BY LEV FACHER
Published April 17, 2014
The most important action the University’s Jewish community can take to promote peace in the Middle East is this: an open condemnation of Israel’s far-reaching violations of human rights in occupied Palestine. It won’t be easy or without controversy, yet if my community is going to stand up for what’s right, it has to be done.
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Instead, the rhetoric from those who oppose the movement to divest from companies in violation of human rights hasn’t included enough of that sentiment. Anti-resolution speakers’ pleas to “focus on peace” were well intentioned, yet some shifted focus away from what’s important.
Many speakers acknowledged their opposition to the occupation, and to Israel’s wrongdoings. They expressed their desire for engagement, and should be commended.
At the same time, there’s a bottom line that wasn’t addressed. This University’s Jewish community supports human rights, supports a two-state solution, and opposes much of Israel’s role in the conflict. Why can’t it more openly and collectively take a stand against human rights abuses, regardless of the context and how difficult the words are to muster?
Too often, polarizing phrases like “pro-Israel” interfere with people’s ability to express their true feelings. The tone within the Jewish community seems to be that publicly expressing issues with unethical actions Israel takes on a regular basis makes one “anti-Israel,” the only logical alternative to “pro.”
I am pro-Israel, in that I support the existence of a democratic state that will always be a safe haven for the Jewish people. To say that I am not pro-Israel because I condemn a human rights violation is troubling. I am pro-Palestine, as are all of my peers — we support the peaceful coexistence of two states whose peoples live freely.
Yet some of the Jewish community banded together to oppose a resolution that encouraged the divestment of University money from companies including Heidelberg Cement, a firm that illegally exploits natural resources in the occupied West Bank to benefit the Israeli economy. I don’t understand why even the most “pro-Israel” of students would want our University’s money anywhere near Heidelberg Cement.
In private, blind support of Israel is hardly the norm. In my experience, the vast majority of the Jewish community opposes new settlements in the occupied territories and would certainly oppose practices like those of Heidelberg Cement and Caterpillar, a corporation whose equipment is used to bulldoze Palestinian homes to make way for those settlements.
Things change in public. The perception that allowing the larger campus community to hear one’s disgust for unjust Israeli practices means that one is not “supporting Israel” is alive and well.
If “supporting Israel” means I can’t tell the world how much Israel’s status as an occupier pains me, count me out. That Israel “needs our support” doesn’t matter. Regardless of the circumstance, wrong is wrong. I don’t believe that stating my opposition to new Israeli settlements or excessive force used by the Israeli military makes me anti-Israel. My issues with the tax incentives Israel offers its citizens for moving into those settlements are rooted only in love for a country that claims to serve as my people’s homeland.
So I found it painful when my Facebook wall, the night before the BDS resolution came before CSG, was flooded with statements from Jewish peers claiming that while they support peace and support all narratives, the resolution supported neither, and therefore they’d oppose it.
Saying that you support all narratives when those narratives inherently conflict reduces your statement to letters on a page, nothing more. Saying that you support positive change while you oppose divestment from Heidelberg Cement, a company that operates quarries in the West Bank whose profits benefit only the Israeli economy — textbook colonialism — does not make sense to me.
The refrain that “BDS is divisive” gained no traction in my mind, either. Many cited the resolution’s divisiveness as a reason they couldn’t support it, yet the resolution was only divisive because they didn’t support it in the first place. The fact that you oppose something is not grounds for further opposition.
This University divested from tobacco companies in 2000. While harmful, smoking cigarettes isn’t comparable to a government and a group of companies violating basic moral principles. If we can divest from cigarettes, we can divest from the occupation.
The mentality that supporting Israel entails never publicly opposing any of its actions or policies is what’s divisive, and only polarizes the Jewish community between those willing to speak out and those not comfortable doing so.
I’m not saying that I wish the BDS resolution had passed. There are more productive, more holistic and more inclusive ways to promote peace. Arguments about its one-sidedness were reasonable and the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality did a poor job encouraging meaningful dialogue.
I do wish that more of the people opposing it had used language that respected Israel’s role in the conflict instead of reducing the resolution to a battle between those for Israel and those against it. It’s time the Jewish community publicly stands up to injustice in its homeland so that students’ self-professed desire for peace doesn’t seem like such an empty statement.
Lev Facher is an LSA sophomore.