Political dissent is a fascinating concept. To me, the act of politically dissenting — from popular opinion, from one’s own communally associated belief or from previously held personal ideology — is a courageous act of defiance.
Last March, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality brought forth a resolution to Central Student Government that requested the creation of a committee to investigate companies that the University invests in that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and profit off of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. I was a representative on the assembly at the time, as well as a candidate for student body president. Prior to the proposal of this resolution, I didn’t know much about the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and I had never formally engaged in any advocacy around Israel and Palestine. What I did know, though, was how I was supposed to feel in regards to the issue at hand. Just by nature of my identity as a Jew, I knew that I was supposed to oppose the resolution, oppose divestment and propose a narrative of peace and dialogue around Israel. I knew this because Hillel told me so through the many e-mails I received affirming their opposition to BDS, and because of the many Facebook posts about all of the Hillel-sponsored Israel solidarity efforts I could join.
After reaching out to one of the resolution’s authors, examining my own values in the context of what was being asked of us as an assembly and hours of extensive research, it intuitively made sense that I would support a resolution of this nature. I sat with a strong sense of cognitive dissonance, weighing my moral and ethical values against my Jewish identity. Saying that I opposed the resolution felt morally inconsistent with my values, but saying that I supported it felt incredibly isolating.
With a public and political face that said no to the resolution, but a heart and a mind that said yes, I felt a moral tension that even today still hasn’t gone away. The way that the Jewish community on campus received my ambiguity was what ultimately led me to finding my strength for the dissent. I have come to actualize my dissent in small ways since last March, from informing community members and friends of my personal support of economic boycotts in Israel to exploring “Jewish Progressive Except for Palestine” identities in academic research.
The way that fellow Jews on campus treated me and other Jewish students who did not fully conform to the status quo Israel political belief was disheartening. My unwillingness to strongly oppose the resolution, demonize its supporters and vocalize an unwavering dedication to the longevity of Israel as a divided state meant that I was no longer worthy of their love, their friendship and, sometimes, our shared Jewish identity.
It took me a summer of research and reflection to understand why this PEP identity persists in the Jewish communities I have always identified with, and why it’s so hard to move past the cognitive dissonance created by a resolution such as the one presented to me a year ago and the one being presented Tuesday night. I have come to understand my experience with BDS and Israel politics on campus in a larger social context, where there’s a Jewish communal standard and expectation for many historical, social and political reasons, which Jewish community members are expected to adhere to simply by the nature of being Jewish. My exploration away from this status quo, of an Israel politic that is consistent with my values, is what led to the intra-communal silencing of political voice that I experienced on campus.
I think political dissent is naturally coupled with feelings of fear. For me, it was fear of political loss, personal isolation and communal rejection. I decided to sit silent in consent, weighed down by others’ constructed realities, instead of adhering to my values, my truths, my Judaism. But, more important than my own fears, identities and intra-communal politics are the silenced narratives of Palestinian students on campus and our greater complacency in the human rights abuse that is Palestinian occupation. So while I didn’t dissent that day last March, I am dissenting now. I support SAFE’s resolution, I support economic sanctions on Israel and I support the validation of all narratives.
Carly Manes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.