Op-Ed: Don't let BDS divide us

Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 7:00pm

My parents were born and raised in Israel, and lived there until they were 28 years old. They’re my only family members who don’t currently live in Israel, so the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very near and dear to my heart. Human rights have also always been important to me. Last year, I met two Palestinian refugees around my age, and they welcomed me into their home. They offered me tea and cookies and showed me love, despite coming from a country whose military evicted them from their homes. At that point I knew I had to do something.

It’s incredible what three letters can do to a student body. As soon as “BDS: Boycott, Divest, Sanctions” is heard, we shut down — we pick a side. Some consider it a divisive movement, but I don’t believe the resolution’s intention is to divide us. I genuinely believe the Palestinian students and authors of this resolution are not solely at fault for this division — we all are.

It’s easy to stand divided, to surround ourselves with comfortable conversation and put down the other side. And at times, I do it, too. I sometimes shut down and tell myself BDS isn’t constructive and will drive us farther from peace. If we reject this proposal, however, then we must find an alternative, one that will also work to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and one that will ensure self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. We must find ways to strive for peace and collaboration in this effort.

My goal, along with J Street U’s goal, is to end the occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. We strive to find a two-state solution — a way for both peoples to obtain and maintain sovereignty and liberty from one another, with neither side having power over the other, which is so clearly not the case right now.

The BDS movement is scary because it’s seen as a threat to Israel’s security and, globally, doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. I understand this is a high priority for many students and faculty members at this University. When we hear BDS, we, specifically Jews on campus, are concerned Israel is in danger. This fear is valid — it comes from a genuine place, but that fear cannot overpower the legitimate suffering taking place throughout the occupied territories.

That being said, economic pressure is an important part of creating change, so I’d like to propose an alternative. We, as a campus, need to fund peace projects. There are numerous organizations in the United States, Israel and Palestine working toward peace, such as Hand in Hand, B’Tselem, The Third Narrative and OneVoice. These are really incredible organizations working on the ground to bring people together and end the violence and hatred evident in this conflict.

Avoiding one another and working solely to shut one side down rather than hearing what they have to say will not bring us closer to peace. Just yesterday, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality hosted an event open to everyone to come and learn and ask questions and discuss. We, as members of the pro-Israel community, need to take it upon ourselves to attend those events.

Let me also add that we are all Wolverines here. As equal students on this campus, we all pay tuition, attend challenging classes and walk through the same Diag. CSG is a governmental body seeking to represent us all and it’s time to come together. If we, here in Ann Arbor, can’t work together and challenge ourselves to listen to one another, what does that say for any hope across countries?

We have a responsibility to mobilize and work together. We must include members of all perspectives in the conversation. We have to put ourselves in conversations that may hurt and frustrate us to ultimately come out with a better understanding. One campus’s BDS decision, whether approved or not, doesn’t end the atrocities happening overseas. I call on us to carry this momentum into tomorrow and the upcoming weeks, months and even years. Work to change your lens, to undo your bias. Don’t let this be an issue we care about today but forget about tomorrow.

The issue is incredibly controversial, but that is good — it brings passion. I invite you to join us at J Street meetings to learn and grow together. I encourage you to attend and listen to SAFE presentations as well as pro-Israel events. We are on such an incredible campus with so many opportunities to challenge ourselves available to us, so let’s use them. These issues are hard and I’m sorry for the hurt they cause, but if we want to see change, it has to start with us.

Alona Henig is an LSA sophomore and a co-chair of J Street UMich.