This week, the undergraduate Senate is set to wade into a debate about Israel that has captured the national spotlight and already drawn fierce reaction from groups on campus.
Joining dozens of other organizations across the country, on Tuesday the Senate will consider whether or not to encourage the University to divest from companies operating in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The bill in question is inspired by the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which seeks to use economic pressure to influence Israel to end its occupation of lands intended for a future Palestinian state.
We share BDS supporters’ frustration over the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate and applaud their commitment to act. There is no doubt that the ongoing conflict demands urgent attention, but we do not think that BDS will achieve the desired ends.
After last year’s war in Gaza broke the illusion of calm, growing unrest in the West Bank now reveals that conditions are only getting worse. Amid a deepening divide between Israelis and Palestinians, encroaching settlement expansion is rapidly taking over Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This settlement enterprise threatens not only the future of a Palestinian state, but also Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic homeland, and our own security interests here in the United States.
Meanwhile, Hamas, which rules Gaza, refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist and continues to build its arsenal designed to harm civilians.
Given the stagnation of diplomatic efforts, impatience is a good thing. But where we agree on the urgency of the conflict, we think that divestment is the wrong tool for several reasons.
First of all, BDS is destined to backfire. Although Israeli leaders have the power to change course, attempts to alienate and economically pressure Israeli settlers will likely have the opposite effect: they will convince all Israelis that the world is turning against them, leading them to become more entrenched in their stances and more averse to compromise. Israelis need to feel secure, not isolated, in order to make the concessions necessary for a peace agreement.
Second, the BDS movement cannot end the conflict. Unlike the two-state solution, which seeks to benefit both sides, the BDS movement is concerned only with assigning blame, and it places it singularly upon Israel.
We reject BDS’s zero-sum approach. We fear that, whereas the vast majority of Americans desire a two-state solution and should be uniting to make it a reality, the BDS movement is sowing division, sapping resources, and turning away many of us who would otherwise be supportive of pro-peace efforts. Just as BDS will only harden Israelis and Palestinians against the possibility of compromise, so will it also polarize groups here on campus who could be allies.
All of us at Stanford – Christians, Jews and Muslims, Republicans and Democrats – have a shared interest in ending this conflict. If we are serious about it, we need to put aside counterproductive tactics and move past the designation of blame that has plagued the conflict from the beginning. We need to marshal our impatience and rally together for the two-state solution – the only way forward that allows both sides to realize peace, security and their respective national aspirations.
Polls have consistently shown that despite the deteriorating situation on the ground, support for two states among Israelis and Palestinians remains strong. What has steadily declined is their hope that peace can still be accomplished. This dangerous hope deficit heightens our own responsibility to act. We can work together to restore faith in a peaceful resolution by seeking out thoughtful, constructive solutions to break the stalemate.
For those of us who consider ourselves pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian or both, a two-state solution offers the only viable option. On Tuesday, we hope that Stanford will reject the BDS movement and declare strong support for the two-state solution, the only viable way to end this conflict once and for all.
Terry Winograd, Prof. Emeritus of Computer Science
Carol Winograd, MD, Assoc. Prof. Emerita of Medicine
National Executive Board of J Street