The Dangers of Divestment

The Dangers of Divestment
[![Jerusalem, Israel](/content/images/jerusalem_israel.jpg)](/content/images/jerusalem_israel.jpg)
Jerusalem, Israel
[fusion_text]Lodz, Poland. December. Cold and bleak. A group of Jews, shivering and a little lost, hovers together in a circle. A native of the town, huge and bearded, passes by, stops, stares. “Juden?” he asks. Uneasy, the Jews nod. “Bah!” he says angrily, and dashes his hand toward the ground.

It could have been 1939 but it was in fact 2014 and I was one of the people in that circle. I was in Poland to witness the physical remnants of the Holocaust: concentration camps and killing fields and, at Majdanek, a pile of tons of human ash.

Before I left for this trip my dad warned me not to “do anything stupid.” “Anything stupid” meant giving any indication I was Jewish. “You’re not bringing a Star of David necklace, right?”

“Of course not,” I said.

I’m proud of who I am but Europe is dangerous right now.

Within six hours of arriving in Warsaw — my first stop — two perfectly nice boys from the Netherlands told me a popular insult there was calling someone a “cancer Jew.”

1939 again. Post-Kristallnacht. A group of 915 Jewish refugees flees Germany aboard the S.S. St. Louis, bound for Cuba. When the ship arrives at Havana it becomes clear, however, that there is a problem. Cuban immigration officials refuse to allow the refugees to disembark due to a political issue. Negotiations take place over the course of the next week, the refugees waiting, afraid and confused, in the Havana harbor. Two days in, a passenger is so distraught he slits his wrists and jumps overboard. Ultimately, the negotiations fail: the ship will have to go back to Germany. The S.S. St. Louis slinks toward Florida as Jewish groups beg President Roosevelt to allow the passengers to enter the United States. He refuses. No one wants 900 Jews. Ultimately the S.S. St. Louis returns to Europe. 254 of its passengers — 254 people who had escaped Germany, who were willing to go to any country that would take them, who had been within sight of the lights of Miami — will be murdered in the Holocaust.

So when I read that Jewish immigration from the UK to Israel increased by 120% in the past year, when I read that 7000 Jews have fled France for Israel in the past year, an increase of 200% over 2013, when I read that a further 15,000 Jews are expected to leave France for Israel in 2015, when I read of the innumerable anti-Semitic events that have have triggered this exodus, I am saddened and angered and frustrated but I am also happy. I am happy because at least these Jews have somewhere to go. They can escape to Israel, the Jewish homeland.

You have probably heard of the recent attack at a Kosher grocery store in Paris, where an Islamist terrorist slaughtered four men for the crime of existing as Jews. You have probably heard of it because it was associated with an attack two days previous that made international headlines, that on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. You might not know that the only woman killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack, Elsa Cayat, was killed for being Jewish. It seemed that concerns about free speech took precedence over concerns about Jewish lives.

You might not know that in 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew, was abducted and tortured to death over the course of 24 days. You might not know that in 2012 in Toulouse, a gunman murdered a teacher and three children at a Jewish school.  You might not have heard of an event that took place two months ago in France, when several men robbed a Jewish couple, then took the woman into a separate room and took turns raping her. They were in part motivated to commit the crime because they believed Jews would have significant sums of money in their house. You might not know that 95% of July 2014 hate crimes in London were committed against Jews, and that anti-Semitic acts in the UK as a whole were at a 30 year high in 2014. You have probably not heard that a Swedish reporter, upon donning a kippah (the Jewish skullcap) and simply walking through the Swedish city of Malmo, was called “Satan Jew” and other slurs, egged, assaulted, told to leave, and informed he was lucky to have survived. This occurred in late January, 2015. Last May, an Islamist terrorist murdered four people outside the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. This summer, a spate of anti-Israel protests in Germany, France, and elsewhere devolved into attacks on Jews and calls of “Jews to the gas chambers.”

Conditions in the US are much better, but even here we are not free from anti-Semitism. In 2006 a gunman shot six people inside the Jewish Federation of Seattle, stating he felt he had to kill Jews because of “what was going on in Israel.” This past April, a former KKK leader killed three people outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City; after being apprehended he shouted “Heil Hitler.” I grew up viewing armored guards at the entrances to my synagogues and Jewish day school as normal and required.

There are some in the Jewish community who have warned of 1930s-like conditions, and the parallels do not escape me. In the wake of the Ferguson decision, a Twitter user commented, “White people: your privilege lives in the fact that you can be outraged, horrified, and upset about tonight. But you are not afraid.”  Similarly, if you are not a Jew these anti-Semitic attacks — if you even are aware of them — might have made you angry. But they have made us terrified.

Anti-Semitism is an ancient hatred; it did not start with the Holocaust and it did not end with the Holocaust. To be a Jew in the diaspora, then, is to wonder when and where — not if — the next conflagration will be. That is why I am painfully aware of these attacks. I, and many other Jews, wonder what the rise in anti-Semitism portends, question where it will end, how bad it will get this time.

