Contributed by Alexis Sherman
I am a Jew. Both of my parents grew up in Mexico City and life in the United States of America held the allure of freedom of religion, incredible opportunities, and the land of promise of what the future could be. Never in their wildest dreams would my parents have imagined that I would feel threatened or frightened over the fact that I am Jewish on an American college campus. The reality of the situation is that anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism masked as anti-Zionism have become the new reality of many college campuses throughout the country.
Movements such as Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have large followings on college campuses. Their purported goal is “justice” for Palestinians. In practice, they work to alienate and demonize Israel and to ultimately wipe Israel off the map. Until recently, SJP and the BDS movement which I read about in the news or heard about from friends on other college campuses didn’t matter at the University of Arizona (UA).
On Wednesday, April 29, 2015, the groups BDS at AU, SJP, The Middle East and North Africa Graduate Student Organization, the Gender and Women’s Studies Council, and UA Jewish Voice for Peace co-hosted the event “University BDS and the Struggle for Justice in Palestine” at the University of Arizona. When I first found out about this event, I was horrified. My school was about to be the new pulpit from which anti-Israel groups use to spew hate, intolerance, lies, and anti-Semitism about Israel and the Jewish people. I was terrified as to what kind of reaction the students on my campus would have towards the BDS movement. I was appalled at the idea that my school might be the next college campus that entered the fight of its life against BDS.
At the event, various University of Arizona professors spoke about BDS in academia as a way to deny Israeli academic freedom and force Israel into re-evaluating the way they treat the Palestinians. They believe that BDS is a tool that can be used to engage Israel and their apartheid ways. They claim to “engage others in thoughtful evidence-based discussions”; I found that this was not the case. They spoke uninterrupted for two hours. They made no mention of how Israel came to be a state, the opposition it faces from its neighbors, and the terrorist attacks that Israel faces on a daily basis as a result of radical Islamists.
Matthew Abraham, an English professor at the University of Arizona, said, “One group’s use of academic freedom can be used to curb another group’s academic freedom [Israel] and as such forcing Israel to re-examine its oppression of Palestinians.”
The next person on the BDS panel was UA History professor David Gibbs. He spoke about the political implications Israel has had on public policy in recent years. He said that Germany has helped to further the creation of a Jewish state, and that they have done so to prove that they have learned from past actions. He did not mention the Holocaust or that six million Jews died and that 1.5 million of those Jews were children. He said that Germany has helped to further Israel’s arsenal of weapons as a way to diminish their guilt. He argued that BDS should change its perspective: instead of boycotting academics, it should boycott the financial aid the United States of America provides to Israel. He said, “If the US were to get rid of the aid that it provides Israel, it would lower the Israeli GDP buy 1%.” He also went on to talk about how Israelis live overseas, how most have dual citizenships, and how they are hedging their bets in the case of the collapse of Israel: if Israel were to collapse, they would have another country to which they could escape.
Miranda Joseph and Sandra Soto, both professors at the University of Arizona and members of the American Studies Association (ASA), spoke about how ASA was successful in implementing a BDS movement in their organization. They referenced the ASA divestment statement and the hate mail that ASA received as a result of their subsequent divestment. ASA created a website where they published all of the hate mail they received as a result of BDS. On this website, all of their communications have been published, no names have been blocked out, no emails have been blurred, and no phone numbers have blurred. One could go on to their website, bdsloveletters.com, and email every single person that opposed the ASA boycott and then spew their hate and vitriol towards them if they so desired.
Sandra Soto also compared the boycott of Israel to the boycott of Arizona that took place shortly after the passing of SB 1070. She spoke about how she felt supported by the boycott of Arizona, that others were taking notice of such a harmful law, that of SB 1070, and were trying to pressure lawmakers to repeal said law. She believes that an academic boycott of Israel will help support other academics in Israel that are against current state oppression of the Palestinians.
Brooke Lober was one of the main organizers for the event. She talked about campus-based BDS. She mentioned UC Davis, Berkeley, New Hampshire, Brooklyn College, and CUNY. Lober talked about the importance of die-ins and check points as a way to capture media attention and to shine a light on Israel’s oppressive tactics.
Israel did not build a barrier to keep Palestinians out; they built a barrier to keep terrorist attacks out.
The last speaker and by far the most troubling was Alisha Vasquez, who is a professor about borderlands at the University of Arizona. She highlighted that she is here in solidarity of the Palestinians and that the escalation of Israeli rockets to Gaza needs to be examined and criticized.
Vasquez made no mention of Hamas, a known terrorist organization, living within Gaza and how they use innocent Palestinians as human shields. Israel is not the perpetrator of these attacks; they are responding to attacks from Hamas on the civilian population of Israeli urban centers. Ms. Vasquez went on talk about the start-up nation of Israel. She mentioned that Israeli start-ups are then brought to the United States because they know they will not be able to succeed in Israel, but by using US resources, they will be able to succeed. She mentioned a partnership between Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael industries being conducted at Tech Park here at the University of Arizona.
The speaker went on to state that immigrant Mexicans are being forced from their homes to work at the sweat shops and that at these sweat shops they are creating the Iron Dome rockets that kill innocent Palestinians. By no means am I saying that sweatshops are not real, but Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael do not hire Mexican migrant workers at sweatshops or maquilas to make Iron Dome missiles; the insinuation is preposterous.
First of all, Iron Dome and how it works is an incredibly classified project, and they wouldn’t trust just anyone off the street with the know how to create an Iron Dome missile. Second of all, Israel is committed to the betterment of all human life. Israelis believe that each life is precious and worth saving. Israel is one the friendliest LGBTQ countries in the world, and they take enormous steps to protect Palestinian lives.
I believe in free speech and I welcome a dialogue regarding Israel, Palestinians, justice, and peace. Events such as this one do nothing to promote peace, justice or equality. They do nothing to aid in a peaceful future for the region. Their goal is to alienate Israel academically and financially, which they hope would result in the collapse of Israel and make Israel an even more desperate partner for peace than they already are.
Ultimately, I believe that the fight for Israel on college campuses has just begun. Parents need to encourage their children to be proud of their Jewish roots and to be involved in the creation of a better tomorrow for Jewish people around the world. I am Jewish and incredibly proud of it. My family has an amazing story filled with loss, triumph, and new beginnings. Students, like me, need to find their voice on their own college campuses and tell their stories. The Jewish people have an amazing story. Tell it.