On BDS: ‘Not all Jewish people are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish’

Shanice McBean speaking at last night's SGM. Photo credit: Dulcie Lee / Roar! News

IN and amongst the dust, filters, noise and general obfuscation it is worth going back to the resolves of the motion we actually passed last night. 348 students at KCL voted to pressure management to do “thorough research into KCL investments, partnerships, and contracted companies, including subcontractors that may be implicated in violating Palestinian human rights.”

This sounds rather fair, given that KCL’s own Ethical Investment Policy (2009) states “All investment managers engaged by the College are required to have due regard to ethical and environmental issues.”And while it could just be me, violating Palestinian human rights sounds pretty unethical.

We voted to pressure management to divest from companies or institutions directly invested in or culpable for the illegal occupation. While some have argued divestment has no place at a university, our own Ethnical Investment Policy states that KCL is “prohibited from making any direct investment in tobacco companies.”

Why? Because there is something inherently out of kilter about a medical university being invested in, and therefore helping to sustain, tobacco companies.

‘A source of pride for student history’

There is also something wildly out of kilter with a university aligned with or invested in an illegal occupation that regularly abuses the human rights of Palestinians. The reason BDS comes up on campuses so often is because in 2005 171 Palestinian groups made the global call to join a boycott against institutions directly complicit in their oppression. BDS on UK campuses is a response to that specific call.

Israel is an incredibly powerful state bolstered historically and currently by imperial giants Britain and America. In this context, boycott as a tactic provides a method that puts economic and political pressure on the state of Israel in order to offer the kind of leverage that gives substance to the demand to end the occupation.

For as long as the occupation remains in the general interest of the colonial project of the Israeli state, the Palestinians’ concerns and rights will remain expedient.

It is in this spirit that students’ unions across the globe, apparently including KCLSU, joined the boycott against South African Apartheid. That boycott worked precisely because it gave the disenfranchised and those in solidarity with them the economic and political leverage to uproot a powerful, but by no means immutable, political set up.

‘Not all Jewish people are Zionists’

Students, historically, have had an impact on politics much bigger than any of us. As another KCL student has argued in this paper: “Student unions have… an impact in the wider political realm. When Barclays Bank withdrew its investment from Apartheid South Africa, it cited the NUS boycott as a contributing factor.”

This is a source of pride for student history, but it was only ever achieved because students rejected seeing themselves as individualised, atomised and powerless student union members, but recognised their broader place in a world where oppression exists.

Nevertheless, some students have voiced concerns that the motion passed is alienating and discriminatory to Jewish and Israeli students. It’s worth saying here that not all Jewish people are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish. It is absolutely necessary to challenge racial discrimination in all its forms; this should be an unshakeable point of principle.

But it is obfuscates the debate to homogenise Jewish students solely into a Zionist narrative. And the claim that the motion passed categorically alienates Jewish students does just that.

I can’t possibly be the only person who knows and is friends with Jewish people (yes, plural) who are in favour of BDS. Automatically homogenising Jewish people into an anti-BDS narrative effectively denies the Judaism of Jews who are pro-BDS.

Further, the motion passed makes no political claims about the legitimacy of Israel as a state; it asks for us to be concerned about the oppression meted down by that state on the Palestinian people and to do something about it.

I am certain anti-Semitism exists at our campus, and I’m equally certain it needs to be stamped out. But those instances of anti-Semitism are not this motion.

12 Comments

  1. JW

    26 March, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I understand the aim of such a boycott, but i dont understand the lack of consistency. compared to the countries surrounding it, israel is a bastion of human rights, a country in which arabic women are able to do far more than in their own countries. why dont you target these countries first, and then extend the boycott to those that have significantly better human rights records after succeeding against the more dastardly.

    • jacobus

      27 March, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      But boycotting muslim countries would be islamaphobic!

      • JW

        27 March, 2014 at 11:39 pm

        i don’t actually agree with boycotting, or saying that the boycott is anti-semitic. i want to take this one point at a time and understand why consistency isn’t being applied?

    • Naftali Greenwood

      3 April, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Beyond Israel’s clean track record by its neighbours’ standards, the allegations against it themselves reek of tendentiousness, mendaciousness, hyperbole, and fallacy.

    • JW

      3 April, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Shanice, i’d be interested to hear what your view on this point is? thanks

  2. Barnaby Raine

    27 March, 2014 at 12:21 am

    As one of those Jewish people in favour of BDS, I’m really glad to read this article, and I’m upset by attempts to hurl the allegation of anti-Semitism at BDS campaigners in order to shut down debate.