In this light my support of Israel is not a choice. It’s a necessity.

This position may seem alarmist. Ilan Halimi Jonathan Sandler, Arieh Sandler, Gabriel Sandler, Myriam Monsenego, Emanuel Riva, Miriam Riva, Gavriel Holtzberg, Rivka Holtzberg, Bentzion Kruman, Leibish Teitelbaum, Yoheved Orpaz, Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, Elsa Cayat, Yoav Hattab, François-Michel Saada, Philippe Braham, and Yohan Cohen tell me it’s not.

Israel’s existence and my existence are inextricably linked. An attack on Israel is an attack on my right to exist. This is why I am an ardent Zionist. I believe in the right of the Jewish people to have self-determination, to have a homeland, to have a safe haven. To deny the right of the Jewish people to have their own state is — both de jure and de facto — to deny the right of the Jewish people to exist. Clearly, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

In the context of last year’s record anti-Semitism, a group of Stanford students has chosen to launch a divestment movement at Stanford. Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine (SOOP), a coalition of student groups leading the call to divest, demands that Stanford divest from companies that are “profiting from the occupation of Palestine through maintenance and expansion of the infrastructure of the occupation, collective punishment, [and] state-sponsored repression in the West Bank and here in the USA.”

As the thinking goes, SOOP does not stray into anti-Semitism. After all, divestment is aimed only at specific companies, not the state of Israel as a whole. Right? Well, not exactly.

Unfortunately, regardless of whether proponents of divestment *intend *to target a few select companies or the entire country, the end result is that the entire Jewish state is demonized. Divestment fails to differentiate between individual companies involved in the conflict and the government and people of Israel. If the divestment bill at Stanford passes, anti-Semitic groups will use this success as a propaganda tool to further delegitimize Israel. One such group is BDS, or Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, a global movement that aims to discredit Israel through boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Jewish state. BDS calls for a boycott of “Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions,” engaging in the very collective punishment it claims to decry. BDS considers Zionism evil, a stance that is anti-Semitic. BDS concentrates its efforts not on supporting Palestinians but rather on delegitimizing Israel. BDS seeks to isolate, discredit and eliminate Israel. Its aims are opposite to seeking a peaceful solution where Jews and Palestinians each can have their own homelands. BDS even condones terrorism. Azzam Tamimi, a head of the London BDS movement, has praised Ayatollah Khomeini for his calls to eradicate Israel, and at a rally said, “we are all Hamas.” The charter of Hamas calls for the destruction not only of Israel but of Jews, wherever they live. The UK, US, Australia, Canada, and Egypt have all designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, fund and support BDS. Omar Barghouti, a key leader in the BDS movement, has engaged in blood libels against Israeli Jews, denied the right of Jews to self-determination, and justified terrorism. He has taken a victim-blaming stance toward those Israeli civilians murdered by terrorists, saying the “root cause” of terrorism is Israel’s actions. Palestinian civil society does not support a total boycott of Israel, recognizing that this would be detrimental to Palestinians, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and peace efforts. Mahmoud Abbas, the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, has also come out as against a boycott of Israel.

Criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, of course. But BDS crosses a line. Something far more nefarious than well-intentioned criticism is at play here. There is a distinction between criticizing certain actions and policies of the Israeli government and between punishing the entire country — and, accordingly, its people — by making it out to be an international pariah.

The Stanford divestment movement is intimately connected to BDS. Their justifications for divestment, boycotts, and sanctions are identical. Students for Justice in Palestine, a founding member of the SOOP coalition, is supportive of BDS. And the SOOP website champions BDS. Kristian Davis Bailey, a leader of the Stanford divestment campaign, is enamored of BDS.

Divestment is dangerous to Jews everywhere, regardless of its intent. Those who advocate for divestment blame Israel for the entirety of the conflict, absolving Palestinians of responsibility. Such a one-sided view has incited violence against Jews and emboldened anti-Semites. For instance, one of the men who attacked the Swedish reporter wearing a kippah said he acted “for Palestine.” Asked about the distinction between Jews and Israel, the man said, “When we think of Jews we think directly on Israel, and everything that happens there.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the only basis available” for reacting to Jews, he claimed. “There is no other reason why people hate the Jews, it’s just that you consider this when you see a Jew.” Recently, a group of teenagers in the UK assaulted a British Jew as revenge for the conflict in Palestine. In France this summer, an ostensibly pro-Palestinian protest turned anti-Semitic when the protesters, wielding bats and chairs, trapped Jews in a synagogue. The divisive one-sided rhetoric of divestment directly contributes to the spread of such anti-Semitic acts of violence.

Divestment is, at best, highly irresponsible. At worst, it is a calculated organized movement to destroy Israel and the deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination, and as such, is anti-Semitic. Vote no on divestment.[/fusion_text]

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