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In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and a Free Palestine

By The Crimson Editorial Board

When oppression strikes anywhere in the world, resistance movements reverberate globally. The desire for rightful justice spreads, like wildfire, moving us to act, to speak, to write, and right our past wrongs.

Over the past year, the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee has strived to do just that. Amid escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine, PSC has hosted informational programming, organized weekly demonstrations of support through “Keffiyeh Thursdays,” and even installed a colorful, multi-panel “Wall of Resistance” in favor of Palestinian freedom and sovereignty.

In at least one regard, PSC’s spirited activism has proven successful: It has forced our campus — and our editorial board — to once again wrestle with what both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called Israel’s “crimes against humanity” in the region.

We first and foremost wish to extend our sincere support to those who have been and continue to be subject to violence in occupied Palestine, as well as to any and all civilians affected by the region’s bellicosity. We are not sure how these words will reach you, or whether they’ll do so at all. But our stance isn’t rooted in proximity or convenience, but rather in foundational principles we must uphold — even if (or perhaps especially when) it proves difficult.

This editorial board is broadly and proudly supportive of PSC’s mission and activism, including its recent art display. The admittedly controversial panels dare the viewer to contend with well-established, if rarely stated, facts. They direct our eyes towards the property and land confiscations, citizenship denials, movement restrictions, and unlawful killings that victimize Palestinians day in and day out. Art is a potent form of resistance, and we are humbled by our peers’ passion and skill.

In the wake of accusations suggesting otherwise, we feel the need to assert that support for Palestinian liberation is not antisemitic. We unambiguously oppose and condemn antisemitism in every and all forms, including those times when it shows up on the fringes of otherwise worthwhile movements. Jewish people — like every people, including Palestinians — deserve nothing but life, peace, and security.

Nothing about PSC’s Wall of Resistance denies that. While members of our campus might well find its messages provocative, or disagree with their philosophical outlook, nothing about them is, in our view, worthy of that delegitimizing label. We have a certain community-wide tendency to dismiss opposing views as inherently offensive and unworthy, straw-manning legitimate arguments and obfuscating difficult but necessary discussions. Yet civil discourse and debate, even when trying, are fundamental steps towards a better reality.

Israel remains America’s favorite first amendment blindspot. Companies that choose to boycott the Jewish state, or otherwise support the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement face legal repercussions in at least 26 states. Even for journalists, openly condemning the state’s policies poses an objective professional risk. Only last year, the Associated Press prompted outcry after firing a news editor over college-age tweets critical of Israel. The controversial decision followed a long-established pattern: Dare question Israel’s policies or endorse Palestinian freedom and you will be shunned from the newsroom, past accomplishments or legitimate arguments be damned. For college students like ourselves, speaking bluntly about events in the region can prompt online harassment or even land you on a blacklist.

What this immense opposition to student activists and journalists makes clear is the overwhelming power imbalance that defines and constricts the ongoing debate. This stark power differential extends far beyond the arena of free speech, shifting from rhetorical to lethal on the ground in Palestine, where Israeli soldiers have killed nearly 50 Palestinians, including eight children, this year alone.

As an editorial board, we are acutely aware of the privilege we hold in having an institutional, effectively anonymous byline. Even on this campus, many of our brave peers advocating for Palestinian liberation can be found on watchlists tacitly and shamefully linking them to terrorism.

These twin factors — the extraordinary abuses and our privileged ability to speak to them and face comparatively less unjustified retribution — compel us to take a stand. Palestinians, in our board’s view, deserve dignity and freedom. We support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement as a means to achieving that goal.

In the past, our board was skeptical of the movement (if not, generally speaking, of its goals), arguing that BDS as a whole did not “get at the nuances and particularities of the Israel-Palestine conflict.” We regret and reject that view. It is our categorical imperative to side with and empower the vulnerable and oppressed. We can’t nuance away Palestinians violent reality, nor can we let our desire for a perfect, imaginary tool undermine a living, breathing movement of such great promise.

Two decades ago, we wrote that divestment was a “blunt tool” that affected all citizens of the target nation equally and should be used sparingly. Yet the tactics embodied by BDS have a historical track record; they helped win the liberation of Black South Africans from Apartheid, and have the potential to do the same for Palestinians today. Israel’s current policy pushes Palestinians towards indefinite statelessness, combining ethnonationalist legislation and a continued assault on the sovereignty of the West Bank through illegal settlements that difficults the prospect of a two-state solution; it merits an assertive and unflinching international response. The arguments made against BDS could have been and indeed were once made against South Africa, and we are no longer inclined to police the demands of a people yearning to breathe free.

We do not take this decision lightly. BDS remains a blunt approach, one with the potential to backfire or prompt collateral damage in the form of economic hurt. But the weight of this moment — of Israel’s human rights and international law violations and of Palestine’s cry for freedom — demands this step. As a board, we are proud to finally lend our support to both Palestinian liberation and BDS — and we call on everyone to do the same.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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UPDATED: May 4, 2022 at 1:25 a.m. to correct a typographical error.

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