When the ASA’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions took effect, I was a student at one of the universities affected, Israel’s Hebrew University. It was difficult, for a while, to reconcile my support of the anti-occupation movement with the fact that I was unable to think of anything I had heard on campus that could be considered justification for an international boycott. A few days later, I read the article by Wesleyan President Michael Roth condemning the boycott, along with a flurry of articles supporting, attacking, and dissecting the boycott. What I wasn’t seeing from many of the articles was also missing from President Roth’s piece- a substantive discussion of the real issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are behind the boycott. I wrote this piece a little while after that in hopes that I could bring both of my educational experiences to bear on this, what I feel is one of the most pressing issues on the international stage.
President Roth and I both agree that the strategy of the boycott is fundamentally flawed. There is but one guaranteed end result of the boycott: that there will be fewer Israeli academic voices – voices that are often anti-occupation – speaking out against the practices of the Israeli government on the international stage. I understand the theory behind the BDS movement, and I share their goal of ending the occupation, but if they believe, as I think they do, in a sustainable, peaceful, bilateral solution, the strategy cannot be to limit open debate.
Peaceful solutions are always the result of breaking down barriers to discourse, not erecting new ones. That being said, this boycott is just a tactic; a tactic that, it could be argued, has had a backlash far outweighing any political pressure it has placed on the Israeli government. What is important to focus on is that the real issue at hand is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem- an injustice that is both morally and politically wrong. President Roth- you are, as you say in your article, a student of history, and you understand that conflicts have moments wherein they are ripe for resolution. To condemn the boycott of Israeli academic institutions while failing to endorse current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which may be the last hope for a two state resolution in our lifetime, is a missed opportunity and an abdication of the responsibility to present an alternative.
President Roth, I want to thank you for your op-ed, and I want to challenge you to support the ongoing negotiation process. I speak not only for myself; I speak also as but also as a president of J Street U at Wesleyan and on behalf of the hundreds of Wesleyan students who have affirmed that they support a US leadership for a two state solution. Campus leaders, including class council presidents, leadership of the College Democrats, the Jewish community, and others, have signed a letter affirming that they stand with J Street U, and ultimately with Secretary of State Kerry in his negotiation efforts. Students forecast the future of politics, and right now students nationwide support the negotiation process and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We want our leaders, both campus and political, to do so as well. With that in mind, I am asking you, as a public face of Wesleyan University, to publicly endorse the negotiation process. The moment is here for action, for supporting those who are working to end injustice and make lives safer, and for finding a resolution to a conflict that has harmed too many on both sides of the Green Line.
Caspar-Johnson is a member of the class of 2015.