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Beating Back the Bully

Sarah Buzaglo

Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions. Decades ago, BDS was a weapon used against apartheid in South Africa. Today, it is being used against Israel and the Jewish nation. How we’re fighting back.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

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Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions. 
In a world where media and technology are ubiquitous, these words might as well be synonymous with mortars, tanks, and bullets. Decades ago, BDS was a weapon used against apartheid in South Africa. Today, it is being used against Israel and the Jewish nation. Fighting back is becoming an increasingly formidable task

Seated cross-legged on the concrete in the main courtyard of the United Nations headquarters, hundreds of students have gathered for an unusual conference, at least in this venue: an anti-BDS parley at the world body that singles out Israel for censure like no other. 

A young woman balancing a turkey sandwich and a book with the Palestinian flag prominently featured on its cover is speaking animatedly, her hazel eyes flashing. I approach slowly, lowering myself to the ground and nodding a greeting. 

“Which book is that?” 

“This is a copy of Omar Barghouti’s book on BDS,” she says, mentioning the name of the Palestinian activist who started the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction the State of Israel. “The sales rep at Barnes and Noble thought I was nuts when I asked her for a copy. She could tell I was Jewish.” 

“What did you tell her?”

BDS is the 21st-century incarnation of an old disease: anti-Semitism. The difference is that now the entire Jewish state is targeted, not only the Jewish people. —Danny Danon

The girl shrugs. “The truth. I’m a political science major at Princeton, and every time my classmates or professors mention BDS, I use the same arguments, but none of them work. So I bought the book to see what else I could use, and what logic drives their arguments. You can’t argue with someone if you don’t know their argument, you know?” 

Two young men seated nearby are listening, one tugging at his tie in discomfort, the other munching on a sesame roll.

“Princeton? Didn’t you guys vote down a referendum for divestment last year?” one asks. When she nods, he shakes his head in wonder. “You’re lucky. I’m at CUNY, they just passed an academic boycott against Israel. I had a whole argument about it with my professor. She’s always telling us to appreciate the opportunities we have, that education opens gates and secures futures. But then she’ll go and support a boycott against all Israeli academic institutions. It’s hypocritical, really.” 

A girl standing to the left of our group snorts in amusement. “Hey, one isn’t that bad. We had over 40 professors sign a petition urging the college to take part in divestment against Israel. Doesn’t matter which subject they teach, either, I’ve had writing comp and bio teachers bring up divestment in their class.”

There are people who wake up every morning trying to figure out how to destroy Israel. Do you wake up in the morning aware of that, ready to fight it? — Frank Luntz

Her name tag reads Rebecca. I ask which school she attends. 

“Columbia.” 

Curiosity piqued, I pose a question to the group, which has grown as more students carrying sandwiches and water bottles settle themselves in the shade of the building against the Manhattan skyline. 

“Why are you all here?” I ask. 

Responses are swift. 

“I want to learn how to defend Israel without sounding aggressive and scaring people away” says Mark, a slender youth wearing a silk white kippah. 

“I came because I need to know how to respond to my professors when they start calling Israel an apartheid state,” volunteers Rebeccah. 

“I wanted to take a selfie in the UN building,” jokes a freckle-faced girl, as the others laugh. 

After a moment of silence, Abby, the owner of Barghouti’s book, looks up. “I think we’re all here with similar variations of the same goal — to fight BDS.”

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