The argument against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is simple. BDS is based on two flawed principles: it calls for divestment from companies associated with Israel on the basis of human rights violations, and portrays Palestinians as an oppressed minority under Israel. Facts and history have proven these claims false, yet BDS continues to gain support by presenting its mission under inaccurate premises.
First, to divest from Israel on the basis of human rights is unprecedented. Israel’s human rights record is incomparable to that of other Middle Eastern countries. In Syria, the Assad regime has slaughtered 140,000 people; in Saudi Arabia, oppression of women is rampant; governments in Egypt and Iran have executed hundreds of civilians. In contrast, Israel maintains a standard of human rights comparable to Western democracies, even amid an existential threat that few other countries face.
Moreover, it is a misrepresentation to portray Palestinians as marginalized victims. In 1937, 1947, 1967, 1979, 2000 and 2008 — on six occasions — Palestinians rejected offers for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The humiliation of 1948 and 1967 has stayed with Palestinian leadership, and tensions only rise when new peace offers are less desirable than the previous ones. As a result, Palestinian leadership often focuses on resistance: in Gaza, Hamas sponsors terrorism against Israel, while West Bank leaders condemn Israeli policies and offers. A more effective leadership would turn its attention to its own citizens and improve their infrastructure, economy and living conditions. However, instead of pressuring its leadership to take initiative, BDS continues to claim victim status and blame Israel, and neither of these approaches improves Palestinians’ situation.
So how could a flawed movement attract such a large showing at the recent Central Student Government meeting? Through misrepresentation. Under the banner of “human and minority rights” and “freedom,” the BDS movement attracts people in two categories. In the first are students who participate because they believe the cause is humanitarian. But how will BDS improve the lives of Palestinians? Will it help them build schools and hospitals, bring them food and water or improve their living conditions? Will it hold their government accountable for its failings and propel their people toward democracy? It won’t. Moreover, BDS would be detrimental to Palestinians who benefit from certain relations with Israel. For example, Israel has provided medical technology and rehabilitation to civilians, food shipments to Gaza and allows thousands of West Bank Palestinians to work in Israel. Movements that shout “Divest!” are not solving the problems that the Palestinian government has prolonged, and even Israel has reached out to Palestinians in more effective ways.
The second, larger group of BDS supporters are Palestinians whose families and relatives have suffered in the conflict. Pain and sadness accompany their stories, and BDS is one of their only ways to resist the complex reality of 1948 and 1967 which resulted in lost homes and land. However, divestment from Israel will not provide a right of return for their families, or address past wrongs. This matter was brought before CSG, not the United Nations. Palestinian students’ raw, emotional stories cannot be resolved by divestment from a few companies. They are decades-old problems with which the international community has grappled for years, and a vote for the BDS resolution will not bring us closer to solving them.
When emotion and frustration are not used for positive change, they drive hatred and delegitimization. Students latch onto this form of resistance to drive a barrier between college campuses and Israel. BDS may appear to be for divestment from a few companies, but similar efforts nationwide have led to boycotts which hinder academic freedom and valuable partnerships in science, technology and other fields. BDS reinforces a flawed portrait of Israel, overwriting Israel’s commitment to democracy and human rights with false accusations.
BDS receives attention by misrepresentation: if its supporters were concerned with human rights, they would discuss divestment from Syria or Saudi Arabia, not Israel. If they wanted lasting improvement for Palestinians, they could focus on improving conditions in the territories. Obada Shtaya, a Palestinian speaker from the grassroots peace movement OneVoice, explained his hope that young, empowered Palestinians will petition their own government for democracy. His comments showed young Palestinians have power to stand up for positive change. Similarly, I would encourage SAFE to put its own people first by improving Palestinian lives and creating the potential for a lasting solution. Until then, CSG cannot let itself be moved by mob displays of emotion and false accusations.
With its recent decision to table the BDS resolution indefinitely, CSG showed that BDS is not an issue for the Michigan student body to decide. I want to thank its members for remaining impartial, and encourage them to continue to be firm in the face of large crowds and emotional rhetoric. My hope is that the discussion on the conflict can move forward in a productive way — something that can only happen when hatred and misrepresentation, fostered by BDS, are abandoned.
Emily Camras is an LSA freshman.