There is much room reserved within the corpus of legal and ethical literature regarding general heuristics by which to analyze the morality of any specific action. Do we look at the intentionality, what the actor was attempting to do in any given scenario—or do we look to the effect of said action, irrespective of internal thought? This debate between the intention behind or result of an action is one that is fundamentally crucial for determining how to react to and judge virtually any action.
The obvious answer is that we need some sort of synthesis between the two. Intention is important because it helps us understand the ethics of a person and whether or not we should characterize them by the results of their action, but the effect of an action is clearly also relevant given that it will dictate the pragmatic response.
In recent years the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) has been proliferating across college campuses. Resolutions demanding the University divest from Israel, almost entirely symbolic in nature, are brought forth weekly in front of student governments and committees. Israeli speakers from visiting politicians, diplomats, professors, and even artists are often protested. And large displays of anti-Israelism are now commonplace across quads and campus-walks everywhere.
Let’s posit, for argument’s sake, that the intention of these activities is pure in nature. Let’s say that anti-Israel activists truly believe that they are on the side of historical justice and that they are taking the moral high ground by their frequent demonization of Israel. Let’s even imagine (contrary to my own view and the view of the majority of the Jewish community) that BDS is not inherently anti-Semitic.
The reality of BDS and campus anti-Israel activism is that none of it hurts Israel. Israel is a world leader in technology, medicine, security, counter-terrorism, agriculture – just to name a few of the fields in which Israel has been a chief innovator. Put simply, Israel is completely fine and thriving and anyone who understands international politics knows that Israel is becoming an increasingly indispensable ally. I often try to envision a comedic scenario in which Israeli leaders are sitting around in despair after having just read an anti-Israel op-ed written in a small school newspaper by a student who has almost certainly never even been to the region.
What we really need to do is inquire into the actual effect of movements like BDS. Given that Israel is virtually unscathed by increased campus anti-Israel activism (if the country is even aware of it whatsoever), what are the real life results of these actions?
The reality is that BDS and its ilk effectively targets and hurts the American Jewish community. While Israelis and the Israeli government probably don’t care if there’s a virulently anti-Israel display at Cal State Fullerton or a protest of an Israeli cultural event at UC Irvine—Jewish students do and it is hurting them.
Whenever anti-Israel activity appears on campus I consistently hear from dozens of students that they feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and even personally attacked on campus. One student I talked to this past year considered skipping class to avoid walking past an anti-Israel display set up in the middle of campus. Another student told me that he never wears any clothing with Hebrew on it, after an incident where he was cornered and shouted down.
We see this happening all over our country and even internationally. We can talk about Jeremy Corbyn, the ex-Labor leader in England, and how 50% of British Jews said they would “strongly consider” emigrating if he had been elected. We can talk about a case at the University of Toronto and how a student union blocked a bid for Kosher food in the cafeteria because it was initiated by the Zionist organization Hillel. We can talk about how progressive Jews feel increasingly uncomfortable in progressive spaces, being forced to choose between their Jewish and progressive identities.
BDS hurts American Jews. This is a fact and a fact that is not dependent on the actual intentions of its supporters. If the only result of staunch anti-Israel campus activity (not to be conflated with groups that are reasonably critical of the Jewish state) is that American Jews feel unsafe, there is no excuse for it to continue. Simply put, without even entering into a conversation about whether or not BDS is anti-Semitic, given its actual effects—as opposed to its supposed ones—there is no moral case for it to continue.
Daniel Levine is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine and the Senior Jewish Educator for Orange County Hillel. His email is Dlevine21@gmail.com