We are Jewish students at Tufts University who strongly support SJP’s proposed senate resolution to divest from G4S, Elbit Systems, HP Enterprises, and Northrop Grumman. Major institutions like Tufts are currently invested in these four companies, which profit from violence and incarceration in Palestine and elsewhere. As Tufts students and Jewish people we feel a responsibility to end this injustice. (If you would like to learn more about SJP’s proposed resolution, you can read it in full here.) We do not intend to speak for all Jewish students, but rather to push back against those who say that this resolution and the process of passing it is antisemitic.
First, it is important to know what the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is. In 2005, diverse coalitions of Palestinian people, including over 170 civil society groups fighting for freedom, justice, and equality called for the nonviolent tactics of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions, inspired by BDS movements throughout history, specifically the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. Since then, the Palestinian people leading this movement have urged allies to join in this nonviolent pressure on the Israeli government until it complies with international law by:
- Ending the occupation and dismantling the Apartheid Wall
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
BDS is a human rights movement that is fundamentally and explicitly opposed to all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. (To learn more about the movement see www.bdsmovement.net.) Those opposed to BDS often assert that Palestinians are antisemitic, a sweeping generalization that both ignores the driving motivation for BDS — the Occupation and oppression of Palestinian people — and reinforces an anti-Arab and Islamophobic trope: that Arab(s) (Muslims) are all antisemitic. At times, this damaging trope divides us from our Muslim American siblings who also live under Christian hegemony.
The four corporations identified in the proposed resolution are all BDS targets due to their different yet shared complicity in the oppression of Palestinian people and other people throughout the world. Elbit Systems, the only Israeli company on the list, built the Apartheid Wall and is currently angling to build Trump’s US-Mexico Wall. As Trump said, “Do walls work? Just ask Israel. They work.” In February we took to Copley Square and Logan Airport to chant “No Ban No Walls,” a beautiful chant of solidarity connecting the struggles of Latinx communities and Muslim communities. Now we say it once more and call on you to do the same, from Palestine to Mexico: “No Ban No Walls.”
G4S is a global security services company that operates prisons in Israel where Palestinian political prisoners are held without trial in a practice known as administrative detention. According to Defense for Children International — Palestine, every year as many as 700 Palestinian children are incarcerated in Israeli prisons, some of which G4S operates. G4S is, however, a global security company that operates prisons in many countries. That is why a broad coalition of organizations across issue areas have joined Palestinian activists in calling for the boycott of G4S, including private prison divestment organizations in the United States like Enlace International and faith-based groups like the United Methodist Church.
Northrup Grumman is a U.S. defense corporation that in part profits off of violence and war. In recent days, after Trump initiated strikes in Syria, Northrup Grumman stock has increased at the prospect of more bloodshed. Northrup Grumman’s aerospace technology is utilized by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including during the Gaza attacks in 2008–2009 which killed 1,300 Palestinians in just three weeks.
Finally, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) is a U.S. information technology company that “provides the technology the Israeli military needs to continue its occupation of Palestine and restrict the freedom of Palestinians, including the biometric data used in Israeli checkpoints on Palestinian land.” HPE allows for the implementation of the Basel System, the Israeli equivalent of the Apartheid South Africa Passbook system. The Basel system of identification allows for the allocation of rights based on identity, technologically enforced through the collection of biometric profiles for all Palestinian boys over 16. In the United States, HPE operates “inmate data systems in prisons and works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)” to expedite deportations.
As Jewish students who hold other marginalized identities and who believe our liberation is tied up with all people, we cannot allow Tufts to invest in these companies.
As Jewish students on Tufts campus, we also know antisemitism. We spend time learning about antisemitism in our classes and in our communities. We experience it first hand. We believe, however, that antisemitism relies on the oppression of Jews, but also of others. Antisemitism functions by convincing (non-Jewish) marginalized and oppressed people that their very real pain and suffering, which is in truth caused by large systems of oppression and injustice like racism, colonialism, and capitalism, are actually caused by conniving and greedy Jews. So for us, fighting antisemitism means fighting injustice everywhere we see it. We feel our strongest when we are supporting friends with other marginalized identities in fighting systems that harm them. We feel our most loved when our non-Jewish friends hear our experiences with antisemitism and actively fight it when they see it. We believe in solidarity.
