I’ll get right to it: today I am talking about Israel.
It actually is funny because I rarely ever feel comfortable talking about Israel in a university setting, despite the fact that the land of Israel is such a dearly held part of my Jewish identity.
On Passover, a Jewish high holiday, we sing “Next year in Jerusalem.” We pray facing Jerusalem, no matter where in the world we are. These kinds of holy-land-focused traditions, which extend far beyond the two listed above, are thousands of years old. They are also inextricably rooted in the Jewish identity and practice. I can’t pick up a prayer book without considering which direction Israel is. I can’t even choose a dreidel without thinking about Israel (dreidels in Israel and dreidels in other places have different inscriptions).
That being said, I have always found it interesting that sweeping dismissals of this part of my Jewish identity, the part that is tied to Israel, are so very welcomed in certain academic and progressive circles. In these groups, it feels like everyone else has the right to defend their cultural, ethnic and religious identities except for the Jew.
These dismissals come in many forms, but we’ll focus on the more egregious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that has found a home on so many college campuses. On Feb. 9, 2021 the student government at the University of California, Irvine voted to pass a BDS-supporting resolution 19-3.
The movement stands for exactly what it sounds like: the boycott of, divestment from and sanctions on the current Jewish state of Israel. Their stated goals are threefold: 1) ending Israel’s occupation of all land captured in 1967, 2) granting full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and 3) assuring the Palestinian right of return to any land that they were displaced from during the establishment of Israel in 1948.
As a mission statement, this seems innocuous enough, however, the founder of the BDS movement and those who champion it agree that none of these aims can be established insomuch as Zionism, the belief in self-determination for the Jewish people in the biblical land of Israel, is upheld. This means that the BDS movement will not be satisfied until there is absolutely no Jewish state existing within the land of Israel (the only place in the world where a Jewish state does and ever has existed).
From a practical perspective, this movement has done very little to alleviate the very real and significant Palestinian plight. For instance, in 2016, BDS pressures to push then-Israeli-owned company Sodastream out of the Westbank worked. The factories in the Westbank shut down and 500 Palestinians lost their jobs as a result. These boycotts are not just academic exercises or thought experiments, they have real world consequences that affect the vulnerable communities that they purport to fight for.
More significantly though, it is the structure of Israel’s economy that makes a movement like this entirely moot. Their economy is not built on the exports of commodities that BDS opposes but rather on sales of intellectual property made to businesses, earning them the nickname “Start-up Nation.” These boycotts do very little to affect the business-to-business transactions that underpin Israel’s economy, and what’s more is that when they do, Palestinians often suffer as a result.
From a principled perspective, the notion of divesting from one nation in the name of helping an entirely separate nation strikes me as odd. Why divest from Israel to help under-resourced Palestinians? Why not invest directly in Palestinian aid or grassroots movements? Why not pressure for policy changes, a much more attainable tangible goal, instead of for the eradication of an entire Jewish state? It is a lack of satisfactory answers to these questions that leaves me and many other Jewish people feeling like these movements are more about opposing Jewish self-determination than they are about supporting Palestinian liberation.
What this movement does successfully accomplish is the alienation of Jewish students and further, Jewish people. Calling for the mass boycott of Israel is a way to publicly stand against the existence of a Jewish nation in a land that Jews are indigenous to. In doing so, the movement is denying a huge part of the Jewish identity from having an acceptable place in social life. If that is not antisemitism, then I ask what is.
This kind of alienation of Jewish students in the form of BDS is also poorly timed. Over the last 10 years, France (and the rest of the world) has seen a vicious spike in acts of antisemitism. From the murder of a Holocaust survivor, to the desecration of listless amounts of sites with swastikas, to violent attacks on people who are visibly Jewish, France has not felt safe for the community for a long time. Notably, over these same 10 years, French Jews have immigrated to Israel in record numbers.
This exodus being the result of the country’s rising antisemitism has been well-documented. French Jews report fleeing the country because they believe Israel is the only place where they will not face the kind of antisemitism that is woven into the history of so many countries, including their own. Support for BDS is akin to opposing the existence of the only place that feels safe for many Jewish people around the world.
I’d now like to call on readers to use their imagination. Imagine what would happen if, during this rampant resurgence of antisemitism, Jews did not have a place to go home to unconditionally. To be a Jew without a home is to be a sitting duck. I’d like to call on readers to oppose the BDS movement on campuses, in politics and everywhere else, and to think twice before speaking on such a complex issue that is dear to the hearts of so many.