Ben Sales offers a reasoned and fair critique of BDS – namely, its sacrificing of longer-term practical goals for the sake of a (completely defensible and just) moral standpoint. This is a tactical choice that the movement has made. It’s one with which I disagree, but have no problem accepting as a valid and respectable form of activism.
Nevertheless, Jewish students are constantly being bombarded with propaganda claiming that BDS seeks the destruction of the Jewish people, and is intrinsically opposed to Jewish self-determination. There are a couple things wrong with this picture.
First of all, it’s just not true. While many BDSers do advocate for the dissolution of Israel (at least as a Jewish state), they’re not doing it because they believe Jews shouldn’t have the right to self-determination. They’re doing it because, by their analysis of the situation, Jewish self-determination as embodied in the State of Israel has led to the suffering and occupation of Palestinians. That’s an analysis with which you are free to disagree (I don’t), or from which you are free to draw different conclusions (I do), but BDSers shouldn’t be accused of being anti-Semitic because of it.
Second, even if (some) BDSers are intrinsically opposed to Jewish self-determination, they shouldn’t be demonized for it. The reaction should be to engage in a substantive debate on the merits of Jewish self-determination (although I think it’s more constructive to have the larger conversation about the pros and cons of ethnic or religiously-defined states in general). A smear campaign based on the premise that the goal of the BDS movement is to harm the Jewish people is just ridiculous. Lots of Jews support BDS. And please, please, please don’t tell me it’s because they’re self-hating.
On a practical level, Jewish organizations, especially campus-oriented ones, have been expending enormous amounts of time, effort, and money “combating” BDS. I take issue with this on a theoretical level – I don’t believe Hillel should appoint itself the arbiter of what constitutes acceptable opinions regarding Israel – and a practical one: it obviously hasn’t worked. BDS is gaining momentum. Rather than viewing this as a threat, Jewish students should welcome the opportunity to recognize differences of opinions within and without the Jewish community, and to further explore the issues together.
While the BDS movement is certainly responsible for a good deal of the polarization that typically surrounds issues of Israel-Palestine, campus Jewish organizations are equally responsible, and while we hear over and over that BDS is polarizing and oversimplifying the issues, we don’t hear the same thing about Hillel. That’s unfair. Jewish students deserve organizations that treat them as intellectuals, not warriors for a pre-defined cause. If the only way these organizations feel they can defend their positions is by stirring up hatred and anger towards the other side, they have completely lost the moral high ground. And as a Jewish student, highly involved with community life, I expect more from them.