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Op-Ed: Antisemitism, BDS, and SR-S18-21

student government


George Washington University


Op-Ed: Antisemitism, BDS, and SR-S18-21

Submission about SR-S18-21


The following is a submission from Jewish Voices for Peace regarding SR-S18-21. This opinion does not reflect the views of The Rival.

There is a lot of talk about antisemitism on campus. The purpose of this article is not to argue that antisemitism does not exist on our campus or to delegitimize the experiences of other Jewish students. But we have found that many of the assertions about BDS and SR-S18-21, especially the charge that they are antisemitic, are deeply misguided and inconsistent with our experiences as Jewish students at GW. Our purpose is to argue that SR-S18-21, a resolution demanding the university divest from military contractors profiting from the oppression of Palestinians, is not an act of hate or bigotry. Rather, it's one of love and solidarity.
First, let's clear up a common misperception: criticisms and protests of Israel are criticisms and protests of Jews and, therefore, are antisemitic. This is simply not the case. That argument relies on the idea that a) Judaism, a ~3,500-year-old religion, is inseparably linked to ~70-year-old state; or b) that Jews are a monolith, universally committed to the idea of a Jewish "homeland" in present-day Israel. Both these arguments are offensively essentialist and ahistorical.
The Jewish people are diasporic. As far back as 475 BCE, some Jews rejected their place in the land of Israel by serving as guards for the Persian Empire in Southern Egypt. We have always lived in and outside the land of Israel. And our diasporic tendencies encouraged a highly variable type of religious innovation. Our beliefs are plural and contested, and we have shied away from the centralized authority, for example, of priesthood.
Within this framework, Zionism is just one of many political ideas conceived and acted upon by Jewish individuals over the course of our long and winding history. Its leader, Theodor Herzl, was secular; his drive for a Jewish state was rooted in political freedom rather than religious conviction. But what Herzl and other Zionists saw as liberation, many Arabs, Palestinians, and even Jews, saw as a derivative form of settler-colonialism. That's because Israel's political formation involved the displacement of ~700,000 Palestinian civilians. And the descendants of those refugees now number ~7 million, many living in occupied territory.
So Zionism was not an idea born of Jewish consensus. Although we acknowledge its undeniably religious characteristics, Zionism was and still is a political movement, not a core tenet of Judaism. This contextualization helps explain why criticisms and protests of Zionism and Israel are not inherently antisemitic.
One more caveat: many Jews, including those who oppose this resolution, are horrified with Benjamin Netenyahu's, the Prime Minister of Israel, policies and the Israeli state's treatment of Palestinians. In this past week, we've seen many of our friends who oppose BDS condemn the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) murder of peaceful protesters in Gaza. We point this out because it's critical not blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli state-that sort of language and dynamic very quickly veers into antisemitism. Let's move onto the resolution.
With all this in mind, SR-S18-21 is not biased or antisemitic. The resolution targets corporations-profit maximizing entities to which we owe nothing-that make money off the systemic oppression and marginalization of Palestinians. It has very little to do with Jews. The logic behind SR-S18-21 is simple: the university ought not to invest in corporations whose products and services actively harm the student body. This principle is universalizable; it does not apply only to Palestinians. So just as we believe it is wrong for the university to profit off the murder of Palestinians, we believe it would be wrong for the university to profit off the murder of Jews.
That simple but powerful moral principle motivates our support. And that's about it. Our Palestinian friends pushing for SR-S18-21 share the same motivation. They don't want their university to profit from the murder and oppression of their people.

This is a critical point because lots of students who oppose the resolution believe that its endorsers are motivated by hate. The GW Students Against BDS Facebook page, for example, claims that SR-S18-21's supporters seek to "marginalize students of all backgrounds in the GW community." We regret their divisive and accusatory language, especially given our demonstrated commitment to justice. Our motivations, as Jews, are grounded in love. Similarly, the resolution's endorsers, which include Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, queer, and indigenous student groups, are motivated by the very human urge to fight injustice. So together we stand in solidarity with Palestinian students at GW. And together we call for the university to divest.
Rooted in love and directed toward action,

Jacob M. Zionts, Jared Gaby-Biegel, and Joey Schnide
On behalf of, Jewish Students for Peace at GW

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