Denouncing SJP’s one-sided narrative
The Bowdoin chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has called for an “academic and cultural boycott of Israel,” as evidenced by senior Christopher Wedeman’s March 27 article entitled “Israeli academic institutions treatment of Palestinians worthy of boycott.” We are writing to condemn this boycott and strongly urge the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) to reject the resolution. Instead, we call upon Bowdoin students and all members of the Bowdoin community to initiate an informed conversation that is respectful to all sides.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a campaign that advocates for political and economic sanctions against Israel to effect change in the region’s current status quo. To accept the boycott of Israeli academic institutions would be to miss the benefit that a small college provides, namely, the ability to engage all voices present in our community. Before considering a resolution or a tactic, it is important to understand not only the historical narratives of both peoples, but also the competing need for security in Israel and justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike. We must also recognize that Israelis and Palestinians both have a valid right to self-determination. In doing so, we support both Israel and Palestine’s right to exist, but not at each other’s expense. Only after this foundation has been established can there be an open dialogue between the two sides.
We applaud SJP for bringing awareness to an important global issue through their Justice for Palestine Week, but we denounce the one-sided narrative the group presents. Completely absent from their rhetoric is Israel’s right to exist. Chasing students down the Smith Union hallway to pitch a misleading narrative for the purpose of collecting signatures belies Bowdoin’s academic integrity. Signatures on a petition are devoid of meaning when the signatories are minimally informed.
BDS and SJP miss the opportunity to engage in an open dialogue. Rather, the movements seek to assign absolute blame to Israel. Both claim to challenge Israel’s “system of oppression of the Palestinian people,” but the weak framework of the proposed boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions will in no way help BDS and SJP realize this goal.
SJP claims the BDS movement has been sweeping college campuses across the nation. However, the group ignores that many of the resolutions brought to colleges and universities have already failed. This most recent proposal is the second attempt by SJP to have Bowdoin boycott Israeli academic institutions. President Mills stood against the Academic Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott last winter, stating that “rather than stifling discussion and the free exchange of ideas, Bowdoin seeks to serve the common good through direct and open engagement with and collaboration between researchers, scientists, teachers, and artists across the globe.” Similar boycott efforts have failed at Colby, Amherst, Bates, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Boston University, and MIT. We applauded these decisions then and continue to support them now as we seek to promote fair and balanced dialogue.
Bowdoin’s Academic Honor Code and Social Code calls students to “uncompromised intellectual inquiry.” Instituting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is antithetical to Bowdoin’s core values and silences debate over an important and nuanced issue. We disagree with the BDS movement, and hope that, in recognizing the need for an open discourse, the Bowdoin community does too.
Zachary Albert, Evan Eklund and Rachel Snyder are members of the Class of 2016.