Op-Ed: Divestment isn’t really about Israel or Palestine

Monday, November 13, 2017 - 4:19pm

I remember very clearly my first experience with divestment at the University of Michigan. I was 6,000 miles away and it was the spring of 2014. I was nearing the end of a gap year in Jerusalem, and the six of us who were slated to head to the University of Michigan were getting frantic messages from our older friends on the night of the vote. There were huge lines outside the Michigan Union on campus. The Jewish students were leaving in tears, arguments escalated and people hurled slurs. Though deliberations went into the early hours of the morning, the resolution did not pass. 

The whole thing was deeply disorienting. Here I was in Jerusalem, having discussions over hummus in Abu Gosh and being taught Arabic by a Palestinian-Israeli. Yet it felt as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were actually hotter a stone’s throw from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library than it was in the beating heart of the land ostensibly being fought over.

Now that I’ve watched this ritual for three years up close, I’m girding myself for the fourth this week and I have a much better sense of why.

The truth is that what goes down in the Diag, the Central Student Government offices and the Modern Languages Building in the coming days has very little do with the Israeli occupation, settlements, the status of Jerusalem or the Green Line. It has almost everything to do with a group of students determined to show the purity of their woke vision — and to publicly shame anyone who dares to suggest reality is more complex.

Consider that at last year's meeting, a Black Lives Matter activist was brought in to present on the tense state of race relations in St. Louis and elsewhere in the United States. A stunningly produced video featured upbeat music and a call for all who suffered under white colonialists — the American police, the Israeli government — to band together. It flattened all distinctions — political, historical and religious — between Oakland and the West Bank. Instead, there was a master narrative: the aggressors versus victims, the bullies versus the underdogs, the oppressors and the oppressed. The implications were clear: If you stand for justice and freedom, you stand against Israel.

A close friend stood up to offer her views during “community concerns,” which is intended for anyone on campus to urge representatives to consider their point of view before they go to a vote.

My friend is progressive, organized a solidarity campaign when anti-Muslim and racist flyers were plastered around campus, and led interfaith dialogues throughout the year. She is a left-wing Zionist, no defender of the occupation. She was nervous, she was passionate and she cried in front of the entire room as she explained that she supports Black Lives Matter, that she supports the voices of the marginalized on campus — and that she also supports the state of Israel and believes the divestment resolution to be counterproductive and wrong.

Seconds later, a video of my friend was uploaded to Twitter with the sneering caption “white zionist tears.”

I learned a lot from watching this morality play. I didn’t learn anything, of course, about Israelis or Palestinians, but I did about the deep desire on the part of a vocal minority of my fellow students to paint the world in black and white. For them, my friend was not a person with nuanced views, but an evil caricature propped up to serve their misguided worldview.

Never mind the fact that true divestment would mean surrendering our cellphones, unplugging dialysis patients from life-saving machines at the University hospital, erasing Waze, and never seeing a Gal Gadot movie ever again.

Never mind the fact that if these students were really concerned about oppression, they’d focus their efforts on, say, China, an economic behemoth and one of the most vicious state abusers of human rights on the planet.

Never mind that if they really cared about progressive values, the genocide of the Syrian people, the hanging of gay people in Iran and the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia would get some air time.

Here is what the BDS resolution boils down to: victimhood playoffs with a box of clementines at the seventh-inning stretch and no winner at the end. The speeches, cheers and jeers are great for coarsening opinions and alienating us from one another, but don’t do much in terms of justice or freedom — here or in the Holy Land.

Suzy Weiss is a Business senior.

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