Note: this is a response to Benjamin Goldblatt’s article Taking Apart the ASUC’s Divestment Bill Piece by Piece
Articles written in opposition to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement are not credible if they recognize neither the validity of the Palestinian people’s frustrations nor present a viable alternative to the possible path to peace BDS offers. Instead, the refusal of these articles to engage with the concerns of others is detrimental to both Berkeley’s campus climate and the international peace process.
This frustrates me as an individual deeply committed to ensuring the safety and security of both Israelis and Palestinians by ending the occupation of Palestinian land. It is disheartening to hear one-sided critiques of BDS that do not recognize the legitimate concerns BDS raises over human rights abuses and violations of international law in land occupied by Israel.
I agree with critics of BDS who point out that that the movement fails to explicitly support a two-state solution, which I believe to be the only pragmatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, it is hypocritical to critique the other side for presenting a one-sided narrative while simultaneously presenting an allegedly holistic context to the occupation which actually aims purely at justifying a military occupation.
When BDS comes to places like college campuses, its critics have a valuable opportunity to emphasize that they share a goal with most of those on the other side of the aisle: peace for all people in the region. Critics of BDS do not regard selective divestment as the most effective way by which to achieve that peace. Yet, when faced with divestment bills, they cannot use this argument to justify refusing to critically engage with tough questions about Israel’s government and policies. Instead, critics should be working to create an open and nuanced policy discussion about the most logical next step to solve the problems created by military occupation. It is frustrating to watch as this step is both ignored, and actively prevented, by students on this campus.
Statements, opinions, and articles that continue to present competing narratives over the suffering both sides have experienced prevent this conversation from ever taking place. It is neither productive nor intellectually challenging to continue arguing over who has suffered or sacrificed more as a result of the conflict. Instead, both sides should begin with the basic assumption that everyone has suffered, and that there is no rational way to measure whose community “deserves” the land more. Presenting an argument based exclusively on stories of anger and fear leaves no room for discussion or growth. If we choose to let go of these narratives and instead focus on potential proactive steps towards peace, the conversation around BDS would dramatically shift. Instead of being a movement that only draws a deeper line between those who identify as “pro” or “anti” Israel, it would be a spark to the beginning of a substantive policy discussion.
Preventing this discussion from happening because of residual fears from a previous BDS bill is unacceptable. Feeling like both communities must immediately be on the defensive, rather than be interested in discussing realistic and balanced options to peace, is also unacceptable. Presenting one side of the situation only aggravates two already deeply divided groups and further distracts from the real steps we (as Berkeley students) can take in advocating for strong American political leadership to call for a two-state solution.
Berkeley’s student body has a valuable opportunity to change the conversation. We can no longer justify taking part in the same, worn-out debate in which neither side acknowledges the narrative of their opposition nor enters the conversation willing to discuss real issues.
As citizens of a country that is one of Israel’s greatest international supporters, we have both a moral obligation and a civic responsibility to protest injustices in the region. If BDS is a genuine attempt to solve these problems, any critique of the movement cannot simply dismiss the injustices it is working to end. A response to BDS that claims it contains “blatant falsehoods” is both inaccurate and a marginalization of every individual who has has suffered from the occupation or is working to end it.
Important steps need to be taken before we can have a real discussion about reaching peace, whether that looks like investment or divestment, sanctions, or increased pressure on Israel from both Berkeley and the greater Jewish-American community. Opponents of BDS must refrain from blatantly accusing divestment supporters of lying about the realities of Palestinian life under the occupation. It is past time to debate whether occupation exists, and whether it is detrimental to both Israelis and Palestinians. Both statements are true, and continuing to deny them is neither an effective way to defeat divestment nor work towards being included in any conversation likely to result in feasible path to peace.
A two-state solution, and real peace, can come in our lifetime if we are willing to put in the hard work to get there. Yet, statements blatantly disregarding the other side’s struggles, whatever they might be, only work to prolong hatred and fear, rather than encourage empathy and cooperation.