BDS, Barnard and Natalie: The Bigger Problem

“Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation.”

This week, I received many questions regarding the BDS movement and the two to one vote made at Barnard University by students to divest from 8 companies who work with Israel. And when I throw Natalie Portman’s decision not to travel to Israel to accept the award at the Genesis Prize Ceremony, it only adds questions to the already very confused crowd. So here are my thoughts:

  1. I love Israel. Period. Yet I don’t always agree with the decisions that the government makes on behalf of the State of Israel. These days, I seem to be in direct opposition with much of what is said by Netanyahu. It pains me greatly to watch some of what is happening in Israel. And yet, I love Israel. And I love the many, many people who are working to do good in Israel. People who are working to bridge the gaps between Jews and Palestinians, between rich and poor, among religious, secular and liberal. I love seeing the incredible scientific, medical and environmental advances coming from Israel’s great minds. So I work hard to introduce people to the good, lots of good, happening in Israel, and I will continue to work hard to support those who are trying to effect changes in the government, so future generations of Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, can leave together, successfully, in Israel. It is, frankly, not so different from the millions of Americans who are horrified by the direction of our country, yet we aren’t fleeing from America; we are working hard to make changes.
  1. I respect Natalie Portman’s decision to not attend the ceremony in Israel. I wish she would have explained herself from the beginning, but it is clear that she is not traveling to Israel because she does not want to appear as endorsing Prime Minister Netanyahu. I may not have made the same decision as she, but I respect her decision. And further, Portman said in explaining that she is not a part of the BDS movement: “Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation.”
  1. I respect the students at Barnard, and the students at George Washington University, and many other college campuses across the country. I absolutely don’t agree with their perspective, and I am completely opposed to the BDS movement, but I respect the students for trying to enter into this complicated relationship with Israel. I only wish we could teach our young people how to love AND how to struggle with Israel, without boycotting, literally.
  1. What do I believe is the bigger problem? Why are so many college students pulled to the BDS movement? Why are Jewish college students (because those are the ones I think I can impact) pushed away from our beloved Israel? While I don’t have all the answers, I do think there are a few obvious reasons.
  • First, this generation has not been taught how to effectively struggle, yet love. When they don’t like something, they walk away and move on to something else. How can we better teach our youth, and ourselves for that matter, the art of struggling, grappling, debating, questioning – but still loving?
  • Second, our beloved Israel isn’t so beloved right now. This young generation of Jews has grown up knowing only Netanyahu as the leader of Israel, and for many, that has become an embarrassment. We who can remember a time when Israel was admired and beloved are become fewer and fewer, because Israel’s government is not making good choices, which is impacting the way she is perceived in the world. Yet a country is far more than the choices of one leader and one government. We Americans are coming to know this more and more.
  • Third, the teachers and educators in the United States have done a disservice by not engaging in the most difficult of questions regarding Israel. We wanted everyone to fall in love with Israel, but we forgot that falling in love means learning how to fight, and how to make-up. Falling in love means knowing that you can agree to disagree, yet don’t need to divorce yourself from the one you love.

So how do I think we solve the bigger problem? We must find ways to teach love for Israel, and teach appropriate criticism of Israel. I do not always agree with Alan Dershowitz, but in this matter, I do. We cannot abandon Israel now. We must find ways to help Israel fight racism and poverty and to work for immigrants and refugees, just as we are doing in America.  And we must find a way to take the passion, intellect, commitment, and perseverance of our young people in order to help them understand how they, too, can embrace an Israel that may be flawed, yet is ours to love – forever.

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