We are writing this piece in our capacity as student activists, dedicated to an end to the Israeli occupation, and in recognition that the greater cause of peace is not served by another campus debate mired in polarization, which frames the debate in terms of absolute rights and absolute wrongs. In the last week, as negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, brokered by our Secretary of State, John Kerry, came to an end, the Wesleyan Student Assembly voted to divest their holdings in companies that materially profit from the occupation. This concurrent timing is not coincidental. With blame to go around, Israelis and Palestinians failed to make serious progress towards a final status agreement to the end of the conflict. This official setback to the peace process is deeply disappointing, and the campus vote marks a zenith of student disapproval with the situation.

But as the blame game kicks up as to who is not a “real partner” for peace, we prefer introspection as Americans: were we serious partners? Despite US energy, have the broken political dynamics around this issue changed enough to give Secretary Kerry the leverage and capital he needed to move the parties in the direction both have committed to as their ultimate goal?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. J Street U was founded to harness student political will to take on some of the worst dynamics and broken political discussions: one where our politicians are continually called upon to demonstrate their rhetorical support for Israel but are prevented from taking meaningful action to support the two-state solution that will guarantee Israel a secure and democratic future. It was those dynamics that made it nearly impossible for Secretary Kerry to do the work that we all know is so necessary to bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution. These entrenched interests forced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to apologize for using the phrase “occupied territories” at a conference not two months ago. These entrenched interests resulted in many in the traditional pro-Israel community being angrier about John Kerry’s warning that without a two-state solution Israel may be heading towards apartheid than about the fact that this round of negotia tions yielded no serious progress.

Whether we agree with it or not, the passage of divestment at Wesleyan can be seen as a bellwether for student activism in the absence of diplomatic progress. The movement towards BDS is emblematic of what happens on many campuses when students no longer see a serious commitment from our communities and our elected officials to end the conflict. But BDS is a tactic, and with any tactic, the question must be: towards what goal?

As J Street U, we believe fundamentally that both Palestinians and Jews deserve the right to self-determination, dignity, and freedom. But we do not believe that this situation is a zero-sum game, where justice for one party must invariably lead to injustice for the other. We believe that there are solutions available that can protect the security and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. For us, and a majority of both peoples, the best way to achieve justice for all is through a two-state solution.

Therefore, while we applaud the desire to mobilize on campus and in the wider political community to generate reactions from our elected officials and communal leaders – instead of meeting the ongoing conflict with silence and resignation – the fact is that the BDS movement is not clear about its intended outcomes, and is not one we can support. Furthermore, the BDS movement frames the conflict in terms of absolute rights and absolute wrongs, aiming to shift the dynamics for the parties abroad, in this case, for Israel, instead of taking into consideration the fact that the parties – like those in most other major conflicts – will never be able to reach a final status agreement without the help of a mediator such as the United States.

So, the question remains: what is our role – as students, as Americans, and as activists – to resolve the conflict and end the occupation?

We recognize that many supporters of the divestment bid at Wesleyan are desperate to find ways to help end the occupation for the interests of Palestinians and Israelis alike. But this frustration must lead to even sharper and more focused efforts as Americans to change our own political dynamics. We must all take responsibility as Americans for the broken politics within our own government, and redouble our efforts to change them. With that work, we can lead the US to be a serious partner for peace.

Caspar-Johnson is a member of the class of 2015 and Berkman is a member of the class of 2016.

  • but like…

    I feel like framing things in terms like “conflict” invokes an equal battle between two legitimate sides with opposing aims or goals. What we have is an unequal occupation where a well-armed and well-funded military state is systematically dispossessing an oppressed people through violent force. Meanwhile these people have determined that BDS is going to be their nonviolent means of resistance to these extraordinarily violent conditions. I don’t get how you can argue with that…

    • The so-called ‘occupation’ is the result of repeated Arab denials of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state. Indeed, Israel’s presence in the West Bank stems from the 1967 attacks by Jordan during the Six-day war.

      Israel’s continued presence is due to the inability of the Arab world to follow through on the UN Security Council resolution #242. Land to be exchanged only through direct negotiations leading to peace and normalized relations, and secure borders for Israel.

      It has been over 45 years since the end of the Six-day war and the Palestinians still reject the basic agreement. Rather, they continue to push for the standard set by the infamous ‘Three No’s of Khartoum’ and attempt to make an end run around direct negotiations and peace by running to the United Nations.

