I dream of the day that Israelis and Palestinians will live together in peace. The status quo is unjust, unsustainable, and painful to say the very least.
Even so, Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) attempt to boycott Sabra products is not the answer.
During the club fair last week, SJP handed out pamphlets that urged students to refrain from purchasing Sabra products. The pamphlet cited the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as a way for people to internationally support the Palestinian quest for freedom.
BDS is not a constructive tactic in solving this complicated issue, and boycotting Sabra is no exception. By calling upon Israel to end its occupation and dismantle its security barrier, the BDS movement does not offer any productive solutions that will resolve the conflict, nor does it address relevant security concerns that Israel faces. Instead, BDS unilaterally condemns Israel. Furthermore, if one would carefully observe the demands of BDS, they would notice that the “Right of Return” demand included in the tenets of BDS would “de facto” result in the dissolution of the state of Israel. The “Right of Return” stipulates that every Palestinian refugee should be allowed to resettle within the borders of Israel. Yet, Palestinians are the only refugees in the world whose status is inherited generationally. This caused the original number of 750,000 Palestinian refugees to grow into the 5 million recognized by the UN today. As Israel is about the same size as the state of New Jersey, it would not be possible for Israel to absorb such a large number of refugees and remain a Jewish state.
Additionally, a tactic such as BDS, which also amounts to a cultural boycott of Israel, is hateful. One can disagree with the politics of a country without demonizing the entire state and all of its citizens. It is important to recognize that citizens of a state can be disassociated with their current government. For example, should America be isolated in the international community because of President Trump’s policy decisions?
While BDS’s stated aim is to help the Palestinians, in reality, boycotting Israel ultimately hurts the Palestinian economy as the Israeli and Palestinian economies are intertwined. Additionally, BDS prevents Palestinians from enjoying the benefits available to them through Israeli institutions. In fact, the co-founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, received his degree in philosophy from an Israeli university.
A special interest of BDS is Sabra products. This is because Sabra is partially owned by the Strauss Group, a company linked to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Boycotting Sabra because of its connection to the IDF demonizes the Israel Defense Forces without acknowledging that the IDF is responsible for the survival of the Jewish State. All Israeli citizens are required to go to the army after high school due to Israel’s perpetual and existential security threats.
Displayed in Wesleyan’s dining center at the end of last year was a pro-BDS poster with pictures of companies it claims “uphold apartheid, imprisonment, and torture in Palestine.” On the poster were companies such as Airbnb, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and HP. While all these companies do have ties to Israel, the poster left out a multitude of other companies that also have close ties with Israel. This begs the question: where does boycott stop? Should students also boycott Apple, Google, Microsoft, L’oreal, Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, Volvo, Intel, Motorola, McDonald’s, etc.? Does boycott exist only so long as it is convenient? Boycotting Israel would also mean discontinuing the use of life-saving medical advances such as the First Care Emergency Bandage as well as groundbreaking technologies such as drip irrigation. It’s no coincidence that political leaders in this country such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have all condemned BDS.
It is important to critique Israel, and Israel certainly has flaws. That said, the situation is far from a simple, black and white issue. There are multiple sides to every story, but, when a campus is dominated by only one narrative, a vacuum is created that is reductive and often biased. Furthermore, it seems as though there is a magnifying glass upon Israel. This is not to say that Israel should not be held accountable when she falls short; it is to adduce that Israel is often held to the highest of moral standards. Furthermore, there is a difference between critiquing specific policies or actions of the Israeli government and delegitimizing the existence of the entire state.
I understand that some people at Wesleyan may feel uncomfortable purchasing Sabra products because of the company’s ties to the Golani Brigade—a unit in the IDF that has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza. Even so, we should use a discerning lens while examining these accusations.
Wesleyan SJP’s pro-BDS pamphlet quoted a 2009 Ha’artez article stating that the Golani Brigade “is known as a brigade that struggles with no small number of disciplinary problems and scandals…bad behavior…abuse of Palestinians.” This same article, entitled “The IDF’s Golani Brigade: Always First on the Scene at the Front Line,” also states, “Despite serious disciplinary problems within the brigade, Golani is called to take on IDF’s toughest battles.”
If you insist on holding Israel to a double standard, you yourself should refrain from purchasing Sabra products, but who are you to make that choice for the rest of the Wesleyan community?
Shani Erdman is a member of the class of 2019. Shani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.