OPINION: Economic Boycotts Against Israel Hurt Palestinian Interests
By Ben Reingold ’20 - A political science major at Kenyon College in Ohio. Article originally appeared in the Kenyon Collegian.
Last week, Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine (KSJP) embarked on their annual campaign to raise awareness about apartheid in Israel. Yes, Israel, a democratic country where all citizens have equal right to education, healthcare, employment, representation and the freedoms of speech and religion. That apartheid state.
I, like other pro-Israel Kenyon students, am tired of the misinformation KSJP promotes, but I am also bothered by another aspect of KSJP’s advocacy: Their anti-Zionist political agenda distracts them to the real, concrete needs of Palestinians.
We observe this phenomenon in the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, which KSJP supports. A few years ago, Israeli company SodaStream relocated its factory from the West Bank to Southern Israel. BDS celebrated this move because it was consistent with their goals for the region: the complete removal of Jewish homes and businesses from the West Bank. Unfortunately, the relocation laid off over 500 Palestinian workers. The factory closure harmed the lives of Palestinians and removed capital from the West Bank, but it was praised nonetheless.
Consider KSJP’s event last week, entitled “No Ban. No Walls. No Prisons. No Cops.” KSJP seems to be advocating against Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank. However, they neglect to mention that this barrier was constructed after the “Second Intifada,” a violent uprising during which over 1,000 Israelis were killed in Palestinian suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings.
After the creation of the security barrier, along with other security measures, terror attacks in Israel have decreased exponentially, and both Jewish and Arab Israelis are now much safer. Of course, it would be ideal not to need this barrier, but it is clearly necessary to maintain stability for the foreseeable future. When KSJP condemns the barrier, it shows a disconnect between their political ideals and the reality on the ground. What would anybody gain if the barrier disappeared?
KSJP masks their political agenda as a humanitarian one in order to gain sympathy for their cause. They support the “right of return,” the premise that every Palestinian who lived in what is now Israel in 1948, as well as their descendants, have a right to live in Israel. This “right” extends to over four million people, including people who are citizens of other countries. It even includes those who refuse to acknowledge Israel’s existence.
It is not a human rights violation to be barred from living on the same plot of land as your great-grandparents. While it is a sad reality, war displaces people. Just ask most citizens of Israel, descendants of Holocaust survivors or Jews who were expelled from Arab states. To be clear, Palestinians have the right to independent self-determination, which is why I am a firm believer in a two-state solution. However, Israel has the right to determine domestic policy over its own sovereign territory. The existence of the state of Israel is not a human rights violation.
In the Gaza Strip, approximately two million Palestinians live under Hamas’ terrorist government. Political dissidents are beaten in the streets, and citizens are frequently used as human shields in conflict between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces. Gazans are living in a dire humanitarian crisis while their leaders enjoy lives of luxury. These are human rights violations, but Students for Justice in Palestine has never taken a public stance against Hamas’ treatment of Palestinians. They seem to care about struggling Palestinians only when it’s convenient for them, when they can find a reason to blame Israel.
Palestinians were not better off after SodaStream relocated. Palestinians were not better off before the security barrier was constructed. Palestinians would not be better off with the impossible “right of return.” They would be better off if they were not being used as human shields. KSJP’s priorities are not as humanitarian as they seem.
I hope that well-intentioned people will understand that KSJP is not a human rights group that works to help Palestinian people. It’s a political organization with an explicit — and in my opinion, very destructive — agenda. Israel deserves criticism at times, like any democracy, but it does not deserve constant rhetorical attacks on its very character and right to exist. KSJP’s motives, as they have always been, are solely to villainize and delegitimize the state of Israel. And to what end?