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!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • 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.