On-Campus Panel Discusses BDS Movement

By Mollie Leavitt



Photograph of Yoni Cohen-Idov courtesy of Google plus)

Abe Haak and Yoni Cohen-Idov – an Arab-American and an Israeli – both claim that the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, is an act of “economic belligerence” and essentially an act of war on Israel. They both argued that, when making political statements about the region, there is a need for context and a complete narrative.

Northwestern University’s pro-Israel student group, Wildcats for Israel, hosted the two intellectuals for a panel called “Human Rights in the Middle East” February 16 at the Norris University Center. More than 50 students and community members attended the event and asked questions.

The group hosted the panel in preparation for Wednesday’s Associated Student Government vote on a resolution proposed by NU Divest. The resolution recommended that NU’s trustees divest all of the university’s funds from the companies that sell equipment to the Israeli Defense Forces operating in the West Bank.

“Hopefully, this will allow us to discuss challenges and talk kind of about some of the real problems in the Middle East right now, outside of the country that we all care about, which would be Israel,” said Jonathan Kamel, the president of Wildcats for Israel.

Abe Haak, an Arab journalism professor at NYU, spoke to the group about his unique perspective on Zionism as an Arab-American of Palestinian descent. He explained that after growing up in a staunchly anti-Zionist environment, he researched the Israeli narrative and developed a love for the nation.

“I was told that Israel was a racist, expansionist, colonialist state,” Haak said. “Growing up, you constantly hear that the land was ‘raped’ or ‘expropriated.’” Haak said one year in college, after disagreeing with an Israeli woman about their divergent narratives of the land, he decided to conduct some research of his own and attempt to find a specific instance in history when Israelis took land illegally from the Palestinians, before the outbreak of hostilities in November 1947.

“Every piece of land that the Jews acquired was paid for by deeds and sold by Palestinians,” Haak claimed. “I realized that much of the Arab narrative that I was fed was false.” Haak explained the tedious process he went through in university libraries, checking indexes of books for words like “expropriation” and finding no illegal acquisition of land by the Israelis, derailing the narrative that he was taught that demonized the Israelis.

“I think Israel is the most amazing thing existing in the world today,” Haak said. “There is nothing in the history of mankind like the phenomenon of the revival of Israel – this is a culture that died, a language that basically disappeared – and then with such achievement with such a small piece of land so harried and besieged.”

Haak further emphasized the necessity of the existence of a Jewish state to protect the Jewish people.

“This movement [BDS] is essentially a hate group, and it seeks to demonize the Jewish state because it is Jewish,” Haak said. He believed that having Northwestern divest funds from Israel would not inflict any damage onto the state, but rather make a statement that it is a campus that is hostile to Jews and those who support Israel.

Yoni Cohen-Idov, coach of the Israeli national Debate Team asserted that the BDS movement is not an Israeli-Palestinian issue, but a pro-peace versus an anti-peace issue, stating that the BDS movement is anti-peace.

“Truth without context often equals lie,” Cohen-Idov said. He believes that standing alone, the facts about Israel’s barriers, checkpoints, and bombings are horrific. However, he said, it is essential to note that the barrier was erected to fence off suicide bombers, and the bombings are a response to the missiles being launched at Israeli civilians everyday from hospitals and schools.

“I value Palestinian lives,” Cohen-Idov said. “Fighting for peace and prosperity for Palestinians is mutually exclusive to BDS.” Passing such a resolution would only increase extremism within Israel because of heightened fear among Israelis of anti-Semitism coming from the United State’s top universities, Cohen-Idov said. Cohen-Idov also mentioned that he openly disagrees with certain Israeli government policies.

The fear of anti-Semitism is not unwarranted, according to Haak. As the BDS movement increases in popularity, anti-Semitism becomes less taboo, Haak said. As an Arab-American, Haak has frequently experiences casual encounters with anti-Semitism.

“The difference between Jews, Zionists, and Israelis disappears, and it soon slips into crass, Nazi-like anti-Semitism,” Haak said. “I have experienced it both here and in Europe.” As a professor at NYU, he cited examples of Jewish students receiving fake eviction notices from the on campus Students for Justice in Palestine group. The group did not search for Zionists, but rather Jewish last names in the student directory, illuminating the group’s disregard for a difference between Jew and Zionist, and its inherent anti-Semitism.

Haak and Cohen-Idov garnered much support from their audience, illuminating the necessity for understanding the context of the situation in the Middle East. They also warned of the perceived negative effects the NU Divest resolution would have on Northwestern’s campus. However, the resolution still passed early Thursday at 2:00 a.m.


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