Letters to the Editor / Opinion

“Stop Silencing Me”

In May 2013, a group of students dressed in black gathered in the Arbor. Their mouths were duct taped, and at their sides they carried signs reading, “Stop silencing me, A.S.” The origin of their distress? A resolution to divest from companies involved with the Israeli military being voted down for the second week in a row. Did it matter that this group spent over 40 hours, spread over five weeks, preaching to the A.S. Senate? Did it matter that every senator extended invitations to the proponents of the resolution to continue the discussion during office hours? Not to this group. Unless the resolution was passed, they would always view themselves as being silenced.

This notion is exemplary of a larger mentality spreading throughout the UC system, and propagated on a global level by Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. BDS is an organization founded in 2005 for the purpose of economically crippling the state of Israel, to force political action and delegitimize the Israeli people. BDS was founded on a simple principle: If one can win over the sympathy of western academics, the odds begin to stack in the favor of one side of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The only question was, how does one win unilateral support for the Palestinian people without drawing attention to the fact that this is a two-sided conflict? The answer was simple: Dominate the conversation and reject dialogue.

The BDS founders quickly realized that by rejecting any attempts for cooperation they can keep the conversation flowing in only one direction. They realized that by only debating the situation in the Palestinian territories, there would be no room to step back and address the entire situation. On this campus, often times did the pro-Israel students of UCSB offer to work with the BDS proponents to create change that addressed the entire campus’s needs. And often times, they have been responded to with the same statement: “How can you suggest dialogue when Palestinians are dying?”

Let’s put aside the fact that Palestinian terror organizations launch an average of two missiles a day into Israeli civilian cities, as well as the fact that almost every governing body in the world has agreed this war is truly a two-sided conflict. Instead I must ask, since when has rejecting dialogue been a viable tool for creating change? Throughout the UC system, BDS proponents are so violently pushing their arguments, and so abrasively shutting down any attempt for cooperative dialogue, that on campuses such as Berkeley and Irvine, these methods are actually working.

We, however, are fortunate that our A.S. Senate took a step back and examined the argument objectively. Ultimately, they came to a shared decision that any progress on this issue should only come from a place that incorporates both sides of the conflict. Or in other words, dialogue. So leaders of the community went ahead and talked. We talked about what it means to engage in socially responsible investments, what it means to balance the conflicting needs of two communities and what it means to work together through our differences in the name of a higher moral calling.

What did we create? We created a new movement to push the UC system towards a more moral investment plan. We created an ad hoc tasked with creating viable systems for engaging only in socially responsible investments. We created a timeline for the UC Regents to follow through, and we created a task force to spread this plan throughout the UC system.

By working together and acknowledging that we may not be able to immediately solve a conflict that even the most seasoned of diplomats have been unable to crack, we instead created a system that frees us from these conflicts without taking a stance on them. Furthermore, this new system forces the UC Regents to truly begin investing our money in organizations we actually agree to engage with. All of this could have been achieved years ago, if dialogue had been an option for BDS.

     Guy Singer is a second-year biopsychology major.

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5 Comments

  1. B. Gonzalez says:

    Your article is opinion, but, still, some fact checking would have been nice. This divestment proposition is not capable of economically crippling the state of Israel, nor is that its aim. It is solely focused on removing the economic support for one side in the occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.

    By investing school funds in the companies which enable occupation, the UC is taking a stance that, when it is economically expedient, there is no problem with human rights violations or breaches of international law. In order to return to a neutral standpoint, the UC system must divest from companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    Citizens United proved to the US Supreme court that money is speech. As long as the UC is speaking the Israeli military campaign’s language, BDS is, indeed, silenced.

