J Street seeks to undermine BDS

Israel/Palestine
on 120 Comments

We’ve been following J Street’s attempts to counteract the growing BDS movement. First there was its aborted release of a public letter criticizing the Toronto Declaration. Then there was the workshop at its student conference called “Reckoning with the Radical Left on Campus: Alternatives to Boycotts and Divestments." The workshop didn’t go quite as planned either as many students who attended actually offered their support for divestment campaigns targeting the Israeli occupation. You would think these two initial missteps would lead J Street to reconsider which way the wind is blowing. Nope.

J Street is now working to undermine the National Campus Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Conference that will be held this weekend at Hampshire College. The conference is being called to build "a coordinated national BDS campaign," and J Street seems to feel threatened by this. Yesterday the organization sent the following email out to its student wing:


From: "Tal Schechter, J Street U" <[email protected]>
Date: November 19, 2009 2:49:07 PM PST
Subject: Invest, Don’t Divest!

Invest, Don’t Divest!

This weekend, a bunch of students espousing that same, tired old narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game will converge on Hampshire College (my campus) — and I’m pretty concerned.

The upcoming conference promotes the misguided Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This movement is spreading like wild fire on campuses across the country and we’re all going to get burned unless we speak out now.

We should be investing – not divesting – in our campus debate, in our communities and in the people who will bring about change in the region.

That’s why J Street U is launching an "Invest, Don’t Divest" campaign today to raise money for two organizations — LendforPeace.org, a Palestinian microfinance organization set up by students like us, and The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, which promotes Jewish-Arab Economic Cooperation in Israel.

We’re setting a goal of recruiting 500 students like you by the end of the semester to pitch in $2 each (2 bucks for 2 states!) to support economic stability for all Israelis and Palestinians. Will you do your part right now and ask your friends to do the same?

Donating just $2 might not seem like much – but if hundreds, maybe thousands, of students like us make this "$2 for 2 states" statement together, we’ll really show the media and campuses around the country that there is a strong and growing alternative on campus to the tired debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it’s exactly the right amount to ask for from cash-strapped students like us.

Let’s be honest: we have already divested from this issue too much.

When debate becomes too heated, we divest from each other and stop listening. When we feel at odds with our traditional institutions’ message, we divest from our communities and tune out. When the conflict seems too confusing, we divest from the issue entirely and leave the conversation to the extremists.

Divestment defies common sense: Not only are the Israeli and Palestinian economies deeply intertwined, but so too are the fates of both peoples and their prospects for real peace and security.

If it is peace through a two-state solution and security for both Israelis and Palestinians that we want, divestment won’t get us there.

To Jewish Israelis, divestment only reinforces the notion that they are constantly under attack, creating an environment in which it is harder to achieve peace, not easier. [1]

For Palestinians who already suffer from a weak economy, divestment only puts their society more at risk. [2]

Investing in economic stability and cooperation will help set the context for a sustainable peace, but it won’t lead to a two state solution in and of itself. That’s why we need to invest in a campus movement that advocates for peace and social justice in Israel, the future state of Palestine and across the Middle East.

Check out our website to find out the many ways you can invest in this issue on your campus.

* Table on campus and ask other students to donate 2$ for two states
* Write an op-ed to your campus paper about why we need to invest, not divest
* Organize a discussion with other groups on campus about why a broad debate is important
* Turn a push for divestment into a drive for socially responsible investment
* Enter our t-shirt design contest. If you win, we will order t-shirts with your design from Israeli and Palestinian companies for students to sell on their campuses.

Thank you for helping us build a movement that takes constructive steps towards a peaceful and sustainable two-state solution.

– Tal

Tal Schechter
J Street U National Board Member
Co-Founder of Students Promoting Israeli Culture and Information (SPICI) at Hampshire College
November 19, 2009

[1] http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1251547904

[2] http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/fd807e46661e3689852570d00069e918/bb544ccfd6f4d6968525762c004869ac?OpenDocument
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J Street U is the campus address for Middle East peace and security.

Lots to comment on here, but I’ll leave it at a few thoughts. This campaign is pretty indicative of the liberal Zionist take on BDS – it’s dismissive and condescending towards the strategy without making a real argument against it or offering a meaningful alternative. There is a debate to be had over whether BDS is an effective strategy towards peace, but simply labeling the movement "misguided" without saying why, or using cute puns on the word "divest" don’t really cut it. Some are trying to have this debate in a meaningful way. Hopefully J Street will follow that example and present its case in a more substantial way in the future.

It is also odd how much this campaign seems to mirror Benjamin Netanyahu’s "economic peace" proposal, which puts off forming a Palestinian state in favor of building the Palestinian economy. Divestment is about holding Israel accountable because no other body is willing to do so. Investing in Palestinian businesses is a nice idea, but does not do anything to shift the equation or provide the political pressure needed to create change. J Street seems to acknowledge this itself: "Investing in economic stability and cooperation will help set the context for a sustainable peace, but it won’t lead to a two state solution in and of itself. That’s why we need to invest in a campus movement." Frankly that gives this email the tone of an alarmist fundraising campaign for J Street–stoking the fear of marauding hordes of divesting students ("This movement is spreading like wild fire on campuses across the country and we’re all going to get burned unless we speak out now.")

J Street says it wants to promote an "alternative on campus to the tired debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Good luck to them. From where I’m sitting it seems like BDS is that alternative. But maybe holding a t-shirt contest will suffice.

About Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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