J Street U Statement on the Pitzer College Student Senate BDS Amendment

This guest article was authored by the co-chairs of J Street U at the Claremont Colleges, part of a "student-driven network of activists organizing on campuses across North America for peace, security and social justice in Israel, the future state of Palestine and across the Middle East."

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of conversation surrounding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and how best to fight for its end. As student leaders on these campuses and in J Street U, we’re excited by the opportunity to engage on this issue—both for the sake of open dialogue and also so that we can take effective action.

On Sunday, April 16 the Pitzer College Student Senate voted to pass an amendment to their budget committee bylaws that would restrict payments on goods or services from organizations delineated by the global BDS Movement. While we share the Student Senate’s desire to oppose the occupation, we strongly oppose the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Unfortunately, despite their drive to end the occupation, the Global BDS movement makes peace more remote. BDS does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist or support a two-state solution — the only way to end the occupation and guarantee an equitable future for Israelis and Palestinians. The BDS movement fuels the narrative that the future solution of the conflict does not involve the state of Israel. This is despite the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly stated the PA does not support the global BDS Movement, and that he has time and again reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution. This should make it abundantly clear that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must engage Israel.

Denying this obvious fact is both unjust and incredibly polarizing. Further political polarization will only perpetuate the occupation, forcing the sides farther apart and inhibiting the compromise needed to resolve the conflict. It is therefore critical to maintain the distinction between efforts which seek to undermine Israel as a state and initiatives which are limited to opposing the occupation—something this resolution fails to do.  

Only strategies that explicitly support a two-state solution and acknowledge the current political reality will prove capable of movement toward the end of the occupation. The global BDS movement lacks any analysis of Israeli politics and is therefore unlikely to succeed. Committed opponents of the occupation should instead turn to politics and diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.

The Global BDS Movement also undermines key constituencies in Israel that are trying to end the occupation, namely Israeli academics and progressive NGOs. Suppressing academic dialogue will only distance the Israeli public from engaging in discourse that encourages ending the occupation. Academic cooperation is desperately needed given that the current Israeli administration has shown no interest in a two-state solution.

The content of the amendment wasn’t its only problematic aspect—its timing was deeply unfortunate. Several students and organizations have expressed their frustration over the fact that the Student Senate passed the amendment on April 16, which coincided with the celebration of Passover and Easter.

While we understand the timing of the vote was coordinated with a broader, consortium-wide budget hearing process, we share our peers’ frustrations about the lack of advanced warning about an amendment that carries such controversy and their wishes that more students could have been notified to voice their opinions.

This cuts both ways. We urge progressive students on campus—progressive Zionists especially—to speak critically against Israeli policies that undermine the conditions necessary for peace. If you want to promote peace, stand up against the occupation, against settlements, and against polarizing forces in both Israeli and Palestinian society.

Moreover, we too are deeply disappointed that we and other pro-Israel organizations were not invited to discuss this amendment, and hope to be included in similar conversations in the future. Because there was no advance notice of the vote, there was no opportunity for robust, productive public debate or broader engagement with the issue. If the Student Senate truly seeks an environment that encourages open conversation, it must hold itself to that standard.

There are real questions raised by the BDS debate that deserve attention from the students of the Claremont Colleges. What role can we play, as American college students, in ending the occupation and supporting peace? How can we best utilize the power of student activism and take responsibility for the influence of American politics over the occupation and in the Middle East?

There are a number of nonviolent, economic options for helping to advance a two-state solution that students should consider, including shareholder activism and reinvestment, to name a few.

We hope to engage in conversation with the Claremont student community about how we can most effectively fight for our values. We’re committed to this conversation in its own right, but view taking action against the occupation and working toward a two-state solution as essential. We hope the student body at Pitzer and at the Claremont Colleges will join us in seeking a two-state solution that will bring a resolution to this conflict and a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.