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October 12, 2018 4:53 pm

Swarthmore College SJP Launches Anti-Israel Divestment Campaign, Drawing Opposition From Zionist Students

avatar by Shiri Moshe

A view of Magill Walk and Parrish Hall at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Photo: Adam Fagen.

Students at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania launched a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel earlier this week, drawing concern from Zionist peers.

Speaking on campus before dozens of students, members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on Tuesday accused Israel of a litany of abuses before announcing their latest initiative.

Mohammed Bappe — a junior who read a letter authored by a peer, who refrained from speaking publicly because of “the surveillance system of the US and Israeli army” — claimed that Israel’s recent nation-state law, which determined that the Jewish people will have the unique right to exercise the collective right to self-determination in the country, had “legally confirmed” apartheid.

Bappe also asserted that on May 14 — when the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem — “over 50 Palestinians engaging in peaceful, nonviolent protest [by the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel] were brutally murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces.”

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According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, the number of fatalities that day topped 60 — at least 53 of whom were independently claimed as members by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which portrayed the riots as an opportunity to breach Israeli territory. Of the estimated 40,000 protesters — some of whom were filmed throwing firebombs, flying flaming kites, and burning tires to create smokescreens — about 2,500 were reported injured, among them minors and over a dozen paramedics.

“We will not stand by as our college funds an apartheid state,” Bappe continued. “For this reason we are excited to announce that the launch of Swarthmore’s boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign will officially take place this year.”

Another SJP member — a freshman identified by Swarthmore’s student-run newspaper as Zoe Jannuzi — said BDS seeks to pressure the university to divest from seven companies over their ties to the Israel: Caterpillar, Hyundai, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Lockheed Martin, Bank Hapoalim, and Hewlett-Packard.

She said the BDS movement — which describes itself as an effort “to isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily,” and whose co-founder refers to the entirety of Israel as Palestinian land — “successfully stigmatizes and isolates the companies that support apartheid.”

Supporters of the global campaign describe it as a movement to secure justice for Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. Critics say it denies the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and aims to undermine Israel’s existence.

“[Advancing BDS] on a mass scale will change how millions of Americans understand the occupation, and force our elected leaders to stop funding this apartheid in our name,” Jannuzi argued. “It is our responsibility to do this, we must do this, and we can do this,” she said to applause.

Toward the end of the announcement, Will Marchese — a junior and member of SJP — led the gathered students in supportive chants, including, “Donald Trump, you will see, Palestine will be free,” and, “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.”

Swarthmore Students for Israel said on Wednesday that it is “incredibly disappointed” by SJP’s announcement, and “vehemently condemn these actions.”

“Israel is an issue that supersedes religious and political lines and we firmly stand with the Pro-Israel community, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike,” the group shared in a statement. “As such we recognize the variety of opinions within the pro-Israel spectrum but come together with the soul binding belief that Israel has the right to exist and that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination.”

Accusing BDS of proving “time and time again that it strictly opposes” values including “critical thinking, open dialogue, and respect for each other’s humanity and right to existence,” Swarthmore Students for Israel pledged to stand in opposition to it.

“At this time we are unaware how SJP plans to initiate this campaign or how it will manifest, but our student and alumni community can rest assured that we will do our utmost to combat it in all forms as it reveals itself,” the group stated. “When the time comes, we hope our allies will reach out and help us defeat this.”

“The reality stands that pro-Israel and Jewish students are harassed and/or assaulted, both on the national level and within the Swarthmore community,” it continued. “It is unacceptable. The support is here. The community is here. We are here.”

During the last academic year, Swarthmore SJP called on the university to stop carrying Sabra hummus over the company’s ties to Israel. The school’s administration ultimately responded by agreeing to sell an alternative brand of hummus, alongside Sabra.

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