The hand-wringing about the alienation of pro Israel Jewish students from progressive spheres on American campuses continues. At the Forward, Seffi Kogen, the American Jewish Committee’s Assistant Director for Campus Affairs, has authored a wildly inaccurate portrayal of campus intersectionality bemoaning this alienation titled “How BDS Is Pushing Jewish Students Out of Social Justice Activism”.
For starters, throughout the article Kogen conflates “Jewish students”, who are ideologically diverse, with the group of primarily pro Israel advocates. He ignores the Jewish students who are thriving in social justice activism on campuses across the country in groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Open Hillel’s to name just a few. And he ignores them to his own chagrin.
He starts out linking favorably to an article which claims students have “effectively politicized” fighting a culture of sexual violence and rape “by making anti-Zionism a primary tenet of its platform” and therefore “disqualified itself from being our school’s much needed supportive group and community for students across the board.” By these same standards, wouldn’t Hillel, the pro Israel (decidedly Zionist, effectively politicized) student organization also disqualify itself from being a supportive group for students across the board?
Kogen claims that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has frozen “American Jews out of the crucial social justice conversations of our time”, yet arguably, equality for Palestinians and ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the crucial social justice issue of our time, and the BDS movement is teeming with American Jews.
Kogen demonstrates his utter lack of research and awareness by claiming the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Platform “most prominently and provocatively” gives “Israel the dubious distinction of being the only foreign country called out by name in a document that otherwise focuses on racial discrimination in the United States.”
He needs to learn to scroll. The platform, under a large bolded font headline reading “A Cut in US Military Expenditures and A Reallocation of those Funds to Invest in Domestic Infrastructure and Community Wellbeing” calls out the U.S. for military interventions that have “coincided with some of the worst genocides in the world,” lambasting the U.S. “arming and training of soldiers in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya” as well as interventions in Libya, Somalia, Mali, Chad, Gulf of Guinea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger, the Seychelles, Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and “accommodating future “surges” of troops; legions of mercenary spies”. Aside from the U.S. militarization of Africa (AFRICOM), the Movement for Black Lives platform denounces U.S. destabilization in Central America.
The very the same page-and-link in that M4BL platform that addressed U.S. support for Israel (and the billions of dollars funneled to the state from US taxpayers) mentioned almost 20 other countries. This is the same document Kogen claims, aside from mentioning Israel, “otherwise focuses on racial discrimination in the United States.”
It begs the question, why would he even be concerned with a social justice conversation and/or alignment with people he can’t hear or listen to?
Kogen claims BDS has “led to the erosion of traditional ties on which Jews have long relied.” But Jewish support for an apartheid state has eroded those traditional ties, not BDS. And what does “on which Jews have long relied” even mean? Relied on for what? Friendship? Support for Israel? He doesn’t say.
Though much has been made of the need to protect Jewish students on campus, little has been done to address the underlying cultural current that allows BDS to thrive.
The underlying cultural current that allows BDS to thrive is the occupation and the continued unwillingness of Israel to end that occupation, end inequality, end discriminatory practices and laws, and stop settlement expansion. If the pro Israel Jewish students wanted to improve this situation, why focus on BDS instead of directing their activism towards ending Israeli policies that further entrench occupation and inequality?
As one student attendee at the AJC Global Forum 2016 put it: “I want to be a part of the progressive fights my generation is currently waging, but I am deeply troubled and challenged by the anti-Israel sentiment rising amongst the far left.”
So you want to be a part of progressive fights your generation is waging while supporting a state engaged in decades-long human rights abuse. We get it. But it’s hypocrisy. You can’t get into the cool human rights club when you support crimes against humanity. And why are you more concerned with “the anti-Israel sentiment” rising on the left than you are with apartheid, home demolitions, administrative detentions? When you support, empower, advocate for, and protect a state that carries out these routine abuses, including routine extrajudicial executions, it’s natural progressive students won’t want to align with you. It’s not because you’re Jewish, it’s because of your support for a state deeply entrenched in crimes against humanity.
But they suffer nevertheless as their peers make it clear to them that their Zionism disqualifies them from the progressive activist community and, in some instances, from campus leadership roles in general.
Like a male chauvinist suffers from being disqualified from feminists circles. Do we sympathize with their plight of rejection?
Kogen thinks it’s not to late to turn the tide on campuses:
The American Jewish community, the venerable organizations and the progressive upstarts, must work to empower today’s Jewish students to reverse these troubling trends among their peers, to strengthen old coalitions and build new bridges.
The American Jewish community could empower today’s Jewish students by directing their focus on the State of Israel, pressuring the state to reverse Zionism’s “troubling trends”. This would be the most effective way to empower Jewish students, by giving them concrete progressive policy changes to advocate for, not tossing them into dialogue groups to defend decades of injustice with their increasingly informed peers — it’s a losing battle.
If young American Jews can be equipped and encouraged to form friendships with their progressive peers, to restore their Jewish voices to the social justice conversation, and, at the same time, to stand up for Israel, then this moment of progressive antipathy toward the Jewish state will be remembered as a blip on the historical record of liberal support for Israel.
I really don’t see how it’s possible to “stand up for Israel” in this climate and be accepted as part of the progressive community. Because policies of the state of Israel (occupation) is about as far from “progressive” as imaginable.
Youth of all stripes will continue to distance themselves from Israel, and support for Israel will further drift out of mainstream American political opinion. The only way to change this is to end the occupation.
Seffi Kogen finds it “exciting to take part in the ongoing Zionist project”. He was a 2015 delegate at the World Zionist Congress for Mercaz, the Zionist membership organization of the Conservative Movement whose goals include “advancing Zionism as the progressive movement of national liberation that it set out to be”. He’s got his work cut out for him, because whatever Zionism set out to be, today it is not a progressive movement. And those who activate in support of it will likely continue to be isolated by people of conscience until we see Israel change its apartheid policies.