Countering “boycott, divestment and sanctions” and promoting peace at George Washington

This is a republication of an original article written by the members of the George Washington Student Alliance for Israel in the Hasbara Campus Pulse on Tuesday, December 14, 2010.

A few weeks ago at George Washington University, the local Students for Justice in Palestine hosted an event on campus that to show “Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” Instead, the panel discussion quickly degenerated into less of a pro-Palestinian, but more of an anti-Israel discussion, promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In response, board members of the GW Student Alliance for Israel (SAFI), including four Hasbara Fellows, quickly got in touch with student leaders and the campus media with this message.

Recently, the GW Students for Justice in Palestine sponsored an event honoring the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Titled “Breaking the Siege and New Horizons: BDS, Universal Jurisdiction, and Direct Acton,” this event brought a panel to the Marvin Center to focus chiefly on the strategy of BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – against Israel. As it turned out, some of the panelists seemed to be speaking less from pro-Palestinian positions and more from solely anti-Israel ones.

a logo for SAFI reading "Student Alliance for Israel at the George Washington University, Washington, D.C."

SAFI is a pro-Israel organization at the George Washington University.

This event did not envision a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on mutual recognition and self-determination for both sides. In fact, speakers made it clear that they were opposed to the peace process. Rather, in the typical fashion of the BDS movement and its supporters, this event pushed upon the audience one overarching goal: the need for the dismantlement of Israel.

In trying to achieve their goal of making Israel seem despicable and illegitimate, the panelists at Monday’s event grossly misrepresented the situation in the Middle East. The word “Apartheid” – a uniquely vile and morally repugnant system that was defeated in South Africa in 1994 – kept creeping up among the panelists in reference to Israel. This is the same Israel which has affirmative action laws encouraging the hiring of Arab citizens and other minorities. The same Israel that gives all citizens the right to vote and has members of every major ethnic and religious group in its parliament. The same Israel which has some of the toughest sexual harassment laws in the world, which has a better gay rights record than many Western countries, and which enshrines in law the principles of freedom of speech and worship. Does that sound like Apartheid?

Monday’s event shoved peace aside and focused on a very narrow definition of “justice.” The panelists did try to address some of the concerns of Palestinian refugees; however, they went about this in a way that ignored reality and encouraged confrontation rather than reconciliation. Frequent appeals to emotion and the framing of the conflict into purely humanitarian terms – not taking into account the national, political and ethnic realities – provided an image of the Palestinian side as the perpetual victim and Israel as the constant aggressor.

While the panelists talked about rights, they only really recognized Palestinian rights. Acknowledgement of an Israeli and Jewish desire for those same rights, such as the right to self-determination, was noticeably absent. While subjects such as the security fence and checkpoints in the West Bank were brought up, there was no context. The fact that the barrier was only built after years of terrorism, and that roadblocks are slowly disappearing as the Palestinian National Security Forces get more professional, were kept hidden.

While the speakers at Monday’s event were calling on students to take part in BDS against Israel, did they recognize the detriment their actions will have on the Palestinians? What is needed now is not further isolation between the two sides – which is what BDS advocates – but rather more contact, more joint ventures and partnerships. Building the trust needed for a peace agreement does not come from boycotting each other; it comes from engagement. Events on campus promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions towards a party in the conflict are only counterproductive and serve to marginalize the voices of the moderates.

In our ongoing support for a democratic, secure Israel at peace with her neighbors, SAFI will continue to oppose such divisive campus events.

About the Author

The George Washington Student Alliance for Israel is a pro-Israel organization at the George Washington University that seeks to educate fellow students and faculty members with regards to the politics, culture, and history of the State of Israel and promote the ideals of Zionism.