Student Government should oppose BDS legislation

Walker Fountain

Editor's Note: The Texan received this piece around the same time as Mukund Rathi's piece. They are not intended to be read as a point/counterpoint.

At the University of Texas, we pride ourselves on our commitment to fostering cutting edge research, high quality education, and open dialogue and discussion. Over the past few weeks, a movement known as BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, has begun on campus and stands counter to these ideals.

The movement, taking the form of a piece of legislation written by members of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, will be introduced at the second Student Government assembly meeting on Tuesday. The aims of this campaign are ostensibly to encourage the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest from certain companies that do business in the State of Israel.  However, the true motives behind this movement are less than clear.

Several key BDS activists, including one of its founders, have used BDS as a tool to advocate for the delegitimization and the demolition of the Jewish State of Israel.

Even assuming best intentions on the part of the organizers at UT, it is clear that the proposed legislation is problematic, and our campus community would be well served by a careful discussion of the dangers posed by this divisive campaign.

A group of students at the University, myself included, have launched a campaign called Unify Texas. Our goal is to show the student body and UT community that one does not have to be pro-Israel to oppose BDS legislation which would divide the student body and alienate certain groups on campus.

Unify Texas has made clear that it is open and willing to facilitate discussion with anyone — be they pro-Israel, anti-Israel, indifferent or anywhere in between. However, Unify Texas is attempting to draw a distinction between the positive dialogue that is possible between people who share opposing ideologies and the negative, one-sided divestment resolution proposed before Student Government, which we view as extreme.

UT Divest’s claim that this legislation will be helpful to Palestinians is misleading. In fact, BDS damages the Palestinian economy and negatively affects the tens of thousands of Palestinians who are employed by companies in Israel and the West Bank, compounding the struggle for each side to achieve the mutual goal of peace. This is crucial to understanding this ultimately flawed legislation.

Unify Texas will remain sincere in our effort to unite our campus community. We will not label BDS proponents at UT or attempt to supply their motives. We reject the notion that they attempt to incite anti-Semitism. However, as students at the University, we are obligated to examine the potential effects of the legislation and observe how similar campaigns have negatively affected other campuses.

The passage of BDS would be extremely damaging to campus atmosphere. If our Student Government votes to endorse a one-sided view predicated on delegitimizing and demonizing the State of Israel, it will alienate and isolate many students whose opinions differ. It would not be acceptable for our Student Government to declare to a large group of students on this campus that their passionately held views are irrelevant or misguided.

Students who feel differently than the sponsors of the resolution would feel antagonized and isolated by our student government, because of deep familial and emotional ties to the issue at hand. Student Government is not the correct vehicle for UT Divest because of these undeniable facts. The complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict merits a much more nuanced and inclusive approach, one that accounts for the sensitivities of all sides.

We strongly encourage Student Government to take a stand for unity on our campus by opposing BDS legislation. Representatives should make an unequivocal statement to their constituents that advocating for one side in a debate need not bring down the others. Decisions concerning political and business relationships with Israel should be made on Capitol Hill and in corporate boardrooms, not in the Student Activity Center. We strongly encourage a dialogue on campus regarding the issue, yet abide in our conviction that passage of BDS legislation would do a great disservice to our University and our campus community.

Fountain is a government junior from Pelham, New York.