After J Street U students were attacked at an anti-BDS conference this week, the lobby might want to reconsider the effectiveness of seeking common ground with extremists.
Things got ugly at an anti-BDS conference at the United Nations this week when participants turned on a group of liberal university students in attendance.
The conference, organized by the Israeli mission to the U.N., brought together many of the usual suspects working to counter the effects of the growing boycott movement. Students representing the university arm of J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby,” attracted the ire of the conference when they rose to ask how to counter BDS to fellow students who oppose Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
When they identified their organizational affiliation, they were met with hisses from the audience, according to a report in Haaretz. Alan Clemmons, a state legislator from South Carolina, proceeded to accuse the students of representing an anti-Semitic organization and declared, to a standing ovation, that “there is no illegal occupation.” Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, echoed Clemmons when he announced the “occupation is a lie.” Others called the students pigs and worse.
It’s upsetting to think of these young activists facing such hate from their community elders, and I sincerely hope someone there came to their defense, at least in private. (I’ve asked J Street whether anyone at the conference expressed support for the beleaguered students, but I haven’t heard back.) But notwithstanding its after-the-fact criticism of what transpired, I remain a bit confused as to why anyone thought it would be a good idea to send those students into what was always certain to be a lion’s den.
J Street is one of a number of American Jewish organizations that formally oppose the occupation but are not affiliated with the BDS movement. There’s nothing wrong with that – BDS detractors, the state of Israel most prominent among them, have been effective at maligning the movement as an anti-Semitic front bent on the destruction of Israel with assistance from treasonous Jews inside and outside Israel. Some groups on the left have sought distance from the movement so as not to alienate growing numbers of Jews hesitantly exploring alternatives to the establishment’s blind support for Israeli policies.
But at what point does a cautious, big tent approach reach the limits of coherence? There’s a significant difference between refraining from taking...Read More