The Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) would like to thank the Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO) student senate and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) in Eugene for the recent resolution to withhold funds from any corporation complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights. As Oregon taxpayers we are proud that our tax dollars will not be used to support companies involved in those violations. As Jews and as members of JVP, the Portland chapter has endorsed the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) any corporation or entity that supports Israel’s illegal settlement and occupation enterprise, that denies equal rights to Palestinians within Israel, or that seeks to block the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. These are the three demands of the Palestinian-led BDS movement.
Like their counterparts in the historic campus movement of the late 20th century to boycott, divest, and sanction apartheid South Africa, University of Oregon students have courageously answered the Palestinian call for a nonviolent response to Israeli apartheid and its systematic denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Unfortunately these students are now being admonished by the president of the University of Oregon for allegedly failing to uphold values of inclusion. The university president has also mischaracterized the call for an academic boycott of Israeli state institutions and has attempted to distort the purpose of the Palestinian BDS call.
In a recent statement the UO President accused the BDS movement of attempting to curb academic freedom and to deny Israel the right to exist as a state. The UO President further accuses the ASUO student senate of violating its duty to uphold inclusivity on campus, implying that it was dividing students along lines of ideology, religion, and national origin. The UO President stated: “it is important that all of us make every effort we can to avoid dividing our community along the lines of ideology, religion or national origin.”
Just as no one questioned South Africa’s right to exist, there is nothing in the three demands of the Palestinian BDS call that denies Israel’s right to exist. The BDS movement challenges the right of a state to violate international law by implementing a system of apartheid. Similarly the call for an academic boycott of Israeli state institutions does not apply to individual scholars and therefore does not interfere with the free exchange of ideas. It should be noted that the Israeli government on the other hand routinely interferes with the academic freedom of Palestinian scholars in the occupied territories by implementing a draconian permit system that curbs their ability to study abroad.
While we certainly support efforts to avoid divisions along lines of religion and national origin, it is not clear why disagreements traced to ideologies would be considered a threat to inclusivity. Surely, the university’s commitment to a free exchange of ideas, a fundamental principle of academic institutions, necessarily implies the likelihood of disagreements, some of which unavoidably will be traced to contrasting and opposing ideologies. The question is not whether there will be divisions along lines of ideology, but whether those differences are discussed and debated in a civil manner reflecting mutual respect and consideration.
Sara Jaffe, a member of JVP Portland, values the critical discourse she witnessed and participated in as Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at UO from 2016-17. Jaffe says, “As a writer and educator, I greatly value the university as a setting where ideas and ideologies are critically examined and debated. As a Jewish person, I support the right to Palestinian self-determination and believe that being critical of Israeli injustice is integral to my Jewish identity–not opposed to it.”
The ASUO senate took a stand on human rights. When human rights are violated, it is because those with power are oppressing those without power. Those with oppressive power routinely construct an ideology to justify their oppression. The ASUO senate has upheld the finest traditions of our country—the tradition that brought an end to slavery, women’s disenfranchisement, and the Jim Crow era, and that forms a basis for ongoing efforts to eliminate all vestiges of white and male supremacy. This same tradition will one day end U.S. government, academic, and corporate complicity in the denial of Palestinian human rights. The ASUO resolution is the first step along this path.