J Street and J Street U Statement on the Upcoming Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Conference at UPenn

January 12, 2012

The announcement that a conference of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) will be held in February on the campus of UPENN has been met with a great deal of concern by organizations and members of the Jewish community.

We share the strong opposition expressed by many of our colleagues in the organized Jewish community to the BDS movement and are similarly concerned about the implications of the upcoming conference at UPENN.

J Street opposes the BDS movement for its failure to explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist and its rejection of Israel’s role as a national homeland of the Jewish people. The movement’s overly simplistic assertions of singular blame for the complex circumstances that underlie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do nothing to advance the prospects for peace. Rather, they exacerbate divisions and give rise to an atmosphere of intolerance, undercutting the prospects for building effective working alliances to resolve the conflict.

We understand that the ongoing occupation, diplomatic stagnation, and the rise of rejectionist extremism on both sides has led to great frustration on the part of many who are deeply troubled by the conditions under which Palestinians live. Yet for some, the BDS movement has become a convenient mantle for thinly disguised anti-Semitism. While concern about the present and future of the Palestinian people is both legitimate and warranted and shared by J Street, this criticism crosses a line when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or rejects Israel’s very right to exist as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

Though we disagree strongly with its precepts, we believe that the conference should be permitted to occur. Barring proponents of BDS from a campus platform is counterproductive and, more importantly, is a violation of our values. We believe that the Jewish, democratic and most effective way to counter views one disagrees with is to subject them to the scrutiny of a vibrant and open debate.

In the court of public opinion, we are more than confident in the merits of our arguments. We too oppose the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion and entrenchment of settlements there. We recognize, however, that a comprehensive resolution to the conflict will not be achieved through alienation or isolation, but rather through diplomacy and engagement. A two-state resolution is the only way to ensure international recognition, peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.