Along with the writers of the op-ed “Standing with SJP: Opposing Kenneth Marcus ’88” (Jan. 24, 2018), I am troubled by the nomination of Kenneth Marcus to be assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education. Like most of the Trump administration, Marcus is unsuited for a role in government. He lacks experience and judgment and has a horrid record of discrimination against people of color. However, I disagree with the op-ed’s statements on the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Without appropriate context and historical background, the article’s inaccuracies are quite dangerous. The BDS movement is thoroughly flawed and utterly void of the impartiality and nuance that an issue like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires.
The BDS movement does more to impede the peace process than it does to help it. BDS provides little to no actual help to suffering Palestinians and instead stifles any productive debate and solution-based discussion. By advocating for a “global boycott” of Israel, BDS places the blame solely on one side without acknowledging the other side’s responsibility in what is an extremely complex conflict. The BDS movement ignores the continued corruption and terrorism propagated by the Palestinian leadership. Over the past several years, foreign countries have donated billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. Instead of providing schools, hospitals and health services for the Palestinian people, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority use this money to buy weapons, build terror tunnels and fund lavish lifestyles for Palestinian elites. In order to further the peace process and truly better the lives of suffering Palestinian people, the fraudulent Palestinian leadership must be held accountable for its actions. The BDS movement refuses to recognize the Palestinian leadership’s liability, and it instead demonizes Israel. Moreover, the “ordinary citizens” who founded BDS, including Omar Barghouti, call for the complete destruction of the state of Israel and the eradication of Jews from the land but refrain from any constructive Palestinian advocacy.
Despite the op-ed’s claims, the BDS movement is blatantly anti-Semitic. The movement aims to delegitimize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and often results in harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters. This includes overtly anti-Semitic expression and acts. In June of last year, organizers kicked out three Jewish women from a lesbian pride march in Chicago, Ill. for carrying rainbow flags with Jewish Stars of David. Similarly, feminist leaders like Linda Sarsour exclude Israel supporters from women’s marches. On college campuses, dining halls are petitioned to ban Israeli food, and pro-Israel speakers are prevented from sharing their views. The BDS movement singles out Israel from a bevy of nations with clear and unquestionable human rights violations, allowing countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Russia to go unscathed. The movement’s sole focus on Israel is an attempt to vilify the country and deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination.
Similarly, the op-ed’s comparison of the Israel-Palestine conflict to apartheid in South Africa is a factually inaccurate result of the continued demonization of Israel. In reality, Israel’s human rights record is far better than that of many countries the BDS movement ignores. Israel’s Arab citizens are free to criticize the government, serve in any sector of the economy and join the parliament – the Joint List, a coalition of Arab political parties, is currently the third-largest faction in Israel’s government. Israel has admirable records of women’s rights, gay rights, environmental protections and many other democratic, progressive ideals that seldom exist in the rest of the Middle East and are even still challenged in the United States. The BDS movement holds Israel to a much higher standard than the rest of the world, attacking its right to exist as the world’s sole Jewish state.
There is a healthy way to criticize Israel, just as there is a healthy way to criticize any other country. The Israeli government wrongfully occupies land designated for a Palestinian national home, and millions of Palestinians live in fear, unable to move freely and succeed in life. But by suggesting a one-sided, antagonistic view of the conflict, the BDS movement fails to promote real dialogue or effectively advocate for Palestinian rights. Criticizing the BDS movement is not anti-free speech, nor is it anti-Palestinian. If one believes in a two-state solution, justice for Palestinians and Israel’s right to exist, it should be evident that the BDS movement must be reformed. Concerned activists should spurn the anti-Semitism of BDS and its watered-down version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We must instead practice critical thinking and work to build bridges between one another. Only healthy, open-minded, historically-based discourse will help solve this seemingly perpetual conflict and better the lives of the Palestinian people.
Lev Gordon ’20 is from New York, N.Y.