When it comes to protesting totalitarian regimes, somehow Israel makes the top of every college activists’ list.
The Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement targets Israel due to the perception that Israel oppresses the people of Palestine. In reality, BDS targets the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
BDS activists are remarkably silent about countries that oppress their citizens as long as they can expect them to oppose Israel. This is certainly reflected in BDS activists’ attitudes towards countries which conduct human rights violations and continue to oppress their own migrant workers.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have conducted airstrikes that leveled Yemen’s public infrastructure, killed thousands of civilians — with Saudi Arabia recently killing more than 150 civilians in a bombing raid just last week — and helped fuel a cholera epidemic that has sickened more than a million people.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said in May, “Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records and has supported many of the extremists terrorizing the people of the Middle East and the world. These arms sales extend a reckless policy from the Obama administration and prior administrations, and they come at a time when the Saudi government is escalating a gruesome war in Yemen.”
BDS student activists refuse to condemn Saudi Arabia’s gruesome war in Yemen, nor do they condemn Saudi Arabia’s horrible human rights records, including their anti-women laws and repression of basic human rights like freedom of speech and religion. In fact, the only times it even comes up on their BDS campaign website is when individual members of the Saudi royal family meet with various Israeli officials, where it condemns the “normalization of ties” between Israel and other Arab countries.
Israel, unlike Saudi Arabia in their war against Yemen, has been trying to negotiate with the Palestinian people for a two-state solution. According to David Brog of Prager University, Israel has offered Palestine a state of its own five separate times, each time being rejected by the Palestinians. Israel has been attacked and invaded repeatedly by its neighbors over its 70-year history.
This is not to say that Israel is perfect. Israel has committed war crimes and violated international law. All countries who engage in the military conflict have done so and the international community has been right to condemn these acts when they occur. Examples include the illegal settlements on the West Bank or the Gaza blockade.
Of course, American BDS activists have the right to continue their campaign, as we live in a country where freedom of expression and speech is not repressed. However, to specifically continue to condemn Israel as if it is the only country who has ever committed war crimes is hypocritical, especially considering that Saudi Arabia once led the UN Human Rights Council. Hamas launches rockets into Israel, stockpiles arms in UN schools and uses them as human shields, and then has the gall to cry for human rights when Israel responds with a bombing campaign of their own.
There is some hope though. While BDS continues their efforts in attempting to isolate and destroy favor for Israel on college campuses, other activist groups have focused on helping people. Even the Muslim Student Association at Cal Poly has repeatedly held fundraisers to help the oppressed, with their most recent effort raising money for Rohingya refugees fleeing from oppression in Myanmar.
I hope to see a real conversation on campus about how we can solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without dipping down into boycotts or other meaningless protest activities. I hope that young academics can come to recognize Israel has a right to exist and defend itself from attackers, but also recognize that their retaliation at times goes too far. That Hamas, Fatah, and their student activists in the United States need to see that Israel will never be destroyed.
Meanwhile, let’s hope student activists also direct their attention to other problems in the world. Problems such as the United States supporting the Saudi Arabian bombing campaign in Yemen, the destruction of certain constitutional rights, and the protests in Iran.
Elias J. Atienza is student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.