President Jane Close Conoley's Letter to ASI on Boycotting, Divestments and Sanctions Against Israel
Through a letter to ASI senators, President Jane Close Conoley expresses her opposition to a resolution that calls for boycotting, divesting and sanctions against Israel
April 26, 2017
Associated Students, Inc.
California State University, Long Beach
Long Beach, CA 90840
Today you will debate a resolution that calls for boycotting, divesting, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. I am, of course, highly impressed by your passion for justice across the globe and fully supportive of your right to free expression.
I write, however, to express my opposition to such a resolution. My reasons include the following:
1. Across our nation, BDS resolutions have been debated at many universities. The adoption of such resolutions has often been accompanied by increases in Anti-Jewish graffiti, vandalism, and physical attacks. Thus, those with anti-Jewish prejudices use campus resolutions as enablers to their hatred. Even during our local debate, anti-Jewish vandalism has increased at Long Beach State. This increase has frightened our Jewish students and concerned all community members devoted to social justice and the safety of minority populations.
2. A careful study of the BDS movement illustrates to me that this movement is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel (a partial list of resources is included below). While this issue is not presented as the primary one, it is, from my reading, foundational to the national movement. My view is that both Palestinians and Jews have the right to self-governance. I disagree with the current leadership of the State of Israel as I do with the Hamas leadership in Palestine, but my personal belief and our nation’s international policy is that Israel has a right to exist. My hope is that a peaceful two-state solution will be crafted.
3. I have asked our campus to excel in creating a national model of Inclusive Excellence. I will work against any effort that divides us into groups where those with special voices are permitted to create an “other” group—one that is not welcomed.
4. Many passionate supporters of BDS argue, quite authentically, that they are not trying to harm the people of Israel or their Jewish classmates, but rather send a message to the government of Israel. I respectfully ask that these supporters interview their Jewish classmates about how their actions are experienced at Long Beach State. When I speak to our Jewish students, they report that BDS resolutions are perceived as direct attacks on their right to be on our campus. Unintended consequences are real.
5. The Jewish people have been the targets of suspicion, violence, discrimination, and ostracism for centuries. They have suffered institutional racism in the United States and dozens of countries across the world. Israel’s actions against the Palestinians may certainly be critiqued, but what about Syria’s actions against its own people, Brazil’s brazen violations of human rights, North Korea’s imprisonment of an entire nation, or Russia’s current war on their LGBTQ+ community? Why are only Jews picked out for condemnation? It’s worth reflecting, I think, on implicit bias when singling out only one group of people for sanctions.
6. Finally, this resolution is likely to have the negative effects I’ve described above and no actual impact on the very complex and long standing conflicts in the Middle East. Our policy is to follow U.S. State Department guidelines when considering relations with other nations.
About a year ago, ASI asked me, through a resolution, to adopt investment policies that mirrored our values as a university. In response, we changed our consulting investment firm to one with significant capabilities in Socially Responsible Investing. The consultants have helped our 49er Foundation determine and articulate its priorities and values especially related to environmental, social and governance criteria. Our goal is to have an investment program that reflects our values (e.g., evidence, innovation, sustainability, and equity) while remaining good financial stewards of the Foundation’s assets. These are the assets that support scholarships, faculty research, endowed chairs, and so on.
Thus, I experience the debates around the BDS resolution with some confusion as well as with some dismay. As a university leader, I examine every action I contemplate with the question, “Does this promote inclusion, excellence, and public good at our university?” BDS resolutions fall short of this standard because they lessen one group’s sense of belonging, are based on binary assumptions that do not represent the complex and multinational realities of Middle East conflicts, and, finally, act as catalysts to acts of vandalism and violence.
Jane Close Conoley, Ph.D.President
c: Daily 49er
Partial list of pro and con views of the BDS movement consulted for this statement
Abunimah, Ali, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014)
Azzam, Zeina, “Israel as Oppressor, Palestine as Oppressed: The ‘Normalization’ of What is Not Normal,” Mondoweiss, June 16, 2016, http://mondoweiss.net/2016/06/palestine-oppressed-normalization/
BDS Official Website: https://bdsmovement.net
Cattori, Silvia, “Omar Barghouti: No State Has the Right to Exist as a Racist State,” at Voltaire Network, December 7, 2007, http://www.voltairenet.org/article153536.html
Douglas, R.M., Orderly and Human: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven, 2012)
Foxman, Abraham, “Two Sentences That Could Change the World,” https://www.adl.org/news/op-ed/two-sentences-that-could-change-the-world
Giamatti, Bartlett, A Free and Ordered Space: The Real World of the University (New York, W. W. Norton, Co., 1989)
Hajari, Nisid, Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
Joffe, Alex, “Why the Origins of the BDS Movement Matter,” Times of Israel, August 31, 2016
Liebovitz, Liel, “BDS Inc.,” http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/199058/bds-inc
Mustafa, Ali, “Boycotts Work”: An interview with Omar Barghouti,” Electronic Intifada,
Nelson, Cary, and Brahm, Gabriel Noah, eds., The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (New York: MLA Members for Scholars Rights, 2015)
PACBI Statement: “Israel Exceptionalism: Normalizing the Abnormal,“ October 6, 2011, http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1749
Palestinian BDS National Committee, “Eleven signs that BDS continues to grow despite Israel’s war of repression,” https://bdsmovement.net/news/eleven-signs-bds-continues-grow-despite-israel’s-war-repression
Rasgon, Adam, “Poll indicates majority supports two-states, but not on previous negotiations,” Jerusalem Post, August 22, 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Majority-of-Israelis-Palestinians-still-support-two-state-solution-464748