Tensions between Jewish student groups on campus have risen in recent weeks and continue to do so. After the announcement on April 9 that over 50 NYU student groups had pledged to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel, organizations on both sides of the conflict began strategizing.
NYU Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, the two organizations that orchestrated NYU’s student BDS coalition, launched their annual Israel Apartheid Week. From April 15 to 21, these organizations held events dedicated to spreading awareness of the significance of BDS.
“We knew that after launching our petition, we needed to have an event covering what BDS is, to demystify its biggest myths,” a spokesperson for JVP told WSN. “The biggest myth is that it’s anti-semitic and that it should cause Jewish students on college campuses to feel fear. BDS is simply asking Israel to adhere to human rights and international law.”
The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions is a Palestinian-driven political movement against Israel’s “occupying and colonizing [of] Palestinian land.” The movement calls for using boycotting of all Israeli goods, businesses, academic institutions, arts and other aspects of its culture. JVP and SJP’s Israel Apartheid Week at NYU consisted of a wide array of protests and teach-ins following the mission of BDS. These events included a protest of the Birthright Gala on April 15, a student-run discussion drawing parallels between Israel’s military and prison industrial complex and that of the United States.
A Week of Celebration and Protest
In response to being boycotted by JVP and SPJ’s coalition, Realize Israel and TorchPAC, two of NYU’s largest pro-Israel student groups, kicked off Israel Peace Week 2018. Since the clubs’ conception in 2015, Realize Israel has held Peace Week contingent with Israel Apartheid Week as a means of combating anti-Israel rhetoric. Given the new BDS coalition and the fact that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel, the leaders of Realize Israel and TorchPac believed this Israel Peace Week to be more significant than any before.
“This Peace Week isn’t just, ‘We’re open to dialogue. Are you?’ This is ‘You’re not open to dialogue, and we are still asking for dialogue,’” said Adela Cojab, Gallatin junior and president of Realize Israel. “Instead of standing on the other side of the street, we say things like ‘Ask me about Israel. Tell me what Israel means to you, and I’ll tell you what it means to me.’”
Realize Israel and TorchPAC held several events the week of April 15 in celebration of Israeli Independence including but not limited to a pro-Israel rally in Washington Square Park, a teach-in on possible negative effects of BDS and even a barbecue on April 18, Israeli Independence Day.
In addition to carrying out Israel Peace Week, Realize Israel and TorchPAC countered the actions of the BDS coalition by releasing a petition on Change.org and claiming the signing of the coalition was an attack on their organizations. In the petition, Realize Israel and TorchPAC state: “We urge the 50+ signatories of the BDS statement to reconsider the impact such a resolution will have on the future of our diverse, vibrant, and inclusive University and recommit themselves to a process of peace and reconciliation.”
Their petition has 1,746 of the requested 2,500 signatures at the time of publication.
JVP and SJP has released no formal statement in response to the petition. However, one representative who asked to remain anonymous to avoid defamation from pro-Israel groups did speak with WSN.
“I don’t think it’s an attack because nothing actually happened,” the representative said. “It’s just that those groups that signed will not co-sponsor events with Realize Israel and TorchPAC. I think it stands for itself as not an attack but as a commitment — a promise.”
The conflict between the pro-Israel and anti-Israel organizations continued to the town hall meeting on April 19, when President Andrew Hamilton gave his condemnation of BDS.
“We believe the university exists to bring people together not to separate them and for that reason I am opposed to BDS,” Hamilton said. “I made that statement very clear. You are allowed your opinion, but I made that statement and the university will not participate in the boycotting of academics based in Israel.”
Despite administrators disapproval of BDS, JVP remains steadfast in its efforts to support the movement.
“I personally think they have an intentional misunderstanding of what our campaign is asking for,” the aforementioned representative from JVP said. “They referred to it as a boycott of Israeli academics, which is simply untrue.”
In light of the hostilities of the past week, Steinhardt junior and TorchPAC President Jake Steel pushes for peaceful discussion between his organization and those against it.
“I am all for criticizing many of Israel’s disastrous policies and am unwaveringly for Palestinian human rights, but boycotting TorchPAC and Realize Israel and the Anti-Defamation League, whose civil rights advocacy efforts have helped change the world for the better, is not the way to go about it,” Steele said.
According to JVP, a university facilitated discussion between the leaders of JVP, SJP, Realize Israel and TorchPAC will take place in the coming weeks.
CAS junior and JVP Co-Founder Rose Asaf expressed her doubts on the value of the discussion.
“All I’ll say is that the administration is trying their hardest to butt their way into this. They tried to set up a dialogue session,” said Asaf, “But to be honest, we at SJP and JVP will remain firm in our position, and we believe our allies and those in solidarity with us will remain firm in their position as well.”
Email Noah Mutterperl at [email protected].