When State Legislators Learn about BDS

Ilana.originalby Ilana Gershon

I wish I could take a stance that our current vote on BDS doesn’t allow – I want to boycott the Israeli government and support my Israeli colleagues who are working against the Occupation from within Israeli institutions. Indeed, I have no objection to boycotting Israeli goods and services. Many supporters of BDS have explained to me that this is a boycott of institutions and not of people.

For me, the question is: is this separation even possible? I have decided it is not, largely because I teach students all the time that this is not possible in my classes, ironically, using texts written by many BDS supporters. In fact, it is part of what I see as one of the most important analytical insights we can offer our students – that institutions are in part the compilations of many local decisions to enact or change institutional rules and expectations. And changing institutional relationships often leads to unanticipated and all too often unwelcome consequences.

I want to mention one possible unwelcome consequence that worries me enough to be opposed to BDS. This boycott sanctions a political strategy that other actors, such as US state legislators, can adopt for their own political ends. Perhaps it is because I live in Indiana, but I don’t want to model for Indiana state legislators the possibility that they can pass any laws to prevent state funding from being used to create intellectual dialogue with Muslim scholars. That possibility seems all too likely to me. Are these tactics ones that we want to become widespread as state legislator happily find ways to cut spending and take political stances that they think their constituents support, modeling their own strategies on BDS principles? We should be careful that the political strategies we are willing to use are ones that we can live with when they are used against us, or in support of causes we don’t endorse.

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