By Roz Rothstein | Jewish Journal | October 6, 2022
Their falsehoods may do a lot of damage, but they cannot undo reality. And the reality is that Jews cannot be separated from Israel.
There has been some confusion in recent years about why many people consider boycott campaigns targeting Israel to be a form of anti-Jewish bigotry. Unfortunately, there is a mountain of evidence that the social justice rhetoric used to promote these campaigns is a smokescreen for hate. The latest example comes from the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at the UC Berkeley’s Law School. SJP persuaded eight other student groups to amend their bylaws to prohibit invitations to Zionist speakers. They openly stated that this new rule is part of BDS, a global campaign promoting boycotts against Israel. Why have huge numbers of Jewish students, organizations, and concerned community members condemned this action? Because for most Jews, Israel is an important part of their Jewish identity. In practice, SJP and its partners have smeared and called for the exclusion of the vast majority of Jews worldwide.
The organizers of boycott campaigns against Israel, like the one within the law school at UC Berkeley, may think they are being clever by attempting to separate Jews from Israel. They often claim, “we are not anti-Jewish, we are simply anti-Zionist.” They count on the confusion this creates and bank on the ignorance or biases of their target audience. Sometimes they even manage to convince genuinely well-meaning people. Their falsehoods may do a lot of damage, but they cannot undo reality. And the reality is that Jews cannot be separated from Israel.
On a basic level, Zionism is about the Jewish people’s connection to their homeland. Israel is the birthplace of Jewish culture, language, religion, and more. It has played a central role in Jewish identity for over 3,000 years. On a political level, Zionism is a movement supporting the rights of Jews to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. Before 1948, that meant working to create an independent Jewish state. Now that Israel exists, Zionism is about ensuring that it can survive and thrive in peace. Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel, and many (if not most) of the rest have family or friends living there.
So it’s no wonder that Israel’s right to exist and the safety of its citizens would be important to most Jews around the world. A minority may disagree or feel indifferent, as is their right. However, the claim that Israel and Zionism can be separated from the Jewish people as a whole is false, and will remain so no matter how many times it is repeated.
At their rallies, boycott activists often chant, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “we don’t want two states, we want ’48.” They claim these are calls for justice and are not meant to harm Jews. But the Jewish state is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and it was established in 1948. Demands for its destruction represent a threat to most Jews around the world.
Trying to strip away Jewish rights in the name of Palestinian rights is not a path to freedom, justice, or peace. Tragically, boycott campaigns only encourage Palestinian leaders and terrorist groups to continue promoting endless war against Israel. The Palestinian leadership has rejected every major peace offer that would have ended the conflict and led to the creation of a Palestinian state. They should be pressured to compromise for the good of their people and the region as a whole. Instead, they are being encouraged by boycott and other anti-Israel campaigns to prolong the suffering of Palestinians until Israel can be wiped off the map.
Will Israel disappear because of boycott campaigns on or off campus? That didn’t happen when Arab governments tried to economically strangle the Jewish state from birth, and it won’t happen now. However, anti-Israel extremists lacking the power to achieve their destructive goals through physical war, does not make their efforts any less antisemitic. Their “activism” inevitably causes real life harm to Jews on campus and elsewhere. Unfortunately, that will continue to be true as long as they refuse to accept that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and isn’t going anywhere. It is up to everyone who truly wants a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians to stand up strongly against this hate and not be confused by its rhetoric.
Roz Rothstein is the co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, an international, nonpartisan Israel education organization.
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