An increasingly popular trope among liberal Zionists is that ‘BDS Is Pushing Jewish Students Out of Social Justice Activism’. What they mean is that when social justice organisations decide to support Palestinian freedom by embracing their call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, those who support The Jewish State™ may feel uneasy, offended, even threatened. Such feelings can only arise when they strongly identify with the Jewish state and feel personally responsible for its actions and safety. If the BDS movement articulated the view that Australian Jews were personally responsible for the terrorism and ethnic cleansing that brought Israel into existence, or Israeli home demolitions and extrajudicial executions in the here and now, the same liberal Zionists would likely be apoplectic in condemning the blatant antisemitism. But if Jewish ‘progressives’ pack up their principles and flee progressive movements on that basis, they are somehow construed as the victims.
In his article on this very subject in yesterday’s Forward, Seffi Kogen, ‘the American Jewish Committee’s Assistant Director for Campus Affairs’, attests a single example of such victimisation.
Last December, Barnard Art History sophomore, Julia Crain, wrote an opinion piece in the Columbia Spectator, demanding that Barnard’s Student Government Association decline to support a petition presented by the anti rape group, No Red Tape.
According to the No Red Tape website,
We fight to end sexual and domestic violence on college campuses and empower survivors. We use direct action to push for improved policies on campus and beyond; we create education programs to prevent violence and eradicate rape culture; and we provide direct support and resources for survivors of all identities.
It publicly denounces Israel on social media and collaborates with anti-Israel student groups, such as Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine.
Now it’s altogether possible that No Red Tape has systematically removed the offending denunciations, but the only post on their Facebook page last year that had anything to do with Palestine prior to her op ed was a link to the report on ‘The Palestine Exception to Free Speech’.
For the record, I personally don’t think it’s crucial for a rape crisis centre to take a position on Palestine, but since No Red Tape ‘envision a world free of violence and oppression’, it seems sensible and consistent to support BDS. It would make more sense to me if they couched it in terms of solidarity and antiracism rather than ‘intersectionality theory’, but that’s just me.
That said, if their support for BDS extended to denying support to Zionist rape survivors, that would be reprehensible. But they claim to,
affirm and actively support every survivors’ right to seek justice and healing in the way that they choose. The work we do is always centered in the needs and experiences of survivors themselves.
While I freely acknowledge that what they claim on their website could be unadulterated bullshit, it’s virtually inconceivable that Crain, and Kogen, would have declined to emphasise any restriction like that. Rather than documenting actual cases of exclusion, Crain asserts, ‘In elevating its political agenda over the needs of survivors, it’s reneged on its promise to be “survivor-centric”’ and ‘overt alienation of countless students’.
Parenthetically, use of countless always arouses suspicion. At one level, any subset of Barnard University students is inherently countable. While the obvious and intended interpretation is that the number is too large to count, more often than not, what it actually means, as here, is that they couldn’t be bothered to count.
A perusal of the No Red Tape website reveals that the group is far more invested in the campaign to divest from ‘Columbia's endowment from fossil fuels’ than in BDS. But Crain is unconcerned that climate change denialists might feel uncomfortable in such a group.
So Crain feels alienated from No Red Tape because they have taken a stand on Palestine and uses her bully pulpit on Spectator’s editorial board to appeal against their ‘petition’, presumably for funding. It’s hard to see her as the aggrieved party.
Columbia/Barnard Hillel claims their ‘quest is to help students, regardless of their origin or destination, find their own interpretation of Jewish values...’ But they also insist that they ‘provide a nurturing environment for Jewish students to grow...in a love for Israel’. By insinuating this pernicious Zionist sentiment among their ‘Core values’, Hillel excludes those Jewish students who object to Zionism. The liberal Zionists are curiously silent on this atrocity.
Kogen magnanimously concedes that, ‘Jewish students...are not persecuted or under assault.’ ‘But they suffer nevertheless as their peers make it clear to them that their Zionism disqualifies them from the progressive activist community’.
One unnamed student told Kogen, ‘I want to be a part of the progressive fights my generation is currently waging, but I am deeply troubled and challenged by the anti-Israel sentiment rising amongst the far left.’ In other words, they want to be ‘Progressive Except Palestine’ (PEP). But that is not a thing. There is no way to justify the permanent exile of the Palestinian refugees without reference to the racist ‘demographic threat’. There is no way to justify privileging Jews in access to land, water, education, employment, not to mention less concrete ways, like the Israeli flag and anthem, without descending into racism. Zionism is a fundamentally racist in conception and manifestation. There is no progressive form of racism and there is consequently no progressive form of Zionism. It’s preposterous to claim that social justice movements need to adopt measures that racists won’t find confronting just so they’ll be more comfortable.
But Kogen remains optimistic that, ‘...this moment of progressive antipathy toward the Jewish state will be remembered as a blip on the historical record of liberal support for Israel.’