Last week a Bruins for Israel board member published an op-ed centered on vilifying Students for Justice in Palestine. In fact, calling SJP divisive is the main theme in nearly every op-ed opposing our work, from events to protests, to divestment. It is a tired, transparent tactic, but what makes this op-ed stand out was that it contained several lies. The lies claimed that SJP held a mock stabbing and made references to the Holocaust at an event last quarter mourning Palestinian and Israeli civilian lives lost. The Daily Bruin later ran corrections on the two statements.
Fabrications such as these are part of an attempt to create a narrative that discredits SJP while distracting from discussing the realities of Israeli injustices. SJP is not and has never been anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli.
We are, however, opposed to the way that Israel forces Palestinians to live as second-class citizens without sufficient access to resources, education or transportation. We are opposed to the construction of settlements and the Apartheid Wall on Palestinian land, both of which have been internationally recognized as illegal. And yes, consequently, we are also opposed to entities that impose or directly enable these injustices to persist.
A phrase used by pro-Palestinian activists is that “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which was referenced in last week’s article. Palestine is the name many use to refer to the geographic region that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The call for the entire region to be free is not a call for annihilation, but rather a call for everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, be they Palestinian or Israeli, to live with the same freedoms that currently only the Jewish Israelis are granted.
The reality is that through decades of peace negotiations, Israel has continued to subjugate Palestinians to inhumane policies and construct illegal settlements. Peace will not come through more of the same. That’s why Palestinian civil society has called upon the international community to place economic pressure on the Israeli government with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to facilitate an end to the military occupation, provision of equal rights for Palestinians and a solution for the Palestinian refugees within the framework of international law.
If you believe something is unethical, one of the most effective ways to discourage that behavior is to make its persistence financially infeasible. This same tactic has been utilized to combat other social injustices such as the apartheid regime in South Africa, the prison-industrial complex and fossil fuel investments.
This is the theory of change that SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace and other Palestine solidarity groups are operating from – that grassroots political pressure can push institutions that support the occupation today to oppose it tomorrow, thereby raising the incentives for the Israeli government to offer Palestinians the same freedoms that Jewish Israelis are granted. So if you want to see a better future for Palestinians and Israelis, come find SJP and JVP and get involved. Educate your peers and push your local institutions – like this university – to stop making things worse by investing in companies that support the occupation.
The article closed by conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Zionism at its core is Jewish nationalism, which is abstract and develops into meanings that each person interpreting it forms on his or her own. But the realization of Zionism in the creation of the State of Israel facilitated, to quote Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” and developed into a process of colonization that resembles Manifest Destiny.
For example, Israel restricts Palestinian access to water and inflicts massacres such as Operation Protective Edge that occurred during summer of 2014. During that summer, according to the U.N., 1,462 Palestinian civilians, among them 495 children, were killed. Six Israeli civilians were killed in the same time frame.
Given this reality, it is no surprise that anti-Zionists exist. The attempted conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism does a disservice to those who have been subjected to true forms of anti-Semitism, which is discrimination against someone for being Jewish. In fact, SJP is hosting a group called the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network later this month.
In summary, last week’s article accused SJP of polarizing campus. But in reality, SJP’s work, such as last year’s successful divestment campaign, has received almost unprecedented campus support, with a multitude of student organization endorsements and co-sponsorships. It is articles like the one written last week, which contain blatant lies and mischaracterizations, that are the true source of campus polarization and prevent us from reaching mutual understandings.
Peled is a fourth-year student and president of Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA and the programming director of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Puri is a graduate student in physics and a member of SJP.