It’s hard for me to believe that on Wednesday I celebrated my 22nd year in the Federation field. As I reflect on my career, I can think of many incredible achievements, as well as difficult challenges faced by the Jewish community. Sadly, at least at this moment, none seem more upsetting than the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I have written about it in the past (too many times!), and it sadly continues to rear its ugly head.
“Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage.
Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (BDS) campaign,
is a (campus) movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique.”
~ Thomas Friedman, New York Times, May 25
Two weeks ago, the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial General Conference was held in Portland. Multiple anti-Israel resolutions were discussed, and through the efforts of our Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Action Network (a national federation initiative), all resolutions calling for anti-Israel divestment were rejected. Instead, the UMC focused on supporting positive peacemaking for Israelis and Palestinians while rejecting discriminatory and divisive measures such as divestment and boycotts.
Our local campuses are not immune from BDS supporters. A week ago Monday, the Portland State University student senate heard “debate” on an anti-Israel resolution for PSU to divest from specific companies doing business with Israel. Several student senators happen to be leaders of the PSU BDS campaign effort. It was a difficult two hour meeting with many students and community members in attendance (for the pro-Israel students to see so many community supporters meant a great deal to them). Unfortunately, anti-Israel attendees booed and made inappropriate gestures toward pro-Israel speakers. There were even small signs with phrases like “Only one state, a Palestinian state.”
Next Monday (June 6), the student senate will vote. The resolution is likely to pass. The atmosphere on campus will only be exacerbated by passing this resolution. These charged campaigns create divisions on campus that inhibit learning, growth and the free exchange of ideas universities hold so dear.
Instead of “feeding” into this battle and watching the ASPSU vote to penalize (demonize) the one democracy in the Middle East, pro-Israel students and Greater Portland Hillel (with other organizations) are organizing a celebration of Israel. This was a conscious choice by the students. Our entire Jewish community is welcome to join the students on the PSU Park Blocks at 4:30pm on Monday (June 6). Come, enjoy and support these students and the State of Israel.
After meeting with members of our JCRC, Jewish students and representatives of Greater Portland Hillel over the last month, PSU President Wim Wiewel issued a powerful statement yesterday including, “I do not support this resolution because I am concerned by the divisiveness and tenor of the conversation that has taken us to this place. … The tone and tenor of the BDS movement has made members of our community feel unsafe and unwelcome at PSU, and it is not acceptable to marginalize or scapegoat them. Anti-Semitism cannot and will not be tolerated on our campus.” (See full statement)
PSU is not alone. Universities around the world are being targeted – and now academics and students are pushing back. Italy will soon bring its largest ever delegation of academics to Israel as a move to counter BDS. Over 150 professors at McGill University in Montreal signed an open letter condemning BDS. And, just yesterday, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board, reached a “unanimous” decision to eliminate efforts to promote anti-Israel boycotts at the school, asserting that such activities are discriminatory, unconstitutional and in violation of SSMU’s “equity policy.”
Pro-Israel students on college campuses across the country need our support now and for the long-term. We are blessed to have a strong Greater Portland Hillel presence on our campuses, along with multiple other pro-Israel Jewish organizations. I am also pleased that the PSU administration has offered its unwavering support in the fight against bigotry of all kinds, even when masked behind human rights rhetoric solely focused on one country in the world.
And, if this was not enough about BDS, in just a few short weeks, the Presbyterian Church will hold its national convention in Portland. We are already aware of numerous anti-Israel resolutions that will be raised. We are prepared to confront those challenges.
Israel is a magnificent place. It is an open society, including being one of the world’s most gay-friendly countries. We are delighted that seven members of our community just returned from a national Federation-sponsored LGBTQ Mission there.
Israel is the only open democracy in the Middle East, yet the BDS movement scorns Israel – and only Israel – at every turn. While the BDS threats keep coming, the tide is turning on the BDS movement.
From Marc Blattner’s weekly email, Marc’s Remarks, distributed June 3, 2016.