The continuing Israeli occupation of lands gained in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War has been vehemently opposed by many Israelis and others, including me. One response to the 47-year occupation, which has gained notoriety in recent years, has been the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). While I think that fair-minded people have made a variety of reasonable choices on whether or not to support the BDS Movement, I feel that it holds some hidden dangers. Here are three reasons why I oppose the Movement.
- The Movement does not have clear parameters. In particular, many BDS documents do not refer specifically to the territories occupied in June 1967 but use vague terms like the “occupation of Arab lands.” It is no secret that for some groups, such as Hamas, there is no differentiation between the territory occupied in the 1967 War and the State of Israel as it existed before that war. That is, their goal is the disappearance of Israel altogether. This is a goal I vehemently reject, and I do not want to be associated with those who promote it. Nor should others who believe that Israel should continue to exist support a movement that too easily slides into that position or includes those with that aim.
- I believe strongly in the principle of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, no matter from whom those ideas come. Stanley Fish has written cogently about this in The New York Times. The academic boycott of Israel has been part and parcel of BDS, including rejecting the scientific articles of Israeli academics in scholarly journals because they are Israeli and barring them from scholarly conferences and workshops. I see this as a direct attack on academic freedom at a time when it has been the target of attacks, especially from the right. For me, then, BDS lends support to the untenable position of undermining academic freedom.
- There are multiple instances of occupation and claimed occupation internationally. I oppose many of these, including, as I said, Israel’s occupation of the territories it captured in the 1967 War. I am deeply opposed to China’s occupation of Tibet and Russia’s occupation of Chechnya—and even of the U.S. occupation of Iraq in the 2000s. What principle is used to determine which of these cases should prompt us to boycott, divest, and impose sanctions? To date, I have not heard of a sound principle. Why is one case, that of Israel, targeted and not, say, China? Or all cases that fall within the parameters of the elusive principle? Additionally, we are at a moment in history when there has been an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East. Certainly, many proponents of BDS, both non-Jews and Jews, could hardly be accused of anti-Semitism. But, in the environment of the upsurge of anti-Semitism, one cannot dodge the connection between some BDS proponents and such anti-Jewish views.