On the 30th of May, students at the University of Sussex in England voted not to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions.
Sussex was the first university to have a boycott of Israeli goods in place, as it still does, but the vote against this motion signals a change in the way campaigning against BDS motions can occur, and how progressive Jews are changing this.
The campaign focused around progressive ideas and attitudes to occupation that are not typical from an anti- BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign. It focused on highlighting those people working toward an end to occupation, a two/multistate solution that both sides agree with and academic freedom within Israel and Palestine.
A group was set up called “Pro: Palestine, Israel, Peace” that is intended to be a force for greater discussion and inclusion at the university and the wider Sussex community.
It is based on the liberal morals and beliefs of people who happen to be Jewish, and not those who are campaigning because of their religion.
Arguments used include the fact that 11 percent of students at Israeli universities are Palestinian. Israeli and Palestinian universities have many shared academic projects.
Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian head of Al-Quds university in east Jerusalem, says that “if you look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive and pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals. If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”
The campaign also referenced Noam Chomsky, the noted pro-Palestinian activists, who said, “If you really hate the Palestinians, a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is a good step, because its only going to harm them.”
This was in line with the argument that academics are often the most progressive element of society, and it would not be of any use to the Palestinian cause to stifle that voice.
The campaign did not include any reference to BDS’s supposed anti-Semitism, the terrorist organization Hamas, Israel’s security concerns or the establishment of Israel.
While these may all be valid reasons not to support BDS, academic arguments about the need to support peace are equally valid, and it is important to emphasize that. It is also important to note that the campaigners against the boycott – myself, Daniel Ben- Chorin and Joshua Brill – had no anti-Semitism directed at us or voters, showing that peaceful and sensible dialogue breeds peaceful and sensible dialogue.
These progressive arguments show within universities, even those institutions with a very active community of people who support the Palestinian cause, that there can be variation in views on tactics to get the best possible results. It shows that people who disagree with the boycott of Israel (or their academic and cultural institutions) are not merely confined to the traditional image or ardent orthodox Zionists and can come in many forms with many valid arguments.
The author is a student at the University of Sussex. She can be found @MiriamCsTravels on twitter.