A Statement in Support of the PennBDS Conference

by Rabbis Alissa Wise and Brant Rosen

The upcoming PennBDS conference, to take place Friday, February 3 through Sunday, February 5 has been met, even before it has begun, with enthusiasm and support from a wide variety of well-respected organizations and individuals. It has also been met with concern and resentment from a small, but vocal group of individuals and organizations – including Jewish organizations.

Of all the public statements made against conference organizers and the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement in general, accusations of anti-Semitism and comparisons to Nazism that are the most troubling and most in need of refutation and condemnation.

The legacy of persecution against Jews runs deep and this prejudice is real even today. Accusations of anti-Semitism should not be taken lightly. Nor should they be issued carelessly. This much we owe to those whom we have lost.

We strongly reject the incendiary accusations that have been made against the Palestinian call for BDS. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions is part of a time-honored, non-violent legacy – tactics which have been used in a multitude of historic struggles for justice where a less powerful people have sought nonviolent means to right injustices.

In the civil rights movement in this country boycotts were a key tactic in winning equity for African Americans. In the global struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, corporate accountability campaigns were instrumental in shifting the balance of power.

Certainly Jews are no strangers to the downside of power dynamics. But, as painful as it is for us to face, it is Israelis, not Palestinians, that hold disproportionate power. Moreover, Israel is wielding its power in increasingly oppressive ways, whether through government theft of Palestinian land, discriminatory laws, home demolitions, regular, brutal crackdown on nonviolent protest, etc.

The legacy of institutional oppression against us has left many Jews traumatized. This legacy has also inspired increasing numbers of Jews to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, including Palestinians. While there are certainly many liberation movements around the world that we should – and often do – support, BDS is a specifically Palestinian call for solidarity that has been issued from Palestinian civil society. The relevant question before us is not “what about human rights abuse in other countries?” The real question, quite simply, is “do we believe that this particular call is worthy of our support?”

We understand that there are those of good faith who do not support BDS for tactical reasons. This is a valid conversation – and the organizers of PennBDS have made it clear that they welcome all who attend the conference in the spirit of respectful inquiry and debate. But we believe that attacking the conference and the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and akin to Nazism is slanderous, inflammatory and utterly beyond the pale. As Jews and people of faith, we believe the Palestinian call for BDS to be an honorable one and we pledge our support to the work of the PennBDS conference.


14 thoughts on “A Statement in Support of the PennBDS Conference

  1. Wow, thank you for this. As a Muslim Arab, I am touched, and heartened by the courageous members of the Jewish community who make the difficult decision to stand on the side of Justice, before other ideology. The Palestinian people, as well as the Israeli Jews, both equally deserve nothing less than justice, equality, and democracy.

  2. I support BDS, I oppose violence. Unfortunately nany in the BDS movement support palestinian violence calling it “resistance”, as many Israel supporters call Israel’s violence “defense”. Facts matter, while BDS opponents mistakenly claim the movement is anti-semetic, we must not overlook those in the BDS movement who condone, defend, promote violence. In the “Students for Justice in Palestine” Oct 2011 conference held in Columbia University, some participants openly wore t-shirts of international terrorist hijacker Leila Khaled, these t-shirts were sold at a conference concert. The insensitivity of wearing and selling t-shirts of a hijacker in NYC is incomprehensible. Leila Khaled’s terrorist organization “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” pioneered hijackings in Sept 1970, hijacking four planes destined for the US, they inspired 9/11. Several PennBDS speakers condone PFLP international terrorism, “Electronic Intifada” gives unrepentant PFLP space to voice their destructive policies, while we in the international community are to BDS in nonviolence. No, I can’t forget 9/11, Pan Am 103 Lockerbie, Black September. Make no mistake, there are many in the BDS movement who foolishly compromise the good work of those committed to nonviolence, by welcoming those who condone, defend, promote international terrorism.
    Everyone can purchase a t-shirt inciting international terrorism for $20:

  3. What a beautiful vision of working through collective Jewish trauma and transforming it for good to stand together in solidarity with Palestinians.

  4. so Rabbi Brant supports the co founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti: who states “Anyone who supports Israelis and Palestinians joining together in dialogue and bridge building is either clinically delusional or dangerously deceptive.” ——“Palestinians who want peace and a two state solution are Palestinian Uncle Toms”——-“The goal of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state is finally dead……Good riddance!…..We can all move on and explore the one state solution.” ——–“Barghouti demands the right of return because if the Palestinian refugees were to return you would have a two state solution, you’d have a Palestine next to a Palestine.”———-“He believes that Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians is legitimate because Palestinians have a right to resist by all means”

  5. An excellent, balanced statement. We can all be thankful that JVP is sponsoring this Rabbinical Council. We can be sure that the attempt by the Israeli government to make Judaism into an extension of the Israeli state will ultimately fail, and a vigorous, courageous and justice-oriented Judaism with American idioms and universal implications will arise as an alternative.

    Let us all pray for the success of this council, and of JVP.

    Lawrence Swaim
    Executive Director
    Interfaith Freedom Foundation

  6. I am inspired by the bravery of Rabbis Alissa and Brant and support the conference, the conversation, and those willing to engage – agree or not. Thank you.

  7. Great statement, Brant and Alissa! It’s ugly when people compare those of us who support BDS to anti-Semites and Nazis. (Me, a Nazi? A Nazi whose other tasks today, besides responding to his slurs, include editing her article about the mikveh and planning a lesson on Shabbat for kids in her congregation’s Torah school?)

    I’m one of those people you mention who supports BDS BECAUSE I’m deeply and happily Jewish — not just because of our history of institutionalized oppression, but because I feel a familial connection to other Jews and feel responsible in some measure for what Jews do in the world. I am more committed to challenging Israel’s occupation of Palestine than I am to challenging other abuses of human rights because this one is being committed by my family members, allegedly for my benefit. I am grateful that the call for BDS has offered a powerful way for me to speak up to my own community. I suppose that as we do so, we can expect to be called Nazis and anti-Semites, and we’re going to have to learn how to answer back. You give a great model for doing so.

  8. Rabbis Brant and Alissa: Thank you for your wonderful reply in support of the UPenn BDS conference. It keeps the door open for dialog with those who would deny the BDS efforts yet it is firmly in support of human rights for Palestinians and non-violence as a strategy. I was a Freedom Rider in 1961 and can attest to the power of non-violent actions in the civil rights movement.

  9. Good statement!

    Jews are trying to silence other Jews by use of inflammatory rhetoric, hoping to activate our darkest fears as Jews. This emotional blackmail cannot work once it has been exposed to the light of day.

    Alissa and Brant, thank you for shining a light on these disturbing, verbal attacks.

    If the response to a thoughtful, Jewish support for BDS is to resort to these kind of tactics, then the case for BDS is won before the debate has even begun.

    ” A little light banishes much darkness”.

    Cantor Michael Davis
    Rabbinical Council, JVP

  10. Thank you, dear colleagues, for this powerful, clear statement. It is a painful time in our people’s history, and we have been through many. You bring me hope that inspired – prophetic! – speech can once again soften hardened hearts.

    Rabbi Liz Bolton
    Rabbinical Council, JVP

  11. Can someone please direct me to the Palestinian Voice for Peace web site that calls for BDS of Gaza and the West Bank until a Jew can walk the steats there in safety?

  12. Thanks so much for this thoughtful statement, Rabbis Alissa and Brant. As a “Jewish-Positive” Jew who is completing a book on anti-Semitism, internalized anti-Semitism, and working for justice, I so appreciate this clear yet open-hearted perspective and show of solidarity with the people of Palestine.

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