Writing in the Forward, Seffi Kogen suggests that BDS pushes Jewish students out of social justice work on campuses across the country — because, when faced with the choice between supporting activism and supporting Israel, Jews have to choose Israel. But the problem facing Jewish student activists isn’t BDS or intersectionality: it’s the occupation, and the Jewish establishment’s support for an unjust status quo.
An assistant director for campus affairs at the American Jewish Committee, Kogen describes Jewish students as victims in need of protection from the rising tide of BDS, not as capable people with agency to make their own decisions about which groups to support. He states, “BDS has not led to a change in Israeli policy. It won’t. But it has slowly but surely begun to freeze American Jews out of the crucial social justice conversations of our time.”
But we are Jewish student activists, and we don’t feel frozen. Nor do the countless Jews on college campuses involved in the fights for racial, economic, immigration, gender and climate justice. Some of them are affiliated with Jewish groups on campus, and some are more distant from institutional Jewish life. Some of them may support BDS, and some of them may not. There is no one trajectory for Jewish students, just as Jews for centuries have encouraged a rich tradition of disagreement and discussion.
We reject Kogen’s framing on several grounds. To name a few: he assumes that all Jews are Zionists; he assumes that all Jews put unilateral support for Israel before support for Black Lives Matter; he describes Jews as in a state of perpetual victimhood, and he erases the experiences of Palestinians living under the occupation. By describing BDS as a threat to Jewish students, he obscures the realities of segregation and dehumanization that make the occupation a daily nightmare for the Palestinians who live under it, and a moral disaster for the Jewish Americans and Israelis who support and administer it.