USC’s campus has recently become the scene of a growing movement by pro-Palestine supporters speaking out against what they see as illegal occupation of territory and discriminatory practices by the Israeli government.
The movement, known internationally as the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement, aims to achieve sanctions or other official action against Israel.
Activists hope to achieve this by means of boycotting certain Israeli institutions and stopping business in — or divesting from — companies that are involved in the occupation of what BDS supporters say is Palestinian territory.
The movement has been spearheaded on campus by Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestine student group that has attempted to raise awareness for the movement by hosting events and collecting petition signatures.
According to SJP President Marwa Katbi, the group is currently focusing on the Israel Divestment Campaign, which is a statewide campaign aimed at collecting enough signatures to create a ballot initiative that would require California’s two public retirement funds to divest from corporations that are directly involved in Israel’s occupation.
“It’s a very focused target, and it’s smart in the sense that these companies — American and Israeli both — specifically finance certain aspects of the occupation,” said Katbi, a senior majoring in English. “For example, Caterpillar will directly give the bulldozers that the Israelis use to demolish homes. It’s very well-researched and specific, so you’re not targeting all of Israel, just the occupation specifically.”
Opponents of the campaign, such as ’SC Students for Israel, have continued to speak out against the presence of a divestment movement on campus.
Shanel Melamed, the president of SCSI, said that the campaign is a radical movement that has no place on campus.
“From a rational view, the divestment actions being attempted at the moment are thinly veiled anti-Semitism,” said Melamed, a senior majoring in international relations and public diplomacy. “A divestment campaign is not a form of negotiation, conversation, dialogue or understanding. It’s very much a radical stance that says, ‘We don’t even want to talk with you, we don’t want to negotiate with you, we don’t want to meet in the middle with you and we just don’t want you around.’”
Some supporters of the BDS movement have argued that they too want only to negotiate — that the movement is in fact aimed toward bringing about a successful atmosphere of peace and cooperation.
“We just want to create the conditions for genuine negotiation,” said David Lloyd, a professor of English. “This apocalyptic claim that the BDS movement wants to destroy Israel … is just not true. We’re only asking that people respect what every democracy in the world respects, which is the equal rights of all its citizens.”
Lloyd disagreed with the idea that the BDS movement was nothing more than anti-Semitic sentiment, pointing out that prominent Jewish leaders have joined the movement because of Israel’s actions.
“A lot of these initiatives are being run by Americans and international Jewish organizations,” Lloyd said. “This is not an insidious conspiracy of Muslims to undermine Israel. Jewish leaders are the most prominent people in the boycott movement.”
Melamed said, however, that the Israeli government has come under attack from radical anti-Israeli movements, which has forced it to take the defensive.
“We’re being forced into this political situation that’s being pushed upon us because our campus is being used as a platform for people to spread their political ideologies,” Melamed said.