Israel, Politics

Why I Urge You to Reconsider Your Vote on BDS at Berkeley: A Response to Raphael Magarik

Dear Raphael Magarik (and other students at Berkeley participating in the vote today),
Thank you for bringing attention to the debate going on at your campus. I would like to respond to a few assertions that you make in the article, and urge you to reconsider your vote against BDS at Berkeley. I am not a student at Berkeley, but I am a graduate student elsewhere,* and have also been thinking through my own participation in a BDS movement, should it ever arise on my campus.When you say that “BDS may well create the hard-right, recalcitrant Israel it imagines already exists,” I can’t help but question it’s ever a good idea to condition intervention on the possibility that someone doing something wrong will throw a temper tantrum in response. BDS aims to non-violently de-fang a national military industrial complex of what is already a country that has proven time after time that “asking nicely,” even when done by its most acquiescent and milquetoast of political allies, doesn’t work.
I remember being in Israel when Netanyahu announced 1,600 new settlement units when Biden visited on a diplomatic mission in good spirits. The Palestinian people, and rest of the world, have had enough of this bullshit, and for good reason. This is not a kid who knows how to play fairly, or is all that interested in playing fairly – and it’s time for a real time out.
I would also like to respond to the assertion:  ‘Similarly, BDS fails to distinguish between the occupation of territories conquered in 1967, which really is a terrible, international problem, from questions of minority rights within the sovereign state of Israel. No doubt, there are problems of discrimination and citizenship in Israel itself—there are in democracies around the world. But those are not equivalent to the occupation, and the confusion of a fundamentally democratic Israel with a fundamentally undemocratic occupation is dangerous stuff.”
I would argue that this argument would be more interesting if Israel itself acknowledged any meaningful distinction between the territories captured in 1967 and the sovereign State of Israel while administering it and defining itself (except for administering it more harshly). It would also be more interesting if significant parts of its government weren’t consistently actively pursuing racist, undemocratic, and exclusionary policies even within the more commonly accepted sovereign borders that are so severe that they are completely unimaginable in even another unquestionably racist country like the US. I imagine that many a liberal Jew would balk, begin to question fundamental legitimacy, and even riot if someone ever tried to make Nationality Laws, Loyalty Oaths, Housing Restrictions, and Anti-Miscegenation Laws applicable to them as a minority in their own country – much less every few months/years.
Given these realities, I have two major questions for you:
1. Is there an alternative way of going about it, strategically, that you’d like to see happen that hasn’t already been tried before?
2. You have been given 2 choices:
Divest, or Don’t Divest, as seems to be the case at UC Berkeley
– not Divest, Don’t Divest, and Don’t Divest Because I Have a Really Good Reason and Parts of This Make Me Uncomfortable.
Is it better to vote to not pursue BDS and let things continue rather than pursue a plan of action that risks not going 100% as you would have had it go if you had designed it?
Finally, as a potential bright side, should you reconsider your vote, I would like to point out to you that your vote today has asymmetrical impacts depending on which way you vote, and it is  important for you to to situate University votes in their real relation to political power. As a major research university UC Berkeley is a powerful institution, but not all powerful in this equation.
Voting Yes will contribute the voice of the institution where you work and study to a growing global consensus that Israel needs to fundamentally change its policies or face meaningful but peaceful consequences. What UC Berkeley’s participation it will not do is singlehandedly carry the BDS or any movement to victory, bring about an end to the Occupation, or bring about any sort of imagined end to the State of Israel. So even if you vote Yes, you can sleep well at night knowing that you and your colleagues did not singlehandedly accomplish anything _that_ drastic.
Voting No, on the other hand, is in all cases taking the easy way out, and allowing the status quo to continue to exist in which the institution where you work and learn contributes actively to the Occupation – indirectly, or directly, depending on how the specific investments and partnerships are currently arranged.
I hope you make the right decision.
*I am not posting this under my name because of a climate in which supporters of BDS have faced significant intimidation and consequences for speaking out. If BDS ever becomes an issue on my campus, I will then make the decision on whether to go public with my identity, as in that situation it is more directly useful in a social movement.

7 thoughts on “Why I Urge You to Reconsider Your Vote on BDS at Berkeley: A Response to Raphael Magarik

  1. This is yet another example of sloppy thinking from someone who is pro-BDS. Both Raphael’s original post and my comment there note that you can only push for change if you’re clear about what you want to change. Your argument seems to boil down to “Vote for BDS because it’s important to do something and BDS is the something people are voting on”
    Did you bother to read the actual BDS resolution from Berkeley? The ideal outcome of the Berkeley UAW BDS resolution is a word soup of vague demands that they don’t have any specific policy changes as a goal. A vote on that resolution seems to be an affirmation of “Israel does bad things so I want to do bad things to Israel.” I don’t see how anyone who cares about the region see that as a productive statement.

  2. “I can’t help but question it’s ever a good idea to condition intervention on the possibility that someone doing something wrong will throw a temper tantrum in response.”
    – I assume she’s in favor of allowing Jews to pray at the Temple Mount then…

  3. Yes, targeted divestment is an alterantive, as Peter Beinart has argued. Strong pressure on American administration to push for changes – I do not think this has been done effectively at all. Also, just because other approaches haven’t worked, that doesn’t mean BDS will or should be used. You need to make a real case for that, accounting for its total lack of concession of Israel’s right to exist.

  4. Hi, I’m the author.
    Dan, thanks for your comment.
    I actually did not read a specific BDS resolution from Berkeley, because Raphael’s argument did not respond to anything about the demands being “vague.” Rather it was about broader points about Israel’s role in the occupation, and I responded to those.
    If you think that allowing Israel to continue to delegitimize itself and become a pariah state that has a shameful human rights record is what it takes to not do “bad things to Israel,” I’m afraid you’re the one who does not really care about the region – for the Israelis or the Palestinians, and your response is the one that is sloppy.

  5. Anon, Raphael’s argument was based on a resolution that he linked to and a good part of what he wrote was in reference to that resolution. You seriously wrote a piece in response without bothering to read what he was addressing!? I’m also missing a bit of logic here. I don’t want Israel to be a delegitimized pariah state so the best way to do that is to delegitimize it and turn it into a pariah by boycotts, divestments, & sanctions?

  6. If you boycott Israel and ask others to do the same, please boycott all Israeli innovations INCLUDING cellular phone technology, any food grown with drip irrigation and most medical breakthroughs.
    You ask others to boycott and change their lives but you are too much of a coward to act on your own words.

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