Mitchell Bard 
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© Mitchell Bard 2016

Preparing for blacklists, demonization and slander

As is so often the case, Jewish students are returning to school with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This year, the principal source of anxiety is the concern that many campuses will be the scene of divisive battles provoked by the proponents of boycotts, sanctions and divestment (BDS) against Israel. Unlike last year, however, when last minute initiatives caught the pro-Israel community unprepared, students and professionals are now arming themselves with the tools and knowledge they need to combat this blacklist, demonization and slander movement.

As always, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. The BDS movement has been an almost total failure in the United States. The two campuses where students approved divestment resolutions, Evergreen and the University of Michigan Dearborn, have not actually changed their policies (Dearborn twice previously adopted similar resolutions without effect). All other schools rejected divestment initiatives. Furthermore, while we are concerned about reports of as many as 60 campuses pursuing BDS measures, it is likely only a fraction will do so and that is out of roughly 4,000 US colleges.

Given that it is highly unlikely that a school will adopt a divestment measure and even less likely it will be implemented by the university, the question some ask is whether it is worth the great investment of time, energy and money to fight these battles. The pro-Israel community has concluded that it is vital that each of these initiatives be fought and defeated to show they are not compatible with the views of students, undermine those campaigning for peace and human rights and that no ground will be ceded to those seeking to delegitimize Israel's right to exist.

One of the most difficult problems many students face is how to speak to their fellow Jews who are critical of Israeli policies and genuinely feel the need to express their concern through action. It is important to provide these students the opportunity to discuss their discomfort and to feel that Jewish organizations are open to such self-reflection and criticism.

Simultaneously, however, it is important that the critics understand that there are proper times and places to express their views that are constructive and others that are destructive. It is vital that they understand that the BDS movement does not share their interest in making Israel a better place or hastening peace and a two-state solution. As the founders of the movement have repeatedly made clear, their objectives are to first tar Israel with comparisons to apartheid South Africa, isolate the pariah state they have manufactured in peoples' minds, and then pursue measures to weaken and, ideally, destroy Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.

Many of the campus leaders of the BDS movement are Jews who use their identity to claim they are representing the authentic views of "the Jews." They are, of course, entitled to their personal opinions, but they do not speak for any Jews except themselves. In fact, opposition to BDS has become one of the few issues on which virtually every organization in the American Jewish community agrees - from ZOA on the right to J Street on the left - and which unites secular and observant Jews.

Other friends of Israel are also appalled by the BDS movement, but most non-Jews on campus are unaware of the importance of this issue and the deep pain that such initiatives cause. BDS measures have created unnecessary hostility and divisions on campuses where students have gone to be educated rather than attacked for their political views, religion or national identity. Student governments should be made aware of the harmful consequences of entertaining initiatives singling Israel out as a target of opprobrium.

BDS is not just an issue for students. Faculty, administrators and trustees must also be alerted to the negative repercussions of the BDS movement, which creates a hostile environment for Jews and other supporters of Israel on campus. Public campaigns directed solely against Israel reflect poorly on the image of a university and can tarnish its national and international reputation.

Parents must also speak out against campaigns that effect their children's education. They should be joined by alumni who do not want to see their alma mater associated with a movement that is, at root, anti-Semitic because it denies the Jewish people the right to self-determination BDS proponents want to grant only to the Palestinians.

Sixty-two years after the successful fight to gain American support for the creation of a Jewish state, students now find themselves on the front line of a battle against those who want to turn back the clock.