Pro-Israel students should be commended for their efforts and supported in any way possible, since it requires real courage to speak out in these situations. Moreover, these examples should motivate the pro-Israel community to work far harder to educate students, parents, and stakeholders about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most basic facts, such as the circumstances of Israel’s creation, are lost or falsified in order to depict Israel as the eternal outlaw state.
Conceptually, what makes this battle so arduous for the pro-Israel community and so attractive for the antagonizers of Israel is the umbrella of academic freedom that argues that it is legitimate to debate all aspects of Israel, from specific policies through its elimination. Many in the Jewish community in their naïveté are willing to engage in these debates precisely because it is cloaked in academic freedom, which gives it the impression of legitimate criticism rather than racism.
As the BSD movement has redrawn the lines of acceptable discourse, the mainstream Jewish community has begun to respond. For example, in February 2010 the San Francisco Jewish Federation announced a policy which refuses funding to groups that “advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in whole or in part.” At the same time, NGO Monitor also exposed the New Israel Fund’s support of various BDS groups. Drawing red lines around Jewish support for BDS has proved more controversial than might have been expected.
A new initiative launched by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) called the Israel Action Network, designed to fight de-legitimization and BDS, proves the point. There is a broad consensus that BDS must be confronted and defeated, not defended and funded. But as a recent article in the Jewish Week shows, the New Israel Fund continues to waffle on its red lines, as do groups like J Street. Defenders of the status quo cry censorship and claim that voices critical of Israel are being marginalized. Until the main institutions of the Jewish community square the circle, BDS will continue to grow at the grassroots.