Are American Jews Culpable in the Current BDS Movement?

Time to play catch up…again. BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) legislation is being introduced on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, and the Jewish Community is coming together as UMN United, a public movement against BDS. For those of you who are unaware of what any of this means, BDS is the economic boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel pushed by activists who claim to be pro-Palestinian. There is an immense amount of evidence that shows how BDS is inherently anti-semitic and bad for Jews and Palestinians alike. Canada’s Parliament just voted overwhelmingly to pass anti-BDS legislation.

Because this is an article on a website called TCJewfolk, I’ll take a go at knowing my audience and assume that the majority of those reading are Jewish and knowledgeable about the situation. If you are not, please take the time to become informed. Now the real question, time and time and time again is this: why in the hell and how did BDS ever get a hold on the UMN campus?

Some will rage about how misguided young college students want to be social justice warriors. Believe me, even I rage about it. Others will complain that the BDS agenda is full of lies and appealing language like “human rights” and “justice”. Many can agree that it’s the misinformation and miseducation so many people get about the situation in Israel. Choice few will say it’s “those damn liberals”. These all speak to how BDS grabbed a hold, but do not answer why.

Do you want the opinion of a first-generation, American-born son of a family of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union? Probably not, but pay attention anyway. Everything the American Jewish community says about BDS and college students on campus is right, but it’s also the most dismissive cop-out ever. The American Jewish community is complacent and lazy, diplomatic and stand-offish, loud when it wants to be and quiet to its discretion, choosing to fight itself over petty idealism instead of uniting together.

Why did BDS ever get a hold on college campuses? Because the American Jewish community let it.

Are you feeling angry? Will you complain? Good. Let me explain.

College students are idealistic, rabid for purpose and a want to yell their opinions and generally very involved with social justice. These traits are not inherently anti-Israel, or supportive of BDS. The key reason why BDS has been able to grab a hold of most of these students is because BDS and Palestinian activists have worked tirelessly to appeal to these traits, and to reach out to minority groups, the LGBTQ community, and organizations like Black Lives Matter (BLM), to be involved in and supportive of today’s social justice voices. The American Jewish community has done few, if any, of these things. In return for the support, today’s social justice voices join with BDS.
No one joins with the American Jewish community.

The American Jewish community needs to embrace its history of social activism instead of footnoting it.

Take Ferguson, for example. When the Ferguson protests were happening in 2014, Palestinian activists immediately sent pictures of Palestinian kids holding signs that say Palestine Stands with Ferguson, amongst many other things. The American Jewish Community and pro-Israel Community did not do enough, so naturally many BLM activists support BDS and Palestinian activists.

On a similar note, when the 4th Precinct protests were happening right here in Minneapolis a few months ago, the American Jewish Community may have participated in solidarity but certainly did not shout their support from the rooftops. No one raged loud enough even when white supremacists came to shoot protesters simply because they were black. In this country, Jews love to hold up the Civil Rights Movement and beat themselves with pride about how we helped civil rights prevail, how we are a friend to every minority community, how we understand what it means to be oppressed. Oh, we understand, but what do we do? Nothing!

While Palestinian BDS activists connect to anyone and everyone, the pro-Israel community only ever connects with Jews, if anyone at all. When talking about Israel, sure, some points are made about how Tel Aviv is the safest place for a member of the LGBTQ community and how many Palestinians benefit from Israel, but the number one reaction to BDS from the pro-Israel community? “It’s anti-Semitic!” “Anti-Israel!” “Anti-Jewish!”. All true, but the only perspective is Jewish, and that doesn’t connect with most minorities because the American Jewish community didn’t support them in fighting discrimination.

No one truly makes a point of how Israel provides Palestinians with electricity, water, jobs, and education, how Israel provides safe haven to African Refugees, how many Arabs are an enormous part of Israeli society, how multiple religions and ethnic groups as well as sexual orientations are present in Israel. Nobody lays out the fact that if you are for BDS, you are anti-LGBTQ, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, anti-Druze, anti-Semitic, anti-Refugee, anti-Israel, and anti-African, to say the least. Because of this, there is little outreach or connection to the non-Jewish community, so the majority is easily swayed to BDS activists.

It is time to stop being passive and time to stop sitting on old victories. The American Jewish community needs to embrace its history of social activism instead of footnoting it. If we are truly going to stand against BDS, we must aggressively participate in today’s social conversations at all times, not just when BDS rolls around.

To do this, some concerns have to be addressed. Many American Jews can’t agree on Israel, to the point where we have Students Supporting Israel (SSI), JStreet, JStreetU, AIPAC, and more organizations all fighting on college campuses to be the winning voice of American Jewry. We must understand one thing: we live in America, not in Israel. If we do not fight here, how will we fight there? Politics must be tossed aside in a collective fight against BDS on all sides. Only then can we sit among ourselves and argue about Israel.

For too long now there’s been the idea that Israel and social justice are incompatible. This idea must be torn down. If Palestine is social justice, so is Israel, and we must act on both fronts. It is time for the pro-Israel and the American Jewish community as a whole to stage large and loud events and fundraisers, finding and supporting moderate Palestinians who advocate a two state solution, instead of meekly talking in schools about it. It is time to fight for the reality that being pro-Palestinian does not mean being anti-Israel, nor should it, and vice versa. We must take back the conversation on both fronts.

I know how the Soviet Union beat the soul out of Jews. Will the American Jewish Community let BDS do the same? Join UMN United to answer: No!