Was last week a bad one for the anti-BDS movement? Or was it a victorious one? Either way, pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions resolutions passed at universities are beginning to follow a predictable course.
It hasn’t quite become ritual. But a pattern is nevertheless emerging on campus: Spurred by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, and joined by supporters from other marginalized pro-Palestinian groups, student government calls on a university to divest its holdings in corporations that do business in Israel and allegedly violate international law because of Israel’s activities in lands meant to comprise a future Palestinian state. Then the school administration announces its rejection of the resolution.
So who wins and who loses? Is Israel any better or worse off? And what about the Palestinians?
At Barnard College in New York, which is closely affiliated with Columbia University, 64 percent of students taking part in a referendum voted to direct the Student Government Association to write the administration a letter calling for the college to divest from Israel. Then hours before the SGA was to vote, Barnard President Sian Beilock issued a statement shooting down the resolution, saying it did not meet the twin standards of “relating to Barnard’s mission, and reaching a communal consensus.”
Meanwhile the student government at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., passed a similar resolution. That likewise earned a rejection from university President Thomas LeBlanc, who wrote: “While I support the student senate’s right to express their views in the form of a resolution, I want to be clear to our university community that this does not represent the university’s views, and the university will not implement such a proposal.”
Such dry institution-speak can’t compete with the emotional firepower of student passion. But it does reflect the reality that students don’t run the schools. And predictably, the administration’s declarations didn’t change any student minds.
A strong argument could be made that Beilock got her timing wrong, and that she should have waited until the issue played out in the SGA. That might have incrementally dampened student passions at the politically active college. But it probably wouldn’t have changed the score. “BDS is a hateful movement that pushes peace further away and stifles discussion through a misleading and one-sided portrayal of the conflict in the Middle East,” Barnard alumni stated in a petition. We agree.
What is going on at Barnard, GW and other places is more than an academic exercise. And it is very troubling. For Jewish students, it frames Israel in a two-dimensional cage, and forces Jewish communal institutions to play whack-a-mole with pro-BDS resolutions. All of this siphons energy and resources that could be used to build our communities and to enrich our Jewish lives.
Even when BDS fails to achieve anything, its exhausting process makes us all lose.