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BDS in 2017: Losses and Pyrrhic Victories

I was beginning to feel a little sorry for campus boycott activists. After all, if any year was going to be their year, it was 2017. You would think that even the most poisonous variants of the politics of the left would do reasonably well in the atmosphere created by the surprise victory of Donald Trump.

Yet the campus BDS movement this year, until recently, had notched wins solely at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, which has been passing divestment resolutions with wearying regularity since 2004, and the University of California-Riverside, where a symbolic and ineffectual blow against Sabra Hummus was struck. Meanwhile, BDS  activists lost at Ohio State (for a third time), University of Illinois-Urbana, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Columbia University.

But Passover did bring news of two BDS wins. At Tufts University, in a vote announced four days in advance, and held the day before Passover, the student government called on Tufts to divest from certain companies alleged to be involved in human rights violations against Palestinians. The timing of the vote led not only the Anti-Defamation League but also the president of Tufts to express concern that the supporters of the resolution chose to put it on the agenda when, you know, the Jews would be out of town.

At Pitzer College, the student government did Tufts one better by holding their anti-Israel vote during Passover and providing no advance notice. According to that vote, Student Activity fees cannot be used to purchase goods or services from companies “associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories.” Students in the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance, and of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, have organized a petition that convincingly characterizes the way in which the vote was held, not to speak of the decision itself, as outrageous.

These are Pyrrhic victories. Even if one were inclined to take seriously statements emanating from Pitzer, whose last serious debate was over whether white women should be permitted to wear hoop earrings (I wish I were making this up), boycott activists lose more than they gain when they win by showing disrespect for the Jewish holidays and fear of debate. Even in an atmosphere in which people of the left are hungry to take some kind of action, BDS has no confidence in its ability to win a fair fight.

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