Divestment Harmful To Peace Process

Anna Band, Mira Taichman

Formally launched in 2005, BDS is an international movement that stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. This past Sunday, Student Senate endorsed Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine’s BDS-inspired campaign that calls for divestment from six companies that profit from Israeli occupation. There is common concern that opponents of BDS view Israel with uncritical, unconditional support. This fear is unfounded. One can have a nuanced, critical view of Israel and still recognize the dangers of BDS. In fact, it is BDS, with its policies of delegitimization and censorship, that leaves no room for nuance. The passage of this proposal is an embarrassment to the student body, offensive to many students and a danger to our future as an honest and inclusive community of critical thinkers.

Here’s why:

• BDS stands in the way of constructive initiatives for peace. It employs politics of blame rather than politics of cooperation. Furthermore, it ignores serious impediments to the peace process, including terrorism, and refuses to denounce anti-Israel and anti-Jewish violence. This demonization and delegitimization of Israel hinders the possibility of peace.

• BDS advocates boycotts of Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Academic and cultural boycotts of Israeli citizens undermines academic freedom and inhibits open and honest dialogue. Discrimination against scholars, artists or athletes based solely upon their country of origin is reprehensible.

• BDS calls for the “right of return” of millions of Palestinians born outside of Israel but claiming refugee status. That unprecedented step would spell the end of the Jewish State, replacing it with a Palestinian “one state solution.” While BDS accepts Israel’s right to exist as a state, it categorically rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

When students pointed out the anti-Semitic nature of BDS to student senators, the senators agreed to remove all references to BDS from the Oberlin Divest proposal, claiming that this was enough to dissociate Oberlin Divest from the problematic BDS movement. This amendment renders SFP’s proposal a bit nicer on paper, but it has left the proposal’s results unchanged:

• Following their Senate victory, SFP publicly flaunted their victory for the worldwide BDS movement, effectively ignoring the amendments that Senate demanded. As their press release states, “This is a major milestone in SFP’s Oberlin Divest campaign, which follows the principles of the 2005 Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.” Furthermore, as a leading member of SFP has openly proclaimed, “Striking the Palestinian BDS Call from the stated reasons for divesting definitely does not completely dissociate SFP’s divestment resolution from the larger movement.”

• Prior to bringing the resolution to Senate, the Oberlin Divest campaign publically advertised its intimate connection to BDS. Simply removing a few sentences from the passed proposal will not eradicate the association that our campus already makes between Oberlin Divest and the wider BDS movement.

• Even if SFP and their allies could convince the Oberlin student body that Oberlin Divest was not tied to BDS, the rest of the world clearly equates Divestment from Israel with BDS. Regardless of our intentions, by endorsing divestment from Israel, Oberlin sends the world a message of support for the anti-Israel, anti-semitic BDS movement.

Notwithstanding its unavoidable association with the worldwide BDS movement, we feel that Oberlin Divest is problematic in and of itself:

• On our campus, the Divestment campaign has printed stickers and flyers, and brought speakers who distort facts about Israel and take them out of context. Just as in the worldwide movement, this propaganda serves only to delegitimize Israel.

• “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction” out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East “is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” (Thomas Friedman, “Campus Hypocrisy,” The New York Times, October 16, 2002). To single out Israel while ignoring the egregious misdeeds of major human rights abusers in the Arab and Muslim world and beyond subjects Israel to a double-standard. Both morally and intellectually, that is untenable.

• This divestment campaign has invested far more energy in harming international corporations than helping better the lives of Palestinians. According to Michele Chabin of USA Today (March 17, 2013), divestment from SodaStream, for one, hurts the hundreds of Palestinian workers employed by the company.

Thus, our concern is ultimately not about the language in the proposal itself. Oberlin Divest cannot distinguish itself from the BDS tactics and methods that were used to bring the proposal about. In our opposition to this proposal, we hope to endorse constructive dialogue for the betterment of all parties in the region.

–Anna Band
College senior

–Mira Taichman
College first-year

and other concerned students and alumni