Students at a small college in New York City voted to divest from Israel -- and they made a big mistake

Barnard College/FacebookBarnard’s campus.
  • Students at Barnard, a women’s college, voted to divest from companies that do business in Israel.
  • Israel has a good record on women’s rights.
  • The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign is misguided and misrepresents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If you congratulated an Israeli woman on finally earning the right to drive, she’d look at you with eyes that could kill and tell you to stop with thechutzpah.

If you told her that she couldn’t sign a contract, or get married, or leave the country without first obtaining permission from a male guardian, she’d laugh and ask if you knew where you were.

If you told her she had to drape her body in a billowing black sack every time she went outside, or that her right to vote was only a right as of a few years ago, she’d tell you you’d lost your mind.

That’s because in Israel, unlike in so many other parts of the Middle East, women have long had equal rights. In fact, their equality is enshrined in law.

So it’s disheartening that the student body at Barnard, a women’s college that is part of Columbia University, voted Wednesday to encourage the administration to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The divestment campaign is being led by a group that cleverly calls itself Apartheid Divest, giving those unfamiliar with or uneducated about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the mistaken impression that Israel is an apartheid state.

This effort at Barnard fits into the larger Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, which has, for over a decade, sought to smear, isolate, and delegitimize the state of Israel. The international campaign – along with the spinoff at Barnard – is predicated on a simple but noxious falsehood: that Israel is a fundamentally racist state that is committing grave human rights abuses merely by existing.

The conflict is complicated, and there is no doubt that in its 70-year history, both sides have made unfortunate decisions. But the idea that Israel is an apartheid state is one that is wholly without merit.

Much in the same way the women’s rights are enshrined in law in Israel, minority rights are likewise guaranteed. The 1948 declaration which established the modern state of Israel pledges that the country will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” and that it “it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”

Though there have been some hiccups, Israel has lived up to those promises. This week, as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of its establishment, the women of Barnard have ignored the challenges it has faced, the threats to its existence that it has overcome, and most importantly, the legacy of equality and justice that it has bequeathed to the modern Middle East.

Barnard is my alma mater, and I know this decision to be one that is directly in conflict with the values of tolerance, dialogue, and intellectual honesty which the institution instills in its charges.

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