The Conspiracy

Why We (Three Jews) Supported Tufts Divestment

We spent the night before Passover in different rooms. Some of us were in kitchens with our families, clearing our drawers of chametz. Some of us were in the library finishing homework before the start of the holiday. And some of us spent hours in the last Tufts University senate session of the year. Yet all of us were hoping that the senate would pass a resolution calling for divestment from four companies that perpetuate a level of violence and terror our Jewish values taught us to see as intolerable.

“As Tufts students who take the concept of tikkun olam seriously, we feel a responsibility to end this injustice.” | [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We are Jewish students at Tufts University who strongly supported the Tufts student Senate resolution that recently passed urging Tufts to divest from G4S, Elbit Systems, HP Enterprises, and Northrop Grumman.

Major institutions like Tufts are currently invested in these four companies, which profit from violence and incarceration in Palestine and elsewhere. As Tufts students who take the concept of tikkun olam seriously, we feel a responsibility to end this injustice.

We do not intend to speak for all Tufts Jewish students – and we hope others won’t claim to speak for us – but rather to push back against those who say that this resolution was anti-Semitic and explain why, for us, supporting it is an expression of our Jewishness.

First, it is important to know what the Palestinian-initiated Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is. Since 2005, inspired by the anti-Apartheid movement, the BDS movement has urged allies to join in this nonviolent pressure on the Israeli government until it complies with international law by 1) ending the occupation and dismantling the Apartheid Wall, 2) recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and 3) respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Opponents of BDS often assert that the movement denies Israel’s right to exist or aims to end the existence of the State of Israel. These are unnuanced claims. The BDS movement aims to put pressure on the Israeli government until it provides basic, internationally recognized rights to Palestinian people, without which there can never be true peace and justice in the region, nor a truly Jewish state compatible with our Jewish values, which include the inherent worth and right to respect and self-determination of all people.

The four corporations identified in the resolution are all BDS targets due to their different yet shared complicity in the oppression of Palestinian people and other people throughout the world.

As Jewish students who also hold other marginalized identities and who believe our liberation is tied up with that of all people, we cannot allow Tufts to invest in these companies.

“Our holiday was only sweeter and our collective liberation only closer with the passage of this resolution.” | By Alex Chris [CC BY 2.0], via Creative Commons

Elbit Systems, the only Israeli company on the list, built the Apartheid Wall. G4S, a global security services company, operates prisons in Israel where Palestinian political prisoners are held without trial in a practice known as administrative detention. Northrop Grumman, a U.S. defense corporation that in part profits off of violence and war, provides aerospace technology to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including during the Gaza attacks in 2008-2009, which killed 1,300 Palestinians in just three weeks. Finally, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), a U.S. information technology company, provides the technology that restricts Palestinian movement, including the collection of biometric data and the Basel System of identification.

Some opponents argue that BDS encourages anti-Semitism. Rather than ignore claims of anti-Semitism, we want to hold nuance and complexity, acknowledging both anti-Semitism as well as false claims of anti-Semitism meant to stifle support for Palestinian human rights. As the organization Jewish Voice for Peace considers in its recent book On Antisemitism edited by Judith Butler, “While it is antisemitic to criticize the State of Israel solely on the basis of Jewish identity of most Israeli citizens or leaders, criticism of the Israeli state that is based on its past and present actions is not antisemitic.”

We believe the proposed resolution calling for divestment from four corporations, only one of which is Israeli, constitutes a valid criticism of the Israeli state and the corporations that facilitate state violence, based not on Jewish identity, but on the horrific human rights abuses we have enumerated.

We are saddened that some of our Jewish classmates could not be present for the Senate resolution because it occurred the day before Passover, and we acknowledge this access issue as a result of the Tufts academic and TCU senate calendars. Still, outcry over the timing of this bill struck us as disingenuous, as opponents of the resolution did not ask that the entire meeting be moved – nor, for that matter, that the Senate elections or candidates debate be moved, both of which occurred during Pesach – but only that the resolution be tabled. This sent the message that Jewish voices are only valued when it comes to Israel.

Additionally, arguments to table the resolution based on calls for “more dialogue” struck us as ironic at best. The coalition of pro-Israel groups on campus is housed at Hillel, which adheres to Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, explicitly forbidding dialogue co-hosted between Hillel groups and any organization or individual that condones BDS. In fact, many of us have been alienated from Hillel, cut off from Jewish resources on campus by the “center for Jewish life on campus.”

With respect to our Jewish anti-BDS friends, we instead point to one difference important to us in this moment. At our Seders, we articulated a liberation that included our Palestinian siblings through the non-violent means they have identified. At our Seders, we exercised our imagination, imagining a future of collective liberation.

Our holiday was only sweeter and our collective liberation only closer with the passage of this resolution.

Miriam Priven, Noah Habeeb, and Hannah Freedman attend Tufts University.

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