Editor’s note: Aaron Klein is the Executive Audio Producer at The Tufts Daily and also one of the two co-chairs of J Street U Tufts. Klein was not involved in the reporting, writing or editing of this article. Skyler Goldberg is the chair of The Tufts Daily’s Education Committee and also the president of Tufts Friends of Israel. Goldberg was not involved in the reporting, writing or editing of this article.
Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine announced its new Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign on March 14 in an op-ed published in the Tufts Observer. University administration and several Tufts student organizations targeted by the boycott condemned SJP’s decision and the BDS movement.
In a petition attached to its op-ed, SJP asked students to “refuse to join groups or projects that normalize or benefit [I]srael.” Several student organizations, including Tufts Friends of Israel and J Street U Tufts, are targets of the boycott. SJP also asked participants to boycott all Sabra and Pillsbury products, which are sold at Kindlevan Café and The Commons Marketplace, according to the op-ed.
“It is particularly disappointing that [SJP] have chosen to ask fellow students to boycott not just companies but other student groups on campus,” Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, wrote in a statement to the Daily. “[SJP’s] most recent campaign is divisive and harmful. It doesn’t help foster important conversations – rather, it shuts them down while ostracizing fellow students.”
Students for Justice in Palestine also called for a boycott of Birthright, an organization which pays for Jewish young adults to travel to Israel; the Tisch Summer Fellows internship with the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish NGO; TAMID at Tufts, an entrepreneurship club which connects students to professional opportunities in Israel; and Visions of Peace, a Tufts Hillel program which facilitates a recurring Experimental College course and contains the Tufts Students for Two States coalition.
The goal of BDS, according to SJP, is “to make it economically and politically unviable for [I]srael to continue its violent occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.” SJP refused to comment for this article.
The day SJP announced its boycott, Executive Director of Tufts Hillel Rabbi Naftali Brawer and student president Allison Cohen issued a statement on social media condemning the campaign.
“The programs and student groups targeted in this boycott represent a wide spectrum of views on Israel whose main overlap is that they are committed to productive dialogue,” the statement read. “[W]e firmly believe that dialogue is the only route to deeper understanding between people of divergent views and a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Although J Street U Tufts and SJP co-sponsored an event in the past, J Street U Tufts’ public support of a two-state solution, in combination with its national umbrella organization’s condemnation of BDS, factored into SJP’s decision to boycott the club, according to an email that SJP sent to J Street U Tufts’ co-chairs.
In its petition, SJP rejects the two-state solution as white supremacist.
“[The two state solution] perspective fails to recognize Israel as a settler colonial state and Zionism as a white supremacist ideology,” the petition says.
In contrast to SJP’s characterization of its club in the petition, J Street U Tufts publicly denounces Israeli occupation; the club tweeted on March 13 that it believes “Israel is carrying out a system of military occupation and Jewish supremacy that is unjust, counter to Jewish values, and violates international law,” and is currently working to pass H.R.5344, a bill that “would impose restrictions on Israeli military funding, halt the building of settlements, affirm Palestinian self-determination, and undo harmful Trump era policies.”
Violet Kopp, co-chair of J Street U Tufts, said that the club was “in pretty close contact” with SJP prior to the boycott.
“We think that, as a club, we have a lot more ideological similarities with [SJP] than not,” Kopp, a sophomore, said. “So [our inclusion in the boycott] definitely came as a surprise.”
J Street U Tufts was made aware it would be included in the boycott on March 9, five days before SJP’s op-ed was published.
“[W]e genuinely appreciate your efforts to move young Jews on the issue of the
Occupation,” SJP wrote in an email to J Street U Tufts’ co-chairs, explaining their decision to include the club in the boycott. “[B]ut we cannot in good faith ignore the fact that as an organization, J Street not only condemns BDS, but also consistently uses rhetoric of ‘conflict,’ denies Palestinians’ right to return, refuses to acknowledge ‘Israel’ as a white supremacist settler-colonial project, and promotes a ‘two-State solution.’”
Although SJP’s BDS campaign does not directly name Tufts Hillel, it targets several organizations under the Hillel umbrella, including Visions of Peace and FOI.
Ian Kaplan, a political co-chair of FOI, condemned SJP’s in an email to the Daily.
“FOI stands against this boycott and proudly affirms its commitment to Zionism and the state of Israel,” Kaplan, a first-year, wrote. “Allowing SJP to shut down nuanced conversation about Israel is both unproductive for diversification efforts and dangerous for Jewish students.”
Rachel Coll and John Cho, who lead the Visions of Peace ExCollege course, told the Daily in an email that “the opinion piece in the Observer does not accurately describe Visions of Peace’s content, objectives, and guest speakers.”
Coll and Cho, who are sophomores, added that the course “[does] not promote any singular opinion, method of peacebuilding, or political stance.”
In response to SJP’s boycott, TAMID wrote on social media, “We are disappointed to learn that an organization on campus feels that students should not join TAMID because of its association with the Israeli economy … We will continue to uphold the areligious and apolitical nature of our group.”
Kopp believes that by lumping together student groups like FOI and J Street U Tufts, SJP overlooks the nuances between them.
“While we have friendly working relationships with some of those groups, we also are by no means the same, or have the same political opinions,” Kopp said. “In fact, a lot of the work we do as J Street is going to groups like Hillel and groups like Friends of Israel and saying let’s talk, let’s have a conversation, but also, we want to put a lot of pressure on them to acknowledge more parts of the occupation.”
Kopp believes SJP’s move to boycott other clubs is counterproductive.
“I think dialogue needs to be central to any social justice movement,” Kopp said. “That’s not to say that it should be in the place of tangible solutions and structural change and oppressors’ taking onus and responsibility and undoing the harm they’ve done, but you can’t get there without having conversations.”