And so we feel hurt when some of our Jewish siblings demand a definition of fighting antisemitism that rests on the unconditional protection of an unjust governing regime, rather than on a shared reality of justice for Jews and non-Jews alike. We know that a State that normalizes oppression, in this case Israel’s systematic violence toward Palestinians, is not a State that we can stand by without criticism.
Of course, antisemitism can and does present itself in certain critiques of Israel. It should be no surprise, though still inexcusable, that elements of the dominant culture, such as antisemitism, are reproduced in social justice movements. So rather than ignore claims of antisemitism, we want to hold nuance and complexity. It is important to clarify these distinctions in order to identify and separate the false claims of antisemitism that can creep up to suppress Palestinian justice movements from very real anti-Jewish oppression that manifests in many ways and which none of our movements and spaces are immune from. As Jewish Voice for Peace considers in the recent book On Antisemitism: “While it is antisemitic to criticize the State of Israel solely on the basis of Jewish identity of most Israeli citizens or leaders, criticism of the Israeli state that is based on its past and present actions is not antisemitic” (Jewish Voice for Peace 215). We believe the proposed resolution calling for the divestment from four corporations, only one of which is Israeli, constitutes a valid criticism of the Israeli state and the corporations that facilitate state violence, based not on Jewish identity, but on the horrific human rights abuses we have enumerated.
Regarding the timing of the Senate meeting, we deeply regret that people traveling to celebrate Passover will be unable to make it, not just to discuss the BDS resolution, but also to discuss all of the other important matters that will be taken up at this final Senate meeting of the year. The United States is a Christian hegemonic nation and Tufts is not immune. As Jewish students we are painfully familiar with the forced choice between our religious and cultural practices and our everyday obligations. Even those of us who are practicing Passover in Boston will miss classes and meetings on Monday and Tuesday as we prepare for and participate in seders, and cope with limited food options in dining halls if we are keeping Passover dietary restrictions.
We are not condoning the painful impact of this system, but simply recognizing that the difficulties faced by Jewish people and other religious minorities practicing holidays unrecognized by our University are not specific to this resolution, but rather things we experience with frequency, which hinder us from fully engaging on campus in countless instances, every single week. While we are deeply saddened that many of us Jews will not be able to be present for the senate resolution, the truth is that focusing on this specific instance of scheduling conflict has sent us the message that Jewish voices only matter when it comes to Israel and not in other moments, not when we are forced to miss our classes around the High Holidays, break Shabbat to finish our homework, forgo our dietary needs to access the dining halls. Similarly, tabling the resolution because of the upcoming holiday while the other matters of the meeting such as the budget go forward as planned would send us the message that Jewish voices only matter when it comes to Israel and not in matters of the essential workings of this University. We believe this would further a dangerous antisemitic trope: that Jews are disloyal to their “host” societies, and ultimately only care about Israel.
We have only made it this far with compassion. Compassion for our Jewish siblings who have, like us, suffered real antisemitism both in their lifetimes and through their bloodlines, yet who disagree with us, a reminder that no community is monolithic. In the space of post-assimilation American Judaism, Zionism is one way to fill a deep void created by the dispossession and theft of our cultures. But it isn’t the only way. We are Jewish too, though our Judaism takes different forms and relates differently to political Zionism. Still, we validate our Zionist Jewish friends’ Jewishness without qualification, without litmus test, and without proof of “authenticity.” Approaching Pesach, we hold the multiplicity of Jewish practice and identities.
With respect to our Jewish Zionist friends we point to one difference, important to us in this moment: at our Seders we will articulate a liberation that includes our Palestinian siblings through the non-violent means they have identified. At our Seders we will formulate freedom dreams that recapture the space of imagination from the oppression of the present. Should this resolution pass, our holiday will only be sweeter and our collective liberation only closer.
For further reading on antisemitism and its relation to other forms of power and oppression, we encourage folks to read:
The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Antisemitism Part of All of Our Movements: http://www.buildingequality.us/prejudice/antisemitism/rosenblum/the-past.pdf
On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice by Jewish Voice for Peace: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1065-on-antisemitism