The News’s recent article, “Yalies 4 Palestine launches Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions campaign,” points out that until this week, Yale was the only Ivy League college without a BDS campaign. Indeed, until now, Yale’s Jews have been spared the trials of a BDS campaign, even if our counterparts in the Ivy League have not. As Jewish students, we have been proud to be on a campus free of a movement that aims to undermine the Jewish State’s legitimacy and isolate Zionist students. But as the News reported on Tuesday, that is no longer the case.
The presence of BDS on campus is a significant factor for many Jews in choosing where to attend college. In 2018, The Forward published its second “Jewish College Guide.” Schools were ranked on a scale of 100 points and judged on the basis of five categories, including quality of academics, financial aid, Jewish cultural life, prevalence of antisemitism — and “The Israel Score,” which made up a fifth of the final tally. One of the most pressing factors in a given school’s Israel Score was whether it had passed a resolution in favor of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the previous four years. To some Jewish students, BDS on campus is only an uncomfortable feature that they will learn to deal with. But to others, it is a sign of whether Zionism — the belief in and support for a Jewish state in the Jewish homeland of Israel — is accepted in peer discourse, and at worst, a barometer of antisemitic attitudes on campus. But why the alarm regarding BDS? Isn’t it merely “an international effort to end the oppression of Palestinians”?
The reasons to be skeptical of BDS are numerous. The organization glorifies past and present “Palestinian popular resistance” in the form of intifadas, without acknowledging that these uprisings took the form of deadly terror attacks on Israeli civilians. It dismisses Jews’ more than 2000-year-old historical, religious and cultural ties to the land of Israel and to the State of Israel since its founding. It weaponizes terms coined to describe the oppression of Jews, such as the term “ghetto,” thereby equating Jewish Israelis with their past oppressors. It even discredits the notion of Jewish nationality by placing the term “Jewish nation” in quotations and emphasizing that “these people are citizens of many countries.” Such language plays into the age-old antisemitic trope of Jews as rootless cosmopolitans with no cultural memory or common aspirations. Left unchecked, this rhetoric rooted in antisemitism seeps its way onto college campuses and drags what might otherwise be productive dialogue down to the level of invective and exclusion.
Naturally, then, the arrival of BDS at Yale is a dark omen for discourse surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The rhetoric employed by Y4P was bad enough back in May 2021, when it incorrectly accused Israel of genocide, a term coined to describe the atrocities of the Holocaust. This accusation was noticeably absent from the statement put out by Yale’s own Ethnicity, Race, and Migration faculty. The equation of Jews with our oppressors is not limited to the statement from last summer, however; it appears in the recent article as well. One Y4P organizer is quoted as saying that Palestine advocacy has “less to do with Jewishness and more to do with ‘white supremacy modeled after European forms of colonialism.’” This troubling statement ignores that the majority of Israel’s Jewish population — including one of us — is of Mizrahi (MENA/Central Asian) descent, and that real white supremacists, who chant “Jews will not replace us,” have historically seen and presently see Jewishness as the antithesis of whiteness. We caution against the over-simplification of the Israel-Palestine conflict — which is rooted in a complex history and competing claims to land — to a racial issue analogous to issues related to race and colonialism in America and worldwide.
This rhetoric is already worsening. In the recent News article, a Y4P organizer is quoted as claiming that “currently, conversations on Palestine have been restricted by a confusion between general Pal[e]stine advocacy and anti-semitism.” Who, exactly, is confusing Palestine advocacy with antisemitism, and if they are confusing the two, how are they doing so? This remark is condescending and problematic, inasmuch as those “confusing” the two are, most often, Jews. It is troubling that Jews today seem to constitute the only historically marginalized group that does not have the authority to call out hate directed against it without being accused of confusion or even, in some cases, dishonesty. As Yale students, when someone or something is accused of being hateful, we use it as an opportunity to listen carefully and reflect. We ought to do the same when it comes to antisemitism.
But beyond the question of BDS’s problematic undertones and impact on campus discourse lies the question of whether boycotting Israel advances peace efforts, or at the very least, “serve[s] as a breakthrough conversation starter.” BDS’s exclusionary tactics start small — with, say ID-swiping systems — and move on to “academic” and “cultural” boycotts. What happens when the country in which half of the world’s Jews live is no longer welcome academically and culturally? This can only serve to weaken earnest efforts at dialogue. BDS discourages students of all opinions from engaging in constructive dialogue by turning a complex issue worthy of students’ critical consideration into a non-conversation with only one legitimate perspective. Moreover, such actions demonize Israel, portray it as the only country worthy of a ban, and make merely associating with it into one of the most deplorable actions a student can take, worthy of social penalty.
So long as BDS’s language remains couched in antisemitism, such that we are forced to believe it opposes Israel’s very existence, and so long as its corresponding campus organization seems to confirm that position with its similarly antagonistic rhetoric, we will remain wary, not to mention tired of defending the Jewish right to self-determination.
We renew our hope that Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people remain part of a discourse at this university that asks us to repair the world rather than divide it.
NETANEL SCHWARTZ is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. He is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor as well as Moroccan Jewish immigrants to Israel. He can be reached at email@example.com.
DOV GREENWOOD graduated Yale as a member of the class of 2022, where he majored in Humanities and S&DS. He is now a resident of New Haven. Dov can still be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JEDIDIAH DEVILLERS is a sophomore in Pierson College. He is interested in cross-cultural dialogue, development, and security with a focus on the MENA region and Central Asia. He can be reached at email@example.com.