This piece reflects the views of Jonathan Rifkind, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected].
When I was 14 years old, I traveled to Israel for the first time. I dabbled in all the tourist attractions the country had to offer — learning about the history of Roman theater in Tiberias, defying gravity in the Dead Sea, scaling the sides of Mount Masada and connecting to my ancestors at the Western Wall. Needless to say, I fell in love.
When I was 15 years old, I journeyed back to Israel, but this time itching for a new experience, one that would expose me to the political issues present in the region. After spending six weeks traveling across the country, speaking with Israelis and Palestinians from every political background, and understanding the issue from primary sources, I came to understand the enormous complexity of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
I understood that Israel is not perfect, but I also learned that the Palestinians struggle under their own government’s rule. I felt the fear that many Israelis live in because of the constant threat of terrorism right on their door steps. I ate sushi with the first Arab family to move into the French Quarter of Jerusalem, and listened as they described to me the embrace they felt from their Jewish neighbors after they fled the West Bank.
My eyes were opened. I had a much deeper understanding of the issues at hand and a better grasp of the fact that I could disagree with some of Israel’s actions, advocate for change and still feel a deep connection with and love for my ancestral home.
On Wednesday, May 23, ASUO will vote on a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement, and prohibiting the purchase of products from companies that do business with the State of Israel.
As a Jewish student at University of Oregon, I find this resolution deeply troubling for two reasons.
First, I care about keeping our campus environment open and welcoming for all students — even those who vehemently disagree with one another — and the BDS movement supported by this resolution is grounded in anti-Semitism and demagoguery. The movement tries to take a nuanced situation and make it black and white. It fails to recognize that Israel, while not above legitimate criticism for some of its actions, also faces very real threats from terror groups like Hamas, which controls Gaza and explicitly calls for Jewish genocide in its charter.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, but BDS seeks to place the entirety of the blame on Israel. This approach not only prevents constructive dialogue that could lead to real change, but it also creates conditions for increased anti-Semitism and the targeting of Jewish communities on campus. There is a reason that so many other universities around the country have rejected similar BDS efforts on their campuses — they recognize that BDS creates a toxic, destructive environment.
Secondly, I am also concerned about the timing of this resolution. The resolution was intentionally proposed when senators known to be supportive of the State of Israel will not be present; when many students are participating in the annual trip to Lake Shasta; and when Jewish students are focused on one of the holiest Jewish holidays, Shavuot .
The timing of this proposal is not a coincidence, it is petty politics intentionally designed to silence student voices, and we should expect more from our elected representatives. We cannot allow a vote on this bill when students are not physically present to express their concerns, and when communities deeply concerned about BDS are excluded from the process. Tactics that seek to remove student voices from student government should not be accepted on this campus.
As UO students, we pride ourselves on creating diverse and inclusive spaces. We know that we are stronger as a community when we allow all voices to be included at the table, and listen to each other’s perspectives when faced with difficult situations. A one-sided, discriminatory resolution, intentionally brought to a vote when Jewish students and dissenting voices will be excluded from the conversation is no way to resolve a conflict, and has no place in our community.