      The BDS movement, which calls for the elimination of Israel, is part of this action, and is the descendant of the old Arab-League boycott of Israel. Especially given the presence of HAMAS, the idea that Israel should roll over and roll over and give in to every Palestinian demand highlights quite clearly how one can argue with this movement.

  • Kelly Lee ’14

    Did you ever answer your own question, “what is our role as students” in this piece? You only condemn BDS for unclarity and then call for “sharper and more focused efforts as Americans” without suggesting anything remotely concrete.

    What is a sharper effort than calling on Wesleyan to stop investing in companies that bulldoze Palestinian homes, construct an illegal separation walls, make guns/missiles/tanks, and facilitate the construction of Israeli homes on illegally annexed land?

    BDS is a movement that calls for specific, concrete action such as this – among all types of international spheres. You claim that it is not clear in its intended outcomes. Is all of our intended outcome not peace in the region, self-determination and autonomy for all peoples? Yeah, it is vague. Freedom is vague – especially when no hint of it exists in the region.

  • Actually the BDS movement is quite explicit in their goals – the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state and the claiming of border from the ‘river to sea’.

    With this in mind, the idea that the BDS movement is a ‘reaction’ to the inability of America to twist the arm of Israel towards its desired goals doesn’t hold water.

    The hard reality is that the end to the occupation will come only as a result of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that provides Israel with peace and normalized relations, as noted in the UNSC resolution #242.

    Given the continued rejection by the Palestinians of Israeli peace offers, the presence of HAMAS, including the continued firing of rockets at Israeli civilian targets, one has to ask the serious question – what does J-Street U plan to do about the continued violence, and inability of the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state? Are there equal demands for divestment from the Palestinians, or, barring economic levers to pull, other threats and arm-twisting as is demanded against Israel?

  • Anonymous

    Becca & Maya,

    You are too delusional to get it, acknowledge it, or understand it but in the 1930s you would have been writing this same article but with different names and any and every argument you make in defense of this time it being different may make you feel better but is nothing more than repeating ugly memes created to destroy Jews. Little different than in the 1930s and this is what side of history you are on. Congratulations for your great instincts and thanks to the leftist professors for reinforcing these despicable memes about Israel.

    = = = = = =

    “In order to clarify my concerns, let’s take a look back in
    history to 1933 when Hitler rose to power and became Chancellor of Germany and the Nazis won a large number of seats in the German parliament. What followedwas the notorious nationwide Nazi boycott targeting Jewish businesses andprofessionals directed by Nazi stormtroopers posting signs everywhere saying “Do not buy from Jews!” Widespread anti-Semitism mounted with the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 depriving Jews of their basic rights as citizens and banning them from all professional jobs in education, politics, academia and industry which escalated in severity ultimately concluding in the “Final Solution.”

  • myself

    For those of you who not aware of the historical precedent to “divest” Germany of their Jewish educators as a first step toward the eventual holocaust, here is the Hamas charter: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/www.thejerusalemfund.org/carryover/documents/charter.html and as far as monies going to Israel from the US and this is just one part of the state dept. aid monies given out to all the areas outside Israel in the past year which you can find all the numbers by looking them up on the state department site as the US records are open. Know what you’re supporting when you speak of real partners for “peace” in that region and what the history was, I might add, before a wall and policies were put in place to hinder suicide bombings; perhaps you were born after the wall was put up so you don’t know the almost daily attacks that went on inside Israel, in schools, in buses, in elementary schools, in homes. Keep in mind “military aid” must be spent in the US. The amount of money that goes to the rest of the mideast exceeds the amount given to Israel and most is economic aid that once handed over, is not earmarked for specific spending back in the US. Considering the 365 days a year bombing that goes on from Gaza into Israel, one must consider the logic and motivation by the American students and teachers who justify the support of this movement to divest and “silence” Israeli scholars in your classrooms. The West Bank shows on this chart in 2012 they received 457 million in economic aid. I point out that by not “divesting” in aid to the West Bank, you continue to support the Hamas Charter, its solidarity with the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood, and continuing daily bombardment of Israel that “aid” money continues to support.


    More up to date numbers are on state department sites and others (this site is 2012). These numbers are easily looked up as this information is available to the public at all times.

    equipment. Technical assistance and project support will be provided to the Palestinian Authority
    Ministry of Interior to improve its ability to manage and provide o
    versight over the security forces.
    Additional training, equipment, infrastructure support, and technical assistance will be provided for
    the justice and corrections sectors to ensure their development keeps pace with the rising performance
    of the securityforces