What Does B.D.S. Stand For?

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Eva Wyner and Sophia Breslauer, both students at Columbia University, explore B.D.S. and antisemitism in their university following a referendum on their campus.

This past November, the Columbia College Student Council (C.C.S.C.) debated for the fourth time whether or not to attach a B.D.S. referendum to the student election ballot. The referendum, if passed, would urge Columbia University’s administration to participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement that targets Israel and its economy. At the C.C.S.C. meeting where the referendum was discussed, pro-Israel students were mocked by B.D.S. advocates. We were told by a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest (C.U.A.D.), the primary advocates for the B.D.S. referendum, that “the Jewish religion has been co-opted by white-supremacists.” Such language is used only for rhetorical effect, in a slanderous effort to connect Jewish students that advocate and defend Israel with the worst elements of American society—who are themselves antisemitic. 

Opponents of the referendum fear the hate-inducing rhetoric that was uttered by attendees of the C.C.S.C. meeting will now spread to the rest of campus. Let’s talk through the dangers of a B.D.S. referendum at Columbia. 

Campus-wide cohesion, part of C.C.S.C.’s mission, is impossible when C.U.A.D. refuses to engage. C.U.A.D. is the umbrella organization committed to passing B.D.S. and opposing Israel’s existence on Columbia’s campus. C.U.A.D. adheres to a strict policy of anti-normalization that “forbids the organization from recognizing or formally engaging with any Israeli or pro-Israel organizations.” Policies of anti-normalization are taken straight out of the brutal playbook of radical terrorist organizations like Hamas, who just last week “disappeared” one of their own citizens for merely daring to hold a Zoom conversation with Jewish peace activists in Israel.  Similarly, although not to the same degree, C.U.A.D.’s anti-normalization policies are intentionally designed to not have meaningful dialogue. Prohibiting engagement is antithetical to the spirit of free discourse claimed by the proposed referendum and advanced in the Columbia community. C.U.A.D. claims to have built this referendum on the foundation of dialogue, yet their systematic refusal to engage shatters any potential for dialogue and campus-wide cohesion. 

C.U.A.D. suppresses productive dialogue for all Columbia students by applying offensive labels, which effectively dissuades anyone from engaging in this conversation. C.U.A.D. has labeled anyone who believes in Jewish self-determination as “a fascist, colonialist, and a racist.” We are consequently forced into a defensive posture, left to plead with our classmates to reject these labels unjustly imposed upon us. By vilifying students in this way, C.U.A.D. has not only banned their own members from engaging with pro-Israel students, but also uses bullying and intimidation to dissuade anyone from conversation. C.U.A.D. has vandalized pro-Israel flyers, disrupted our events, and shouted down our speakers. For C.U.A.D.’s members to assert that this referendum will encourage productive debate, when the organization has repeatedly stifled debate, is senseless and deceptive. C.U.A.D. suppresses this conversation far beyond the confines of their immediate organization. By mischaracterizing Zionism and the greater pro-Israel community on campus, their actions automatically discourage impartial students from further inquiry, avert these students from accessing information about the conflict, and effectively prevent university-wide discourse.

The language of the referendum is biased, compounding the problem of information access. The referendum refers to Israel as an apartheid state, a misleading description that intends to distort perceptions of Israel with false associations to the human rights violations of apartheid South Africa. The wording of the referendum is now inherently subjective:

“Should Columbia University divest its stocks, funds, and endowments from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts toward Palestinians that, according to Columbia University Apartheid Divestment, fall under the United Nations International Convention of the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid?”

C.U.A.D. has used a leading question, manipulating the answer of the respondent and making it impossible to achieve results that accurately represent the student body. When the referendum asks students to reject economic cooperation with an allegedly apartheid state, who would vote no? C.U.A.D. has successfully imposed its own radical and widely refuted opinion directly into the referendum question. Given the framing of the question and the inaccessibility of campus dialogue on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the referendum is doomed to mislead our undergraduate population and render inaccurate results.

Moreover, C.U.A.D.’s actions enable antisemitism. 62% of American Jews report that caring about Israel is a very im