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February 14, 2019 7:06 am

How to Engage and Combat the BDS Movement

avatar by Raphael Wein

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A display erected by Penn Students for Justice in Palestine during its “Israeli Apartheid Week” campaign. Photo: Penn SJP.

I mostly agreed with Johnny Green’s article in The Algemeiner, “Why the BDS Movement Is Winning.” In his article, Green contends that the goal of the BDS movement is to “redirect and change the conversation surrounding the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

The BDS movement explicitly states that it seeks to end international support of Israel through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, and its co-founder Omar Barghouti clearly states that BDS’s end goal is “to bring down the State of Israel”

In his article, Green argues that just by treating the BDS movement as legitimate, many people — especially on college campuses — are implicitly accepting its arguments.

In the wake of growing BDS activity on campus, the pro-Israel community has formulated two distinct approaches to dealing with it.

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First, there are those who wish to disconnect and ignore the BDS movement — because they don’t want to add fuel to the fire. The second approach is to engage BDS, in order to refute the lies and misinformation that dominate its discussion surrounding Israel. This is the unapologetic Israeli approach — and this is the strategy that Green doesn’t fully understand.

As a student, I have spoken on campuses from New York to New Zealand. I fully appreciate the difficulty that pro-Israel students face on a weekly basis. I know how it feels to see an “Apartheid Wall” on campus, or to receive an “Israeli government eviction notice” through your dormitory door.

Perhaps other activists don’t fully understand what is happening on campus. But based on my experiences, I firmly believe that we must engage in the mundane, grassroots, and factual work of telling Israel’s story by engaging with the BDS movement.

Activism and education play two distinct yet parallel roles. When Palestinian groups and others introduce anti-Zionist motions, we need to educate and activate members of the college community to defeat them. But when these types of resolutions are absent, we also need to engage in pro-Israel education and tell Israel’s story.

In his article, Green suggests an “Israel Support Week.” Two years ago, “Israel Peace Week” — the brainchild of a StandWithUs student — was held at Exeter University in the UK. It aimed to provide a positive rebuttal to “Israel Apartheid Week,” and the culture of intimidation that event creates.

In 2018, mirroring this success, StandWithUs formally launched “Peace Week UK” as a national campaign, reaching 22 campuses throughout February and March. The campaign provided a positive voice for Israel, aimed at fostering dialogue, building bridges, and reforming campus culture.

This work must continue. We must help both pro- and anti-Israel students learn the truth about the Jewish state, and the steps that are needed for true peace. This is how we can defeat the BDS movement.

Raphael Wein studied Political Science and the Middle East, and previously worked at the Knesset. He now serves as Executive Director of StandWithUs UK, a charity dedicated to Israel education focusing on campuses in the UK. He was born and raised in Australia but made aliyah at 18.

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