We can build understanding and respect on our campus by showing sensitivity to the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians
This past Spring, ASUCD Senate passed Resolution 25, which called for the university to divest from corporations that aid the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine. The resolution was subsequently vetoed by ASUCD President Kyle Krueger. While this resolution presented a fairly nuanced call to action—argeting only corporations that were complicit with home demolitions, militarization in occupied Palestinian territory and human rights abuses—it has been portrayed by some as an all-out attack on Israel, the Jewish people and Jewish students.
As a Jewish student myself, I strongly object to this disingenous mischaracterization that deliberately ignores the resolution’s intent, oversimplifies the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, conflates criticism of the occupation with anti-Semitism and misrepresents the entire Jewish community as supporters of the current Israeli government.
Many Jewish students, like myself, are frustrated with prominent Jewish organizations about their handling of this resolution. We are not a monolith, the Jewish community has a wide range of views on Israel, the conflict and the occupation of Palestinian territory––these varied perspectives never invalidate their holder’s Jewish identity. But too many establishment groups have acted to silence alternative perspectives and to shut down debate. J Street U, the only left-of-center Jewish political group on campus, has been routinely excluded from conversations about Israel. This has deliberately presented the view that a uniform Jewish consensus against this resolution exists on our campus––it does not. Polling shows the position of right-leaning groups are not even popular among the broader American Jewish community off-campus, where support for human rights, fairness for Palestinians and a two-state solution is overwhelming.
As a member of J Street U Davis’ board, I would also like to make clear our position on others’ attempts to conflate opposition to the Israeli government and opposition to the occupation with anti-Semitism. We reject the contention that Jewish identity itself or inclusion in the organized Jewish community demands unquestioning support for Israel or Zionism. We oppose the imposition of any form of pro-Israel litmus test to determine who should or should not be welcomed in the Jewish community. And we do not accept that all critiques of Zionism or opposition to the occupation of Palestinian territory should be automatically defined as anti-Semitic. J Street U does not oppose forms of economic protests or divestment initiatives which zero-in on the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestinian territory and explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist. For us, this resolution strikes that balance. These kinds of initiatives are different than those advocated and initiated by the Global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement. It is critical to be able to distinguish between divestment efforts which delegitimize the state of Israel and hurt all Israelis, from initiative efforts which target the occupation itself.
There is a fundamental distinction between the state of Israel and the Palestinian territory that it occupies over the Green Line, on which it continues to build and expand settlements in violation of international law. That distinction must be maintained both for the sake of Israel’s own democratic future and in the interest of ending occupation and peacefully resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While we as an organization neither support nor oppose this resolution, we believe it’s important to recognize that it is designed not to oppose Israel’s right to exist, but instead is solely focused on divesting from activities in occupied territory. It is wrong, inappropriate and harmful to characterize this resolution as anti-Semitic or somehow dangerous to the Jewish community on our campus. In 2020, we face very real threats of anti-Semitism from groups like the Proud Boys and other white nationalist organizations; this threat should not be used by Jewish groups to score political points against progressives who stand as our allies in that fight. We urge everyone involved in this debate to examine this resolution on its merits, to show sensitivity to the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and to refrain from making over-the-top accusations that only make it harder to build understanding and respect on our campus.
Written by: Ethan Wellerstein
Ethan Wellerstein is a third-year International Relations and Philosophy major and a member of J Street U, a liberal-Zionist student group.
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Correction: The original version of this guest opinion incorrectly referenced Academic Senate passing Resolution 25, but it was passed by ASUCD Senate. The guest opinion has been updated to correct this error.