BDS movement needs clear goal
April 8, 2018
During my 20 years in this campus community, I’ve been involved in both the general anti-war movement, especially subsequent to 9/11, and in the pro-Palestinian movement, as a Jewish dissident. I was with Not In My Name as a founding member and more recently with Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization. I’ve been privileged to know several cohorts of Students for Justice in Palestine.
These two decades witnessed a sea of change in general awareness of the historical and current dispossessed, oppressed and brutalized plight of the stateless Palestinian people, from the planned Zionist ethnic cleansing of Nakba to the current incipiently genocidal siege of Gaza. Israel is rightfully compared by informed critics to apartheid South Africa, especially regarding its illegal settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Incontrovertible historical and critical work by Palestinian, Jewish-Israeli and Jewish-American scholars leaves no doubts regarding the one-sided, brutal nature of Zionism as a European settler-colonialist project, which is comparable in many ways to our own racist history. Given these understandings, Israel’s behavior can no longer be justified in relation to the Holocaust, from the Zionist terrorism of the 1940s to the present day.
The recent Land Day massacre of over 15 unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza by heavily-armed Israeli forces is, obviously, consistent with preceding asymmetrical historical realities.
Prior to Israel’s most recent invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, this campus and community were decidedly pro-Israel. But the increasingly wanton nature of Israeli behavior over the past decade, including vis a vis Iran, has been accompanied by an increased awareness of and support for the Palestinian struggle. Opposition to the University’s institutionalized abuse of Palestinian-American scholar Steven Salaita in 2014 was also indicative of this trend.
Meanwhile, Israel’s policies have largely lost the support of Jewish-Americans in general and of Jewish youth in particular. Local Jewish institutions — Sinai Temple, Hillel, Jewish Federation, and UI Program for Jewish Culture and Society — no longer, as previously, host Israeli and Zionist speakers in order to justify Israel’s chronically bellicose behavior. Mention of Israel has nearly been cleansed from their websites. The tiny, local student’s Israel Lobby/propaganda group, IlliniPAC, is no longer supported by Hillel.
Nevertheless, Israel’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East remain in accord with those of the United States as we continue our post-Cold War invasions of the energy-rich region from 1991 to the present. Support for these synchronized (with Saudi Arabia) ambitions is, unsurprisingly, embedded in American governmental, military-industrial, corporate and educational institutions, including our own.
When coming from Cary Nelson and the 16 illustrious and wealthy professorial co-signers of his recent commentary in the DI or from Dean Jeffrey Brown, justifications for collaboration with institutionalized racism, gross violations of human rights, state-sponsored violence and the brutalization of children are couched, of course, in liberal terms of openness, opportunity, research and progress (and even internships).
This is as unsurprising as it is hypocritical and Orwellian. These individuals would claim to support a Palestinian state, but they have never uttered a public word in opposition to Israeli and U.S. policies that prevent this. Indeed, they denigrate those students who conscientiously oppose such policies by cynically accusing them of engaging in “hate speech.”
Nevertheless, given the recent referendum, I must honestly conclude the efforts of the BDS movement to challenge powerful institutional structures and interests seem increasingly unfocused and futile for any number of tactical and strategic reasons. I would suggest local organizing efforts make both a clear commitment to a two-state solution and a serious effort to include enlightened Jewish students. That could be the basis for both the consciousness and solidarity needed to send a clear message to the cynical powers-that-be on this campus, whose behavior is utterly shameful at a fundamental moral level.
I welcome good faith responses and interaction.
Academic Professional, Retired