Israeli Apartheid Week and BDS are not the answers

The Progressive Zionist Club feels deep empathy for the Palestinian people. We want to see an end to the Occupation. We want to see equality between Arab-Israelis and their Jewish neighbors. We want the Palestinian people to be free. In spite of this – because of this – we reject the goals, methods, and rhetoric of Israeli Apartheid Week and the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

The realistic and moral path to Palestinian freedom requires a resolution to the conflict through a two-state solution. Palestinians deserve to live in dignity in their own state. So do the Jewish people. It is hypocritical and morally shortsighted for McGill students to advocate for Palestinians on the one hand and demonize Zionism on the other. To paint Israel purely as a “racist” and “colonial” endeavor is reductive and hateful.

Zionism was the movement for the national liberation of the Jewish people. Zionists should thus be empathetic towards the urgent need for Palestinian liberation, and advocates for Palestinian’s rights should likewise recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

It is not difficult to recognize that BDS’s target is not Israeli policies, but Israel itself. American political scientist Norman Finkelstein points out that BDS claims to be agnostic on Israel. However, as he also points out, their three goals only lead to one logical conclusion: the destruction of Israel. This campaign demonizes Israel through the slanderous accusation of apartheid. Israel is not an apartheid state. Israel’s Basic Laws guarantee equal treatment for all citizens, including Arab-Israeli citizens. The Occupation, in spite of its brutality, is the result of a long and complex territorial conflict in which neither Israel nor the Palestinians have been without blame. The “Wall” was built for security purposes, not to enforce racial segregation. While the construction of the “Wall” has hurt Palestinians, it has also reduced the number of Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens. This is the kind of nuance that the label “apartheid” obscures. Indeed, the word “apartheid” is not an accurate criticism of Israeli policies, but a weapon aimed at the very idea of Israel.

One of the most harmful effects of theʻ prominence of BDS on our campus is that it impedes the development of legitimate, nuanced criticism of Israel. There are many who have the moral integrity to recognize both Palestinian rights and Israelʼs right to exist. Furthermore, there are many who have a firm enough grasp on reality to realize that Israel does exist, and that the path to Palestinian freedom is through a peace process culminating in a two state solution. This is and always has been the only framework that is moral and realistic for addressing the conflict. If there were no Israeli Apartheid Week, we would be writing this editorial about the need to pressure Israel to end settlement construction to further the cause of peace. Instead, we find ourselves backed into a corner where we must defend the very idea of Israel, as though this issue was not resolved sixty-four years ago with the establishment of the state and its recognition by the UN. BDS catapults us backwards, encouraging us to see Israel and Palestine as irreconcilable enemies. Our role as North American students, not directly involved with the conflict itself, is not to “pick a side” but to demand peace.

Paradoxically, BDS’s inflammatory rhetoric and campaign for the delegitimization of Israel ultimately hurts Palestinians. BDS is a blessing for those Israeli hard-liners who justify brutal policies by pointing to existential threats. Many have accused BDS of anti-semitism. While we donʼt believe McGill students are consciously pursuing anti-semitic agendas when they support BDS, itʼs also difficult to defend the movement against such accusations. How else can one explain a movement that targets Israeli crimes while ignoring other pertinent human rights issues in the Middle East? The disproportionate singling out and demonization of Israel bring us uncomfortably close to the anti-semitic tropes that are such an ingrained part of our Western vocabulary. Meanwhile, the boycotting of Israeli institutions, including its universities, is little more than a collective punishment of Israel. Consequently, BDS hardens hawkish Israeli politicans, fueling the flames that ultimately hurt Palestinians themselves. If McGill students want to get serious about advocating for Palestinian rights, they should stop hosting Israeli Apartheid Week.