    • Guy Singer says:

      Thank you for your response, I always welcome discussing these issues. That said, I think you may have misinterpreted some of the points I have made.
      First you said, “some fact checking would have been nice. This divestment proposition is not capable of economically crippling the state of Israel, nor is that its aim. It is solely focused on removing the economic support for one side in the occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.”
      - I actually have spent 3 years researching BDS, and my entire life learning about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This resolution directly ties itself to BDS, that point is not argued by anyone. By its own definition, BDS aims first to Divest from Israeli investments (beginning with divestment from companies involved with the Israeli military, and proceeding from there to all other Israeli companies), next to boycott all products from the state of Israel, and lastly to enact economic sanctions on the state of Israel. All with the intention of “elimination of Israel and the violation of Jewish rights to self-determination.” This notion is expressed very clearly in all BDS handbooks. By building this resolution not with the intention of withdrawing from the conflict in the Palestinian territories, but rather as a part of a larger plan to bring down the state (which again, BDS does not aim to hide) this resolution very clearly makes “economically crippling” the state of Israel its intention, regardless of whether it is actually “capable” of doing so.

      Second, you stated “by investing funds in the companies which enable occupation, the UC is taking a stance that, when it is economically expedient, there is no problem with human rights violations or breaches of international law. In order to return to a neutral standpoint, the UC system must divest from companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation of palestine.”
      - As stated many times in my article, and as stated in every argument regarding BDS, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a two sided conflict. Neutrality is not divesting from specifically one side or the other. Neutrality is divesting from the conflict as a whole, and to a further degree from any socially irresponsible companies, exclusively via an objective SRI index that does not depend on a specific aspect of a company or specific connection to a conflict. To pretend that this resolution is a fight for human rights around the world, is ridiculous simply because it does not achieve or represent that notion. Absolute neutral divestment systems such as we are creating are not only more effective and less destructive to certain communities, they are also morally superior, at least in my opinion.

      Finally you stated: “Citizens United proved to the US Supreme court that money is speech. As long as the UC is speaking the Israeli military campaign’s language, BDS is, indeed silenced.”
      To this I have two responses:
      - I may have many problems with the “money is speech” argument, but as you mentioned this was debated in front of the supreme court so I shall respond. As should be assumed from my article, I do not think we should be financially involved with socially irresponsible companies, in whatever conflict or hazard they may be involved with. However, the percentage funds in these companies involvement with the Israeli military is minuscule compared to their many other financial endeavors, they are speaking many other languages much louder. Some are amazing causes you could not possibly divest from, some are far more terrible. To focus on one small aspect is not a moral cause, especially when that aspect is so clearly a complex and divisive of a conflict.
      - To still say BDS is silenced is so blatantly ignoring every point made in this article that I am forced once again to outline it for you. Let’s pretend for a second money does equal speech. Lets pretend for a second that this isn’t a two-sided conflict, and that the proponents of this resolution are 100% undeniably correct in every notion to assert. Even then, debating with them, listening to the preach, allocating student funds to their Palestinian advocacy events, opening up every office of power for them to enter and announce their point, but ultimately making a decision to look for a more cooperative path, is not silencing. I can’t see how it possibly could be interpreted as such.

  2. Fantastic article Guy! Very well written!

    • I agree 100%. Thank you Guy for caring and for having the intelligence and patience to persevere.

  3. Official PA television—the PA’s PBS—airs programs that feature children as young as six reciting anti-Semitic and violent poems. Just months ago, for example, a little girl recited a poem that claimed, (and I quote) “[Christians and Jews] are inferior, cowardly, and despised.” Three days earlier, on a different program, another young girl insisted that (and I quote), “Our wars are for the Al Aqsa Mosque, and our enemy, Zion, is a Satan with a tail.”
    This is apparently what passes for “educational television” under the Palestinian Authority.
    From cradles to kindergarten classrooms; from the grounds of summer camps to the stands of football stadiums, messages of extremism are everywhere in Palestinian society.
    In the international community, there is no shortage of individuals to lecture Israel about what it must do for peace. Yet these same “human rights advocates” stutter, mumble and lose their voices when it comes to criticizing Palestinian incitement.
    Ignoring words and thoughts of hate does no favors to the Palestinian people. It does no favors to families who seek to build better lives for themselves and their children. And, perhaps most importantly, it does no favors to Palestinian leaders who advance the language of peace instead of the dogmas of hate.
    Laying the groundwork for a stable peace in our region will not happen overnight. But those who would like to foster better relations between Israelis and Palestinians must start by speaking out against incitement in Palestinian society. The next generation—both Israeli and Palestinian—deserve no less.

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