I support BDS, mostly, but . . .
Marilyn and Fred’s arguments in support of Boycotting (and Divestment and Sanctions against) Israel are compelling, and I am fully behind them. But …
There are a few things about BDS that makes me uncomfortable, and prevents me from unreserved support.
There are few things in life that match my beliefs and values 100%. Even though I am a committed Green Party activist and will always vote for them, I don’t support every last one of their policies or initiatives, and am frustrated about their lack of staunchness; but I accept that mostly they are on track, and, unless another party comes along that is better, I donate to, vote and volunteer for them.
With BDS there are a few of their positions (reading from their web site) that don’t sit well with me.
These relate to their boycotting of any Israeli academic, cultural or sports person who may wish to travel and ply their trade outside of Israel, unless those individuals openly and clearly proclaim their opposition to the occupation. This is problematic, and unfair, I feel, and a sanction against freedom of speech and expression.
The rational for this position given by BDS is that, for example, an academic who wishes to give a speech or lecture overseas or at a conference inherently supports the occupation by virtue of their being part of a University or institution that does the bidding of the Israeli Government, e.g. by participating in research that may be used by the military to oppress Palestinians. This paints every person who works or holds a position at an academic institution with the same brush. But clearly many if not most lecturers work there because that is the University where they live, or where their academic discipline is strongest.
I suppose if one works for a tobacco or oil company, it would be fair to hold that person responsible for the harm done by their employer. But that can’t fairly be said to apply for, say a philosopher or ancient history professor or psychology researcher, even if their institution, or one part of it, is complicit in collaborating with the Government in activities that directly enhance the control over and therefore the harm to Palestinians under the occupation.
I was never an employee, but as a Masters student at Victoria University of Wellington, or a B.A. student at the University of California, I hardly (if at all) knew what that institution’s policies were regarding Israel, or the US military, or research into nuclear power or whatever nefarious activities their Board of Governors or donors were up to. Indeed, where I was aware (as at UC Santa Barbara re nuclear power research) I joined public protests against involvement in such activities. Should I have refused to attend those schools and instead find another institution that was more ‘pure’ and fully aligned with my values? Even if I knew, should I be guilty of their crimes or associations? If I buy petrol from BP, am I collaborating with and therefore equally responsible as those who criminally destroy the planet? OK, bad example.
But where is the choice of an Israeli resident who needs an education, a job, or wants to play tennis or violin for an academic, cultural or sporting institution in Israel, where they live?
These people should not be treated as criminals or collaborators to be banned from lecturing on their expert subject to a New Zealand public that is interested in hearing what they want to say. They should not be excluded from a sports competition because their citizenship is Israeli, or refused a venue to perform a classical piece of music. None of these activities has anything to do with actively supporting the illegal and oppressive occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands and people.
There should not be a litmus test for artists, thinkers or sportspeople to declare their political stance against the occupation or on any issue. We should be an open society, and free to choose who we see, listen to and cheer for. Or not to. If someone has abhorrent views, let them come and be seen in the full light of day, and lets protest about those issues. But don’t ban them, or exclude them.
That is where I depart ways with BDS official policy and means, while fully supporting their position on the occupation and the appropriate targeting of those directly culpable and responsible for Israeli Government oppressive actions.