On Feb. 1, Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine and the Columbia chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace released a joint statement declaring the foundation of their new organization, Columbia University Apartheid Divest. A part of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, the group wants Columbia to divest from companies that it claims materially benefit from what the group calls Israel's violation of Palestinian human rights. CUAD ultimately wants Israel to return land seized in the War of 1967, recognize the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel, and respect the right of return for those who have been displaced from their homes by Israel's existence.
Regardless of one's opinion of BDS, the formation of CUAD should be an opportunity for both Jews and non-Jews alike to think critically about the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how we can help effect change in the region and about what kind of change would be most appropriate. Instead, it has become the impetus for meaningless action that perpetuates the current dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians.
I am a Jew from Westchester County, New York, who became a bar mitzvah in a Reform congregation, grew up in a Zionist household, and, for much of my early college career, defended the state of Israel ardently against any and all of its critics. It is telling, then, that Aryeh—the pro-Israel advocacy group on campus—has alienated me so fully, and that I cannot support its current campaign in response to CU Apartheid Divest.
I am, and have always been, somewhat wary of anti-Zionist activism. While I believe the Palestinian quest for statehood is just, I also believe that Jews should have a homeland as well. I am afraid of what will happen to Jews both in Israel and abroad if the world should ever decide it has truly had enough of the Zionist movement. Ultimately, I do not want to see the state dissolved, and I believe that Jews have a legitimate claim to land of some kind in the region.
Nevertheless, I and other Jews I know cannot in good conscience side with Aryeh in its current fight against CUAD. Its current efforts, including public statements by its members and its "Invest in Peace" campaign, reflect a type of thought that does not do Israelis, Jews, Palestinians, or anyone else any good. As a matter of fact, these efforts reek of a reactionary brand of jingoism incongruous with my personal understanding of Jewish values.
Aryeh's "Invest in Peace" campaign calls for students to "post photos and statuses with the hashtag and the graphic to express your dedication to strengthening, rather than weakening, opportunities for Jews and Arabs to live prosperously side-by-side." But what are statuses, hashtags, and photos supposed to do? If we post enough photos, will Bibi resign? Will we split Jerusalem, give back settled land in the West Bank, and give full sovereignty to the people of Palestine?
Furthermore, certain members of Aryeh have posted on Aryeh's Facebook page in support of a Palestinian state. Still, these posts have left many questions unanswered. If these members support a two-state solution, though, how do they suggest that Palestinian advocates gain the leverage necessary to acquire statehood? Which tactics should Palestinian advocates utilize to best achieve this goal if not peaceful campaigning? How does one ask for statehood without being "hostile" to at least some degree?
Aryeh's Invest in Peace campaign assumes that the current dynamic between the two national groups is tenable. It is not. When 13-year-old girls are picking up knives and charging at soldiers, something is wrong. When grown men (Palestinian or Israeli) think it is OK to kill children, something is wrong. Though I do not endorse it, BDS is most certainly an investment in peace if the violence frequently featured in the news is its alternative. Zionist advocates often criticize measures like these for increasing tensions between Palestine and Israel. The tension is already there, however, and nothing except substantive action is going to change it. Asking the world to look away will not make the conflict disappear.
Ultimately, the proliferation of anti-Israeli action is a reflection of the Israeli failure to work toward a real solution to the occupation. It is a fallacy to say that the Likud Party is in power as a response to efforts like BDS. The politics and history that have brought it to power are far more complicated than that and everyone knows it. It is telling that Likud has been in power for much of the time since a fellow Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin for trying to negotiate a two-state solution. Perhaps the real reason there has been no solution has been that the Israelis don't want one.
Zionist advocates often ask how anyone can criticize Israel when there are much worse atrocities elsewhere. I personally never knew that this was the basis of the Jewish morality I heard so much about growing up. I didn't realize that we were allowed to do the wrong thing as long as it wasn't the worst thing. To be sure, Israel does a lot of good for its citizens. It protects LGBTQ rights in a way its neighbors don't, and it has democratic elections. It also, however, restricts the movement of Palestinians living in territory that Israel still occupies. It also struggles with rampant anti-Arab and anti-African racism, even against citizens. No one is absolved of their sins just because the sins of others may be worse. This goes for both sides. You, my faithful reader, can pull out whatever you would like to convince me of Palestinian sin. But the wrongdoings of another do not change the morality of our own actions, and they never will.
I do not endorse BDS or CUAD, but I do not reject them either. We are past the point of photographs and hashtags. I cannot, in the face of a legitimate national grievance, tell anyone that this whole situation would be better if they just went on Instagram instead.
It is important to me, as a Jew, that Jews work toward and not against a just outcome to the conflict in the region. For all its rhetoric, Aryeh's investment in peace doesn't seem like work to that end. It seems instead like an investment in more of the same, for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and American studies. He is a columnist for Spectator.
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