A few weeks ago at the Barnard Student Government Association meeting, Columbia University Apartheid Divest asked SGA to compose a letter to Barnard’s administration recommending divestment from companies they believe negatively impact Palestinians in Israel. After the meeting, SGA voted to initiate a BDS referendum despite SGA President Angela Beam’s initial claim that “There will be no votes ... no decisions made tonight. This is purely discussion to further explore the issues.” Over 150 Barnard and Columbia students attended the meeting, which saw a clear majority opposed to CUAD’s request. In the words of Beam, “We’re super psyched to have such a crowd, this literally never happens.” The meeting lasted over an hour and only ended after SGA voted against lengthening the meeting and allowing more discourse on the contentious issue.
As two pro-Israel Barnard students, we believe it is the responsibility of Barnard, its administration, and its student leaders to ensure the safety and well-being of all of its students. We feel that SGA’s BDS referendum runs counter to the goals of safety and inclusion set forth in Barnard’s Mission Statement on Diversity & Inclusion: “To become the inclusive community we aspire to be, we must treat each other equitably and with respect [to create] an environment where no voices are silenced [and] all of us can thrive.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2017 Anti-Semitic Incidents report, there was an 89 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents on college and university campuses from 2016 to 2017, where BDS is most active. Furthermore, it is probably no coincidence that the rise of BDS coincides with a sharp increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes across the country; 2017 saw a 57 percent increase in incidents from 2016, the largest single-year jump on record.
If BDS were to pass on our campus, Barnard would become a less inclusive and safe environment for Jewish students, regardless of whether or not they identify as Zionists. When asked how students’ lives would be affected if the Barnard administration supported BDS, a Jewish CUAD presenter responded, “I genuinely don’t think it would change the day-to-day lives of Barnard students all that much. … If anything, I would rest more easily at night.” Maybe so. But Barnard is the most heavily Jewish U.S. college that is not officially Jewish. If BDS were to pass, even symbolically, while the repercussions may not impact non-Jewish students, they certainly would impact the 33 percent Jewish Barnard student body who could become the targets of an increase in anti-Semitic acts. As such, the Jewish presenter’s own day-to-day life could very well be impacted negatively, along with hundreds of others.
BDS is a one-sided, misleading movement that does not delve deep enough into the complexities of this incredibly nuanced conflict. Its leaders advocate not for peace, compromise, or a two-state solution, but for division and the destruction of the only Jewish State.
We would also like to point out how counterintuitive and harmful BDS is, not only to Jews but also to Palestinians. BDS directly harms its intended beneficiaries by hurting the Palestinian economy; it forces boycotted factories like SodaStream (which paid Palestinians three to five times the local wage) to leave the area, resulting in the loss of about 500 Palestinian jobs.
BDS also exacerbates corruption. Palestinian leadership has repeatedly turned down two-state offers, including one at the 2000 Camp David Summit that offered 97 percent of the West Bank, full control of the Gaza Strip and an increase in size of Gaza by about a third, $30 billion in reparations, and more. Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat rejected this offer because, among other reasons, Palestinian leadership profits from the conflict and collects millions in foreign aid. They enrich themselves while keeping Palestinians in poverty and using them as human shields and pawns. For example, Hamas uses foreign aid to build terror tunnels into Israel from Gaza to kill Jewish civilians. The PA also misuses funds by rewarding Palestinian “martyrs” who bomb supermarkets, restaurants, etc. The longer the prison sentence (read: the more Jewish bloodshed), the more money terrorists receive; in some cases, this amount is 20 times the per capita income in the West Bank. These salaries incite violence and encourage Palestinians to harm Jewish civilians, while simultaneously endangering Palestinian lives and hindering the peace process.
On another note, BDS advocates and anti-Zionists disavow accusations of anti-Semitism. And yet, the CUAD presenters themselves used dog-whistle politics to further an anti-Semitic agenda. They engaged the centuries-old anti-Semitic canard of blaming the world’s calamities on Jews: One CUAD presenter stated, “American police are trained … in Israel, and a lot of the things that we understand as police brutality and racist policing are processes that are being trained in Israel.”
We find this accusation not only reprehensible, but also part and parcel of anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of racism and white supremacy, controlling the world, and holding responsibility for all the world’s evils. The fact that no one has yet directly addressed this plainly defamatory, anti-Semitic allegation is a clear sign not only that anti-Semitism within the anti-Israel movement at Columbia remains unaddressed, but also that this prejudice is often so well disguised as “anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic” that even the most politically and socially aware students fail to recognize what truly motivates the BDS movement.
We’ll put it simply: Anti-Zionists deny the right of Jewish self-determination, while BDS is against compromise and seeks to destroy the world’s only Jewish State. History has shown us that without the existence of a Jewish state, Jews are inevitably cast as “aliens” or foreigners, and become subject to persecution and anti-Semitism. As such, it is important to note that most of the students eligible to vote in a BDS referendum have little to no connection to Israel or have very little insight into the complexity of this highly contentious and nuanced conflict. We strongly believe that allowing this same student body to vote on this BDS referendum is extremely irresponsible of SGA and clearly harmful to Jewish lives in Israel and on Barnard’s campus. In the end, we acknowledge the frustration and suffering on both sides of this conflict and recognize that the status quo is less than optimal. However, we firmly believe that BDS is not the solution and will only perpetuate conflict, both in Israel and on this campus.
Morgan Raum is a junior in Barnard College studying political science and Judaic studies. She has a custom sneakers business and eats a lot of pasta and Thai food. You can follow her poppin’ food Instagram @tooomuchfoood. Lindsay Chevlin is a sophomore in Barnard College studying biology on the pre-med track. She expresses her competitive and athletic spirit by playing on the Columbia women’s rugby team.
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