December 2, 2014
NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a discussion on Dec. 1 during which experts explored the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the United States, which opposes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Launched in 2005, the movement aims to force Israel to comply with international law.
The panel featured Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, Corey Robin, associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College, and J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American studies at Wesleyan University. Held at NYU’s Vanderbilt Hall, the event focused on the techniques of the BDS campaign and the motivations behind it.
Barghouti explained that BDS calls for three crucial rights for Palestinian self-determination: ending the military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, ending Israel’s system of racial discrimination against Palestinians and the return of refugees.
“Our strategy depended on attacking the brand,” Barghouti said. “Israel, despite its power, is not designed to face such nonviolent challenges.”
Kauanui outlined a three-prong boycott approach to challenging Israeli exceptionalism: academic, institutional and cultural. She said this strategy clarified the issue for those who oppose the policies of Israel.
“For academic and cultural boycott, it is so profoundly radical in the sense that it is so much about anti-normalization, and I think that that is why it’s become a point of rupture for people,” Kauanui said.
Robin pointed out the tensions in universities over the increasingly sharp divide between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine intellectuals.
“The battle of Israel is, first and foremost, a cultural battle,” Robin said. “Campuses are ground zero of that battle.”
Barghouti, however, said he and the movement oppose NYU Tel Aviv, which partners with the Tel Aviv University. The group is calling for the end of exchange programs with all Israeli universities.
“How can NYU have a relationship with a university that discriminates openly so that Palestinian students cannot participate?” Barghouti said. “How can it get away with that, being in bed with an apartheid institution?”
President of NYU’s pro-Israel advocacy group TorchPAC Laura Ad kins, who was not at the event, said the movement only leads to more violence, and boycotting companies with ties to Israel would not end perceived injustices toward Palestinians and Arabs.
“Most companies that operate in Israel employ [Israeli] Arabs and many Palestinians,” Adkins said. “Attempts at boycotting these companies hurt the very people groups like SJP purportedly seek to help.”
Barghouti warned against optimism surrounding any action from the U.S. government.
“Stopping U.S. aid to Israel absolutely is the main sanction we want,” Barghouti said. “But if anyone has the delusion that Congress will wake up and be moral — it won’t. It never was and it never will be.”