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.