Open letter to PSU regarding Israel BDS vote

Protesters at a recent disarm PSU protest. Andy Ngo/PSU Vanguard
Protesters at a recent disarm PSU protest. Andy Ngo/PSU Vanguard

by Eliana Rudee

Students and faculty of Portland State University,

[The Associated Students of PSU’s] resolution to join the BDS movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israeli companies has again been postponed due to a conflict with final exams.

Until the vote, now set for this coming fall, I urge you to think critically about the BDS movement’s stated intention to sanction Israeli companies for “human rights violations against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli government.”

The reality is that boycotting is more harmful to Palestinians than to Israelis. It also creates a repressive campus climate that favors unilateral action and division over dialogue and community.

As a former Jewish student from Seattle who is now living in Jerusalem, I have dedicated my career as a journalist to shining light on human rights issues, and I can assure you that at its core the BDS movement truly doesn’t care about human rights—Palestinian or Israeli.

The BDS movement has disenfranchised thousands of Palestinians who receive a far higher salary working for an Israeli company than they would have otherwise. I have personally visited the plant where 1,300 workers lost their jobs because of pressure from anti-Israel boycott groups to shut down the factory.

Over 73 percent of the workers were Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians, and many of the workers had spouses also at the company, leaving individuals and entire families jobless. This factory symbolized the hope that Israelis and Palestinians could come together through economic projects—that they could become colleagues and friends.

One does not have to look further than the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to know that peaceful resolutions result when Israel feels it is supported by the international community rather than threatened. Threatening Israel always results in Israel increasing security, walls, fences and checkpoints.

I know that is not ASPSU’s intention, but it is what happens when Israel is boycotted, divested from and sanctioned.

You see, political conflict destroys and tears people apart, as does the BDS movement. The answer is not mutually assured destruction, but economic and entrepreneurial partnerships.

The PSU campus should be a community, bringing people and groups together. Instead, through BDS, it has torn the community apart, making many Jewish students (who are obviously not at fault for the conflict) scared and marginalized when anti-Israel actions turn anti-Semitic.

Instead of passing unilateral resolutions antithetical to community building, why not foster peace through dialogue instead? Isn’t that what we also seek in the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict? If we can’t have these discussions here, where the conflict is far less personal and intense, why should it be any different in Israel and in the Palestinian territories?

Boycotting rarely succeeds and is never the answer. Resolutions to boycott Israel on campuses have never resulted in a financial impact. No university across the U.S. has actually pulled its endowment from the companies the students resolved to boycott. What it has succeeded in, however, is stripping Palestinians of jobs and opportunities, decreasing the chance for peace and creating divisive campus climates.

I echo President [Wim] Wiewel who has condemned the resolution and BDS movement for marginalizing and scapegoating members of the PSU community, promoting anti-Semitism, and speaking for an entire student body that is not monolithic in its views about Israel, Palestinians and the Middle East.

I call on the student body to question the devastating effects and the message promoted by the BDS movement. Please stay true to your “standards of justice, equality and human rights for all,” as is the stated purpose of the BDS resolution, and reject BDS once and for all.

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the Aliyah Annotated column for She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies.