The absurdity of the Israei lobby’s war against the BDS movement (i.e. the effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel as a means of protesting the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza) becomes more obvious every day. That is unless you recognize the anti-BDS hysteria as not really about BDS at all, but about organizing college students into a force that will ultimately take over from their parents as members of the Israel lobby, more precisely AIPAC and its satellite organizations. That is the lobby that is the foreign policy equivalent of the National Rifle Association. Both lobbies have a stranglehold on Congress and both exist to ensure that no one challenges it. Few do. Even fewer succeed.
As the leader of the lobby’s effort to kill dissent on Israel himself has said (see this clip from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) AIPAC’s job is to do to the campus what it has succeeded in doing in Washington: shut down all dissent on Israel, by any means necessary.
Hence the hysteria about this week’s vote by the student government of the University of Michigan in favor of a resolution calling on the university to divest itself of stocks in three companies which sell Israel some of the tools it uses to maintain the occupation (specifically to control the Palestinian population in the West Bank and maintain the Gaza blockade). The three companies are Boeing, Hewlett-Packard and United Technologies, all three members in good standing of what President Dwight Eisenhower labelled the “military industrial complex,” that agglomeration of multinational companies that not only profit from war but use the government/corporate revolving door to advance policies that promote war.
The Michigan resolution only targeted those companies, not Israel per se, stating that the university should not invest in businesses involved in the occupation. Back when I was in college, students organized to divest from the Dow Chemical Company because it manufactured the napalm that was being used by our government in Vietnam. Subsequently there have been successful student divestment campaigns against companies that did business with apartheid South Africa. Few questioned students’ right to have a say in what their university did with their university’s money.
But the Israel lobby claims to see divesting from companies sustaining the occupation as something else. They see it as anti-Israel and, in a real stretch, as anti-semitic as if anti-semitism refers to opposition to the occupation or even to Israel itself. It doesn’t. Israel is a country, a foreign country, not an ethnic minority on campus. Students, like every other American, have the right to love it or hate it. Given that Americans have that right as applied to their own country, they certainly have that right as applied to Israel.
But that is not how the Israel lobby sees it. It essentially indoctrinates its followers into believing that opposing the occupation is the same as hating Israel and hating Jews. The whole argument is utterly bogus and designed to prevent students from questioning the 50-year occupation. This is the same strategy that is utilized by the lobby’s free Birthright trips to Israel, which now ban students from contacts with Israeli Arabs. They are determined that students only hear one side.
The bottom line is this. No one has to support BDS which is a political position on which people, certainly students, have the Constitutional right to agree or disagree. Hate speech, however, whether directed at Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, Israelis or anyone else must not be tolerated and supporters of Palestine or Israel who engage in it should face consequences. But no one should fear utilizing their Constitutional rights on the subject of Israel. Whether the lobby likes it or not, Israeli policy (especially the occupation) is just another political issue on which Americans can take any position they choose including calling for divestment from companies promoting the occupation.
The First Amendment’s guaranteed right of free speech does not include an asterisk exempting Israel. But the lobby is determined to put one there. So far, they have succeeded.