The recent push for a divestment movement at Cal State University Long Beach is not only warranted, but necessary. I say this as the descendant of Eastern European Jews who moved to the United States to escape persecution, and as a CSULB graduate who will be walking this May with a degree in both Sociology and Economics. I strongly advise our student council to adopt this divestment resolution as I see it not only as taking a stance against the illegal occupation of Palestine, but as setting a precedent for the continued disengagement with any company that perpetuates violence around the world.
First, I want to say that historical and current elements of anti-Semitism are very real. Jews around the world have had limited rights and have been persecuted for their faith for almost all of recorded history. I have also personally felt attacked by anti-Semitism whether it be someone making anti-Semitic comments in front of me without knowing that I am Jewish, the picture of my sister’s face taped onto a photo of Anne Frank that circulated at my high school, or the rising threats against Jewish Americans in general from white supremacist groups like the alt-right; anti-Semitism is everywhere. Having said that, I don’t believe that we should be conflating anti-Semitic rhetoric and action with rhetoric that is opposed to the Zionist project and the settler-colonial state of Israel. Not only do I believe it to be a deflection and a false equivalency, but I also feel it detracts from actual anti-Semitism that Jews around the world face.
When I hear my fellow Jews make arguments against divestment, they often refer to the genocidal mass murder of our people by the Nazi regime and the persecution and ghettoization that preceded it. If anything, instead of making us feel threatened by divestment it should make us understand it. Palestinians have had their land expropriated, been packed into refugee camps, and their livelihoods severely undermined by the state of Israel. I encourage my fellow Jews on campus to see the parallels between the oppressive situations rather than looking at Israel through an ethno-nationalist lens.
Next I would like to briefly discuss why boycotts and divestments can be such an effective strategy to put pressure on Israel to end occupation. Ever since Israel has occupied Palestine it has controlled its airspace, sea access, and borders while at the same time expropriating Palestinian resources and systematically undermining any Palestinian industries that compete with Israeli companies. This combination has severely undermined the Palestinian economy’s productive capacity while at the same time making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to import goods from nations other than Israel. Thus the captive consumer market created in Palestine stimulates the Israeli economy. n order to put pressure on the oppressive Likud regime to end its occupation, economic strategies must be used. In my opinion it is our responsibility to do what the people living in occupied Palestine cannot and boycott any activity that provides stimulus to the Israeli economy until they end their illegal occupation. This resolution does not even ask us to go that far, as it is only asking to stop economic activity with those companies that directly help enforce the state of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and contribute directly to the perpetuation of violence on the people living within the occupied territories.
I would also like to briefly address some of the administrations deflections to other social injustices around the world. I do agree that there are many other problems that need to be dealt with around the world, but that does not mean we should ignore what is happening in Palestine. Instead, that means we should move on once we pass this resolution to other social problems that we see fit. We should not be directly or indirectly funding any industry that helps to perpetuate any type of violence around the world. However I urge the student government to see this resolution not as the singling out of Jews, but instead as a starting point for a long road ahead of disengagement with companies that marginalize people of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief system. The Students for Justice in Palestine understand that their movement is part of a bigger effort to bring justice to all corners of the world. In fact the closing statement at their 2012 national conference was as follows: “We believe that no struggle against oppression is divorced from one another, that in order to resist structural oppression we must embody the principles and ideals we envision for a just society, and that we must be vigilant about upholding ethical positions against homophobia, sexism, racism, bigotry, classism, colonialism, and discrimination of any form,” meaning that they would never condone discrimination against Jewish students.
Lastly I would like to point out that the only anti-Semitic rhetoric I have seen related to this campaign has come from the administration at our university. At no point while reading the resolution was I ever offended as a Jewish person, however in a letter sent from administration I felt grouped into a monolithic community that does not have freedom of thought. Conoley’s letter read, “When I speak to our Jewish students, ‘they’ report that BDS resolutions are perceived as direct attacks on ‘their’ right to be on campus.” I do not feel this in the slightest. Being grouped into a monolithic category is literally the definition of liberal racism.
So I urge the student government to take a stand against the illegal occupation of Palestine and pass this resolution that will create a precedent for dealing with other injustices around the world in the future. At the same time I would also like to advise my fellow Jewish students to empathize with the situation of the Palestinian people.