Statement on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign at Columbia University
As an alum of Columbia College (Class of 1969) whose son is also a recent graduate, and someone who got his start in progressive politics as a campus activist fighting against the Vietnam War, I have tremendous fondness for my alma mater and care a great deal about what happens there. Columbia also happens to have its home in the Congressional District I have served since 1992. It is for these reasons that I feel compelled to comment on the current campaign happening there regarding Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
I dearly hope that the pro-peace, pro-academic freedom student leaders of Invest in Peace at Columbia are successful in their efforts to defeat this divisive and wrong-headed effort to have the university support BDS, and, in doing so, are able to educate the Columbia community about the true nature of the BDS movement.
The global BDS movement, despite its well-crafted illusion as a progressive or pro-peace movement, is actually quite the opposite.
BDS is not progressive because it supports, for instance, a full boycott of Israeli scholars and academic institutions, denying them the same academic freedom and free speech rights that, in the height of hypocrisy, BDS and its campus adherents often claim they themselves are denied. BDS advocates this boycott knowing full well that many of these Israeli academics are at the core of the progressive movement supporting Palestinian statehood, and BDS directly undermines these important efforts by blocking these intellectuals’ interactions with like-minded scholars around the world. This is the same BDS movement that, at a recent national LGBT Conference in Chicago, physically shut down an event set to feature leaders of the Jerusalem Open House (the LGBT Center in Israel), silencing them and denying their right to share their important work serving LGBT Israelis and Palestinians alike. That’s not a progressive tactic, that’s a fascist tactic.
But equally important, BDS is not pro-peace. BDS’s overly-simplistic and one-sided approaches do a disservice to the cause of peace and stability by unfairly placing blame entirely on one side, and by attempting to delegitimize one party on the world stage. BDS does nothing to bring either party back to real negotiations or to enhance a better understanding of the complexity of this conflict. BDS is, at its core, a direct challenge to the only solution that would give both sides — Israelis and Palestinians — the right of self-determination — the “two-state solution.” The global BDS movement openly advocates in its platform for a “full Palestinian right of return”, which is code for a one-state solution — a solution that eliminates Israel.
When BDS founder and leader Omar Barhgouti, who passionately rejects a two-state solution, is asked whether BDS would end when Israeli control of the disputed territories ends and the Palestinians are able to establish their own state, he flatly says “no.” That tells you what you need to know — BDS isn’t interested in ensuring Palestinian statehood, side by side in peace with a democratic State of Israel. The goal of BDS is to eliminate Israel entirely and to deprive the Jewish people — and only the Jewish people — of the right of self-determination.
To punctuate this point in the Columbia context, recently a member group of the Columbia BDS coalition embraced the violence of suicide bombings and other forms of terrorist violence when it utilized the phrase “Long Live the Intifada” on Facebook and elsewhere. When pressed, the pro-BDS group defended its statement by trying to characterize the First and Second Intifadas as “civil disobedience.” Of course, there is nothing peaceful or civil about the deliberate killing and injuring of unarmed Israeli civilians — the hallmark of both Intifadas.
Unfortunately, the BDS movement has been quite skilled at using rhetorical sleights-of-hand to conceal its anti-progressive nature, and I fear that many well-intentioned people who think they are supporting progressive, peaceful approaches like the two-state solution don’t really understand that they are being asked to align themselves with a movement aimed at undermining the very things they believe they are supporting.
I can, of course, sympathize with the frustrations of progressive activists who, like me, want to see more and faster progress towards a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But smart, nuanced, effective work in solidarity with peace-seeking Israelis and Palestinians aiming to end this conflict and bring about a two-state solution must mean a rejection of wrong-headed and deceptive approaches like BDS that do not further the cause of peace or progressive values.
I applaud the Columbia students who are leading the effort among their peers to defeat this divisive and misleading BDS effort in an intelligent and respectful way. And I am hopeful that if a divestment vote should be scheduled, like the majority of votes that have preceded it on other U.S. campuses, it will be roundly defeated.