by Rabbi Alissa Wise
The new year of 2012, which is a second new year for many Jews, is another chance for self-reflection, personal inventory and intention setting. Perhaps we can think of it as a bit of a “quarterly check-in” of the work done a few months back at Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. This new calendar year shift offers an opportunity to look at the political year ahead of us and to make some predictions (read: hopes) for what this year might hold for us.
From my seat as Director of Campaigns at JVP, I’m thinking this year will be a year of talking about BDS in the Jewish community. Yes, 2011 saw plenty of that with ground-breaking BDS panels and discussions in Boston and Brooklyn, among other places, where Jewish pro-BDS activists were heard in synagogue or other Jewish communal venues. But 2012 is already primed to continue this—and perhaps a lot more directly and intensively – engage the Jewish community around BDS and Jewish support for BDS in particular:
1. The upcoming Penn BDS conference in early February is already being organized against by the Israel Action Network (IAN)– a relatively new effort of Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. The conference includes workshops and presentations by leading journalists, academics, activists, and religious leaders—including JVP Rabbinical Council rabbis and leaders of Young, Jewish, and Proud and the initial “alert” from IAN mentioned coordinated efforts with many anti-BDS Jewish communal institutions including Hillel and the Israel Campus Coalition.
2. In 2010, Hillel passed a restrictive “Standards of Partnership” that state that Hillel will not “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” support BDS, among other things. In 2011, these standards were used to restrict the JVP-Brandeis chapter from formally affiliating with Brandeis Hillel. Now, in 2012, JVP’s Go & Learn Initiative aims to challenge this kind of McCarthyism in the Jewish community around engaging in conversation or learning about BDS.
The Go & Learn Initiative, inspired by Hillel the Elder’s famous response to the challenge to say what is the Torah while standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole Torah; go and learn.” Rooted in the ethical obligation we have to others, the initiative will bring BDS education events—interactive workshops and dialogues about BDS—to Jewish communities across North America. Go & Learn BDS Education events are a way for Jews to continue to (or begin to) develop their own opinion on BDS, in an informed, multifaceted way. The educational materials that are developed for this effort will be made available for public use and development by whomever wishes to explore–not necessarily support–BDS as a tactic.
3. The Student Leadership Team of the We Divest Campaign—the campaign demanding retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation—will launch campaigns on a dozen campuses nationwide this spring. The Israel on Campus Coalition and the Israel Action Network are paying special attention to campus activism as a focus of their anti-BDS efforts. And this campaign, initiated by JVP, and now a national coalition effort, is currently the largest divestment campaign in support of Palestinian human rights in the US, potentially increasing its exposure to anti-BDS organizing efforts.
It remains to be seen what all of this will amount to—but what I hope it does is contribute to improving the lives of Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and being denied basic civil rights inside Israel. Also, I hope it will nudge us all to hold fast to a commitment to learning and discussion, to stimulate curiosity in each other, grow our respect for each other, to be inspired by our shared commitment to self-determination, equality and justice for all people, to reflect critically and honestly on Israeli policies, and to support the expansion of Jewish communities in authentic and positive ways that nurture and respect who we all are in our unique– and fabulous– Jewish identities.
May 2012 be a year of chutzpah and curiosity and may it be a year of small and large successes living Torah: not doing to others what we hate being done to us.