Opinion

Justice Through BDS

In the past year alone, israel has demolished over 1,000 homes and buildings, displacing 1,300 Palestinians. Zionism, a political ideology that advocates for the existence and maintenance of a Jewish state in historic Palestine, underpins these demolitions and forced removals. Its founders modeled the state of israel after European settler colonialism, a form of colonialism that emphasizes control over land and relies on removal and dispossession of an Indigenous population to make way for settlers. This apartheid state consists of legal, social, and economic systems which confer certain rights to Israeli citizens but deny them to Palestinians. We are calling upon Tufts students to engage in strategic boycotts to act in solidarity with those oppressed by these systems. 

Historical Context

In 1948, the same year the state of israel was created, Zionists violently displaced at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, in what is now known as the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”). This created a population of refugees who are living in exile today and are denied the right to return to their homes. 

Palestinians living under the brutal occupation by the Israeli apartheid and its settler-colonial state do not only face the continual threat of removal. Palestinians in Gaza have been living under a harsh blockade, relentless surveillance, and spatial control since 2007, in the world’s largest “open-air” prison. In Gaza, 70 percent of the youth are unemployed, the healthcare system is overburdened, and 97 percent of drinking water is contaminated with sewage or salt. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank have been cut off from their land and their communities by an Apartheid Wall and are forced to endure brutal military checkpoints just to get to work in the morning, if they are lucky enough to obtain a permit. The Zionist settler-colonial project has directly created these conditions in an attempt to secure more land and resources for settlers and weaken Palestinian resistance.

The BDS Movement

Today’s struggle for Palestinian liberation against oppressive colonial rule echoes the fight to end the brutal apartheid state in South Africa. At the height of South African apartheid in the 1980s, one in four people in Great Britain were participating in a boycott of South African goods, and a powerful student movement on campuses across the imperial United States demanded divestment from corporations involved in upholding apartheid. The immense pressure from the collective boycott led to the fall of the South African apartheid regime. 

Following this model, the Palestinian people seek justice and liberation as they call for a boycott of Israeli goods. Tufts’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is bringing this movement to our campus through a campaign calling on students to show their support for Palestinian liberation through personal choices—namely, refusing to buy products or participate in groups that enable and normalize Zionist settler colonialism. We invite all students committed to human rights and decolonization to join SJP in taking these actions as part of the greater Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

The BDS movement stems from the understanding that israel’s settler colonialism, apartheid, and occupation are maintained by the economic, political, and ideological cooperation of the international community. BDS seeks to make it economically and politically unviable for israel to continue its violent occupation and colonization of Palestinian land by compelling governments, institutions, and corporations to withdraw their support for apartheid israel. It can be practiced on a personal level, by boycotting Israeli goods and companies that are complicit in Israeli colonization, on an institutional level, by demanding that institutions divest their holdings in corporations that help maintain Israeli colonialism, and on a governmental level, by advocating for states to impose sanctions on israel for its actions. 

SJP supports the full range of Palestinian resistance against settler-colonialism. However, as students in the United States, BDS is a way we can materially stand in solidarity with Palestinians. As people living under the US government, we are all complicit in israel’s oppression of Palestinians. The US sends israel $3.8 billion of our tax dollars every year to help it maintain its system of domination over the Palestinian people and consistently votes against accountability for Israeli human rights abuses in the UN. On an individual level, we all support the occupation through our purchase of goods from corporations that profit off of israel’s settler-colonial project. By engaging in BDS, we can directly counter this complicity by pressuring corporations to end their involvement in the occupation.

Tufts’ Complicity

The BDS list names several specific companies to target to maximize pressure, two of which—Sabra and Pillsbury—have products sold on our campus. Sabra, which supplies the hummus cups sold at Kindlevan and Mugar Cafes, is one prominent company on the BDS list for its direct support of the Israeli military, which commits human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Sabra is owned in part by the Strauss Group, israel’s largest food and beverage company. The Strauss Group materially supports and sends care packages to Israeli soldiers at the Golani Brigade, a group known for arbitrary murders and detentions. Pillsbury, which is sold in Commons, is owned by General Mills and operates a factory in the Atarot Industrial Zone, an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. The factory has displaced Palestinians and profits off of their land, water, and other resources.   

Tufts community members will find that our pledge also asks signers to refuse to join groups or projects that normalize or benefit israel. On Tufts’ campus, this means not joining Tufts Friends of israel (FOI), Tufts J Street, or TAMID, as well as not choosing to study abroad in israel or participate in Birthright, not taking the Visions of Peace course, and not participating in the Tisch Summer Fellowship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

FOI and J Street are advocacy groups seeking to improve israel’s economic, social, and political standing. FOI is an openly Zionist organization that actively whitewashes history by refusing to acknowledge israel as a settler-colonial project. Although J Street U’s official position is that of a “two-state solution,” this position fundamentally promotes the maintenance of the settler-colonial status quo. While SJP recognizes that many Jewish people begin their anti-zionist political journey through J Street U, and appreciates that J Street U’s Tufts chapter agrees that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not synonymous, it is crucial for students to refuse half-measures that condemn occupation while normalizing colonization. Similarly, the Visions of Peace course invites Zionist speakers and implies that the solution to settler violence lies in mere “dialogue,” as if the occupation itself is not the ultimate source of injustice and violence.  

TAMID is a financial consulting club on campus that contributes to Israeli economic growth by connecting students to consulting internships for Israeli companies. While they claim to be apolitical, their website proudly states that they were recognized “…for exceptional israel-related advocacy and contributions.” The ADL is a Zionist nonprofit that claims to fight antisemitism in the US, but in reality has sponsored trips for US law enforcement officers to train with Israeli police, intelligence agents, and military officials for the past 20 years, and has a history of spying on and sabotaging progressive movements. 

Birthright is an organization that provides free trips to israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 in order to foster support for the state of israel. As five million Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to their homeland, the idea that others have an automatic “birthright” to this stolen land is patently unjust. Finally, we include studying abroad in israel because it connotes support for the Israeli universities whose research justifies the theft of land and resources from Palestinians, and is instrumental in the design of surveillance technology and weapons that sustain the occupation.

Our Ask

We fundamentally believe that “no one is free when others are oppressed.” This means we see Palestinian liberation as a crucial part of our collective liberation from racism, capitalism, colonialism, sexism, and all other interconnected systems of oppression which strip us all of our humanity and justify the exploitation of peoples and the land. As National Students for Justice in Palestine has articulated, “The struggle for a just and free Palestine is a struggle for Black liberation, gender and sexual freedom, a livable and beautiful planet, and a world where everyone’s basic needs are met and their rights are respected.” We know that our movements are stronger when we recognize our causes as one in the same, and we see BDS as an extension of the fight for collective liberation.

Our ask is this: don’t buy products or engage with the groups and initiatives at Tufts that contribute to israel’s settler-colonial project and perpetual violation of Palestinian human rights. To affirm your commitment, we invite you to visit and sign our pledge to:

  1. Boycott Sabra and Pillsbury products on campus
  2. Refuse to be involved with advocacy groups that normalize israel
  3. Refuse to be involved with programs that fund trips to israel
  4. Commit to BDS until Palestine is free, including boycotting all companies that are targets of the BDS Movement globally (HP, Israeli fruits and vegetables, Puma, AXA, SodaStream, and Ahava)

The more individuals who commit to practicing BDS, the greater impact we will have. Ask your friends to join you; spread the word to your classmates. By signing on and abiding by this pledge, your actions on a day-to-day basis will contribute to justice and liberation.

You can stay up to date on our campaign by following @sjptufts on Instagram.