I have found myself fortunate enough to witness more perspectives on the Israel-Palestine dynamic than most students. I am the external president of the Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA, a conflict analysis and education group. My branch, which focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, holds a three-week diplomatic trip to Washington, D.C., Israel, Jordan and the West Bank each summer. We have a packed itinerary and meet with over 80 diplomats, politicians, nongovernmental organizations, religious figures and people on the ground. In addition, I am a campus engagement initiative intern for Hillel, the primary Jewish institution on campus, as well as a board member for Amnesty International at UCLA.
I am not writing on behalf of any of these organizations, but as a concerned individual. I am writing because the respective pro-Palestine and pro-Israel groups on campus actively alienate one another rather than addressing key concerns shared by both parties. Last week, the Undergraduate Students Association Council voted on a resolution that demanded the University of California and UCLA divest from five American companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. While I heard incredibly racist remarks about Palestinians, I also saw genuine fear regarding the true intentions of theBoycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Although the resolution stated that it was not associated with BDS, that claim certainly was unpersuasive to the pro-Israel community.
The BDS movement is problematic because it does not reject the anti-Semitic statements made on its behalf. Students for Justice in Palestine is even unwilling to reprimand the movement when it goes against their stated position of rejecting “all forms of discrimination and oppression, including racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.”
Recently, SJP hosted an event with one BDS founder, Omar Barghouti, who remarked to his audiencethat “There were Jews in every main position of power in Nazi Germany. So what? It was still a criminal, genocidal regime.” Although he condemns the Nazi regime, Barghouti’s assertion is a blatant lie and perpetuates the falsehood that Jews are responsible for the Holocaust. Instead of condemning these anti-Semitic remarks, SJP issued a statement rejecting that Barghouti said anything remotely offensive.
A common argument among SJP members is that one individual, even the founder of the movement, does not represent their entire movement. But by their refusal to condemn these anti-Semitic statements from withintheir own community, they are complicit in their perpetuation. As someone whopraises SJP’s commitment toprogressivism and inclusivity, I urge SJP to create a more inclusive environment for Jewish studentsat UCLA, just as they do for so many others. The fight for Palestinian rights should not be an attack on Jewish identity.
Concurrently,the pro-Israel and Jewish communities at UCLA have not made any attempts to seriously address the treatment of Palestinians in the region. Although a few Jewish students are active in the human rights discourse (some of whom spoke in favor of divestment), none of them are representative of the mainstream community that acts as the voice of pro-Israel advocacy on our campus.
As the situation stands, Bruins for Israel only addresses the conflict from the defensive line. If pro-Israel studentstruly want what is best for Israel, they must condemn any action that perpetuates the conflict, even if that means criticizing Israeli policies. As Mark Twain once said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Jewish people have long been at the forefront of the movementfor human rights; human rights for Palestinians are no different.
We need dialogue and education, divestment and action. The division between the divestment bill and BDS can only become clear if the resolution not only disassociates, but actively condemns the BDS movement. While one of the greatest fears in the Jewish community is that a divestment bill would empower anti-Semitism, it is still vastly more important that the pro-Israel community prove that it is serious about advocating for both Palestinian and Jewish self-determination and for the freedom of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
The divestment question should be placed on the spring election ballot for USAC. With elections approaching, this is the most democratic way of communicating what the entire campus wants, rather than 13 councilmembers.
We as a campus should divest from companies that violate Palestinian human rights while denouncing BDS for its failure to reprimand core members for anti-Semitic remarks. Although passing such a resolution would not ensure that the UC Board of Regents will actually divest from these companies, it would send a powerful message that UCLA students with interests on all sides of the conflict are not content with the status quo and that they demand an end to the occupation, an end to illegal settlements in the West Bank, and are committed to peace. Let’s put ourselves on the right side of history.
Winer is a second-year history student.