In case you’ve missed one of the hot topics of the Jewish media this year, Members of the Tribe have their panties in a bunch over the slowly growing BDS movement in the US and worldwide, which urges universities to divest from, boycott and sanction companies that do business in the West Bank and Gaza. And in case you missed the New Voices feature on the Jewish role in BDS, here it is.
Both sides of this debate are gearing up as the new school year moves along. Hillel made this a focus of its summer training, and Jewish Voice for Peace–a Jewish pro-BDS group–is increasing its activity across the country.
Activity is also increasing internationally. This week the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, decided to make a joint scientific research project with Ben Gurion University of the Negev conditional on BGU increasing its collaboration with Palestinian universities. The Jewish Chronicle reports:
UJ’s deputy vice chancellor Adam Habib said: “In developing this recommendation we were mindful that our recommendation would need to be consistently applied in other similar contexts.”
In more activity on the BDS front, JVP re-released a message from earlier this year to its members admonishing anti-divestment groups for what JVP considers to be inappropriate tactics. The message accused these groups of “Silencing debate; Confusing the facts; Tak[ing] over student senates; Making indiscriminate charges of anti-Semitism; Criminalizing BDS and anti-occupation activism on campuses; and Remaining silent and/or actively fueling atmosphere of hate against Muslims, Palestinians and progressive anti-occupation Jews.”
It is true that many people and groups–some that JVP specifically called out were AIPAC, Hillel, the ZOA and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor–used extreme rhetoric. I would add that there is a difference between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic and that while the two do intersect at times, much of the time they do not. Those who call anti-Israel activists anti-Semites are, much of the time, engaging more in fearmongering and less in honest debate.
It’s also true, however, that pro-BDS groups use extreme language and focus more on combating perceived enemies than on promoting constructive solutions. What’s significant about the JVP message, I think, is that it does not give its readers any guidance for dealing with these tactics. All it seeks to do is criticize its opponents.
This is also why I think the BDS movement as a whole is doomed to irrelevance and marginalization. The group insists on divesting from Israel but advocates for no concrete solution to an incredibly multi-layered, complex and heretofore insolvable conflict. That’s what the University of Johannesburg did well: the faculty told BGU that unless certain productive partnerships formed, the research collaboration would end.
JVP’s business, however, is shining the spotlight on problems, not promoting solutions. Sure, let’s say we did divest from the West Bank and the companies that do business there. What happens next?
Until JVP and other BDS groups can answer that question, I’m not sure how their movement can add to the Israeli-Palestinian policy discourse.