Shrugging at BDS

Editorial

Published February 10, 2012, issue of February 17, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Before she became the subject of an Oscar-nominated feature film, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of Great Britain during a particularly violent period of European airplane hijackings and Northern Irish terrorism attacks. She was especially critical of what she deemed the media circus covering these events. “Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend,” she admonished.

Thatcher’s remonstrations were never followed because it was impossible to muzzle the media then, and even less possible now. Besides, trying to stop the free flow of information is never a wise idea. But Thatcher’s underlying theme is worth noting: Nations, and communities, can decide whether the “oxygen of publicity” elevates some messages, even nonviolent ones, far beyond their importance.

This idea seemed to play out at the University of Pennsylvania early in February. Though not the violent force that Thatcher faced, the boycott, divestment and sanction movement against Israel, in organizing its first national conference on campus, forced a similar dilemma on Penn’s Jewish groups. They followed Thatcher’s advice. That is, they essentially ignored the conference. As our Naomi Zeveloff reported, the campus was a picture of civility, both inside and outside the meeting, and not by accident. Rather than counter speech with more speech, Penn Hillel chose to counter speech with a shrug.

Read the Forward’s new story about the first national BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania.

It helped that Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz — no shrinking violet he — delivered a rousing speech the night before the conference opened, defending Israel and decrying BDS. He also applauded Penn’s right to permit the conference to go on, an important defense of academic freedom and a necessary pushback to the off-campus voices criticizing the university.

The campus response to the BDS conference should be instructive. While the movement is clearly trying to solidify and grow, it has not had a single significant success at any college or university across the country. It may not be nearly as potent a threat to Israel’s existence, or to the safety of American Jewish college students, as some hysterical advocates would like us to believe.

Why, then, all the anti-BDS fervor? What BDS does do is rankle, deeply. It uses the treasured tactics of nonviolent protest in an attempt not only to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, but also to erase Israel’s character as a Jewish state. And it does this in a questionable vacuum, absent any contemporary context, treating Israel as a pariah state in a region with other leaders who behave far more violently and inhumanely to their own people.

So it’s understandable that some in the Jewish community react so viscerally to this challenge. Who among us hasn’t boycotted an objectionable product? Advocated sanctions against a rogue state? Remembers when divestment (against South Africa) was a proud, moral rallying cry?

At the same time, the Penn experience illustrates the value of measured self-restraint. It may be easier to raise money and blood pressure by exaggerating the threat of the BDS movement, but in the long run, it may be wiser and more realistic to put it in its place.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.