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A Place for Discussing BDS on Campus

By Aiyana G. White
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

This month, two student groups — Harvard Jewish Coalition for Peace and Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — have emerged with the aim of promoting the global Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement on Harvard’s campus.

As always, we remain committed to free speech, and we wholeheartedly support the founding of HJCP and HOOP, as well as other organizations that provide an avenue for students to gather with like-minded peers and express their opinions.

In 2002, before BDS’s founding, we wrote that divestment, in the case of Israel, was too blunt a tool — bearing the potential to undermine the state itself as well as people across socioeconomic, ethnic, and political divides. While our approach to questions of divestment has changed since then, we believe BDS as a whole does not get at the nuances and particularities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To put it another way, we think it’s important to critically distinguish between the ends of the movement, many of which we largely agree with, and the precision of its proposed means to affect those end.

The Israeli state’s continued record of systemic human rights abuses against Palestinians is worthy of unequivocal condemnation. These abuses include enforcing severe and discriminatory restrictions on the movement of people and goods across the Gaza Strip, facilitating the unlawful transfer of Israeli citizens to expanded settlements in the occupied West Bank, and discriminating systematically against Palestinians in favor of these settlers. Campus groups that raise awareness about these issues are right to be concerned, and should not be prevented from doing so. Accordingly, blanket accusations of anti-Semitism toward those involved with these movements are not appropriate.

Of course, the issues raised here are complicated. Students exploring such issues for the first time should be careful to critically evaluate the records of those — both affiliated with the BDS movement, like BDS founder Omar Barghouti, and in Israel, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who fundamentally deny the legitimacy of the other side’s claims and needs. Neither side has a monopoly on moral virtue.

While anti-Semitism need not be inherent in the discourse that this movement, taken as a whole, is generating, we maintain that anti-Semitism is abhorrent and has no place on our campus or anywhere else. As to specific individuals, it must be noted that some founders of BDS, including Barghouti, who spoke at the HOOP event via Skype, have previously denied the self-determination of Jewish people and the right of the Jewish state to exist in “any shape or form.” As such, while we strive to promote free speech on campus, we sympathize with any Jewish students who were hurt by the giving of a platform to a speaker like Barghouti.

Still, automatically dismissing concerns over Israel’s human rights abuses and the BDS activists tackling this issue rather than grappling seriously with the moral challenges the movement poses is inimical to the process of open dialogue. Especially between groups with deep, lasting antipathy for one another, that process must be protected, as it will ultimately be necessary to achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

We support activist work to identify potential avenues by which grassroots activist efforts can put political pressure on the Israeli government to address the systemic racial discrimination within modern Israeli society.

In addition to social movements for equality in Israel and equitable peace negotiations, such measures might include more targeted boycotts, such as on all companies doing business with or in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are immoral and a violation of international law.

We recognize that the history and current politics of Israel are complicated matters that invoke deep-seated moral convictions on both sides. While we remain opposed to divesting from Israel, we acknowledge that painting either group as “the evil one” is not productive.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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