When unaffiliated students see these types of protests and counter protests, they will more likely than not simply block out the entire message. They have heard these talking points from both sides already and often do not identify with either side.
Israeli Apartheid Week is a triumph of the fringes. Â Both of them. Â The “pro-Palestinian” folks get to display their flashy banners, hold some loud and angry rallies (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy megaphones as much as the next guy â€“ I own one and keep it in my dorm room), and do the whole “you’re complicit in occupation and apartheid” thing. Â The “pro-Israel” groups bust out every bit of “it’s the only democracy in the Middle East”, “they invented AIM”, and so on.
Bottom line: while I respect these groups’ right to disagree with each other (and me), I have a fundamental belief that the only way to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian is to be unequivocally pro-peace. Â I see BDS as counterproductive to the dialogue on peace. So, too, do I see the Israel apologists’ point of view. Â IAW gives both of these groups yet another chance to parade their own values, ignoring the other’s motivations (“pro-Israel” groups denounce IAW as anti-Semitic, “pro-Palestinian” groups denounce the Israel groups as supportive of occupation and human rights infringement) and arguments, and, equally importantly, ignoring what other people are interested in. Â Back to Benjamin:
…most students want to see real, tangible solutions being advocated for.
Forgive me for being a bit blunt, but it’s time for people to put up or shut up. Â As a peace activist I will no longer be confined to the “idealist” camp. Â I submit that peace is the only pragmatic and practical way forward. Â We’ve spent far too long mired in criticism and rejection of others’ right to hold and advocate for a viewpoint. Â While I certainly won’t advocate against student groups’ right to hold demonstrations or events, I will continue to criticize anyone who thinks that political posturing and drawing lines in the sand will lead to any kind of productive or sustainable solution.
I don’t expect anyone to stop advocating for what they believe in. Â But anyone who cares about this issue has a duty to examine the impact that their belief has on the public discourse. Â Failing to do so is a betrayal of the political process; it prioritizes our own advocacy over the resolution of the actual issue. Â ”Making your voice heard” is a great saying, but the point of making your voice heard is to change something for the better. Â If the way you’re making your voice heard is causing the dialogue to regress, not progress, change your voice.
You owe the victims of this conflict nothing less.