I was part of a delegation of J Street U student leaders who attended today’s anti-BDS Summit at the United Nations to engage with fellow pro-Israel advocates and to talk about effective strategies for countering the Global BDS Movement. The core of the message that we sought to deliver is that the current institutional approach to BDS is alienating young people, empowering the Global BDS movement and undermining Israel’s future. Sadly, we were met at the Summit with a stark reminder of just how off-track and counterproductive the current approach is.
While we appreciated many of the perspectives that were shared at the summit, we were alarmed to see a platform given to a Republican state legislator who leveled a hateful attack on J Street, accusing J Street U’s pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy students like us of supporting an “anti-Semitic” organization. At the same time, we were alarmed to see other speakers with long records of hateful rhetoric directed at Palestinians, Muslims and liberal American Jews given prominent roles at the summit.
These voices from the political fringes are the worst possible “Ambassadors Against BDS,” virtually guaranteed to alienate anyone with progressive values or real concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a failing strategy to refuse to countenance any criticism of Israeli government policy and equate defense of the settlement movement with support for Israel. While those voices are given center stage by the pro-Israel establishment, voices representing the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy majority of American Jews are being marginalized, on and off campus.
The only result of such an approach will be more and more young people giving up on Israel’s future.
We hope that the major American Jewish organizations that sponsored and participated in this Summit, including Hillel International and the Jewish Federations of North America, will swiftly condemn the smear of J Street and J Street U that we heard today. We hope that they will recognize that the approach to Israel advocacy that we saw on display at the summit is leading to a disastrous dead end.
We urge them to join us in a new approach, actively working to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic future by opposing the injustices of the occupation and advocating for a two-state solution.
As we made clear today, change is urgently needed.