    Just as opposing racism in South Africa did not imply a hatred of all white people, opposing racism in Palestine doesn’t imply a hatred of all Jews. To claim otherwise is to make Israel a representative of all Jews everywhere, which is profoundly demeaning to the ability of Jews to think for ourselves and to support the oppressed. By involving Jews like Judith Butler and Naomi Klein, BDS is a fantastic antidote to the biggest driver of anti-Semitism in the world today; the identification of Jews with Israeli crimes. The irony is that those who are most ready to accuse anti-Zionists of anti-Semitism, by drawing no distinction between Jews and Israel, encourage the proliferation of an anti-Semitic trope

  3. Josh Boyle

    27 March, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Your point that “Not all Jewish People are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish”, whilst true, appears to claim that those Jewish People concerned about the atmosphere created by BDS are merely crying wolf. If that is your claim, it demonstrates a breathtaking lack of empathy and betrays a mindset that allows the trampling of legitimate concerns in the name of some abstract political principle. I think that the majority of students who did not vote on the BDS issue (around 97% of the membership of KCLSU) would find your attitude deeply troubling.

    • somcbean

      27 March, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Hiya, I’ve addressed this on facebook. So I’ve just lifted my comments from there.

      What I intended to be at the core of the article was the legitimacy of boycott as a historically useful and successful tactic and the legitimacy of students playing a role in broader, global politics.

      I added in the bit at the end about Zionism and Judaism as I felt it was necessary to address the concerns that students have voiced about the motion. But, also, to shed light on the fact that claiming the motion alienates all Jews on campus (as an article written by a KCL student elsewhere suggests but as was claimed in the debate Tuesday) whitewashes another group on campus and effectively denies their legitimacy in the discussion: pro-BDS Jews.

      What we shouldn’t forget is that had the motion failed there would have been some Arab students and Muslim students who would have felt alienated from a student body that voted not to support the call of Palestinian groups to boycott, viewing that as a rejection to participate in Palestinian liberation.

      The crucial thing to remember is these differences we have are *political* and are not the result of the fact that those who opposed the motion are Jewish [To clarify what I mean here, I don’t deny concerns are real but it’s the result of having lost the vote regarding something that people care about. It’s not a result of the fact that motion or the proposers are anti-Semites].

      The fact the motion does not target Jewish or Israeli *people*, and therefore is not an assault on Jewish or Israeli groups, is reflected in the fact that the motional categorically does not call to boycott Jewish people or Israeli people and it doesn’t even call to boycott Israel in general. Rather, it calls only to research who we are invested in and put pressure on the institutions complicit in oppression.

      This is a legitimate and fair issue to raise given many students care about offering solidarity to the cause and our college, supposedly, commits to ethical investment.

      I’d also add that I have been speaking to people who fell on all sides of the argument to try and quell any unnecessary animosity, so concerns are real but people are making efforts to address them and actually debate and discuss on top of passing this motion.

      (A purely pernickety point. Using this 97% figure is just another obfuscation. 97% “did not for on the BDS issue” does not mean 97% of people at King’s were against. It simply means they didn’t vote and we should not try and delegitimise either side with a low voter turn out. Students wanted the motion to be opened to the entire college, it was and it won.)

      • Josh Boyle

        27 March, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        However you dress it up, the fact remains that there exist, at our university, Jewish students who feel that this motion makes them unwelcome on campus. No amount of chicanery or rhetoric changes this fact. I do not dispute that the motion won, and I do not dispute that there are some Jews in favour of BDS. My point was that, on my reading of your comments, you are accusing those Jews who have expressed worry about the current atmosphere on campus of crying wolf, which trivialises their genuine concerns.

        I did not claim that all of those members not present were necessarily opposed to the motion. I merely stated my belief that the majority of them would find your willingness to marginalise groups who disagree with you worrying.

        • somcbean

          27 March, 2014 at 2:36 pm

          If you could tell me how I or the motion has marginalised anyone or made anyone feel unwelcome when

          a) the motion does not call for the boycott of any person or Israel in general but merely asks for KCL to investigate its investments in line with its own Ethical Investment policy and for KCLSU to divest from unethical companies complicit in oppression and

          b) I am giving my time to discuss the issue with those who disagree

          I would be very much appreciative.

          • Darren Cohen

            27 March, 2014 at 4:54 pm

            I can testify that B is certainly true. We had a lovely chat today.

  4. Naftali Greenwood

    3 April, 2014 at 7:42 am

    The author misstates BDS’ intentions by mentioning only the first of its three goals. Here are the others:
    2. – Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
    3. – Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
    Goals 2 and 3 correspond to the Arabs’ most important pre-1948 goals vis-a-vis today’s Israel: terminating Jewish immigration (since Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel have full equality in the other respects) and revoking (before 1948: preventing) Jewish majority.
    BDS isn’t about settlements, human rights, and peace. It’s about obliterating Israel. As BDS proponent Ahmed Moor said, “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.”

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