Rabbi Brant Rosen talks Jewish case for divestment

    NU Divest hosted a talk with Rabbi Brant Rosen entitled "A Jewish Defense of Divestment" Thursday evening.

    Rosen, formerly a Rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, and now a co-chair for the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, spoke about why he believes it is important to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, particularly at colleges and at the institutional level. 

    NU Divest is a campaign calling on Northwestern to withdraw its investments from companies "profiting off of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands." The campaign will introduce a resolution to that effect to ASG in the next few weeks, and has been hosting outreach and educational events to gather support from the student body. 

    Many students and members of the community are skeptical of both the method and goal of the divestment campaign, posting to the group’s social media account and voicing their skepticism. 

    Rosen said he remembers hearing uncertainty in the 1980’s as a student at UCLA as well. At the time, college students across the nation were mobilizing and demanding that their universities divest endowment funds profiting from the South African apartheid. 

    Throughout the brief talk, Rosen highlighted and refuted several commonly repeated criticisms of BDS. He likened the movement and its potential impact to pivotal moments in American history, such as the Montgomery bus boycotts of the Civil Rights Movement and the United Farm Workers boycott of grapes during the 60’s and 70’s. 

    “BDS [leverages] popular support and shines a light on abuses,” he said, and explained that the movement is a grassroots campaign that was started in Palestine by Palestinians as a non-violent means of resistance. 

    Rosen addressed the criticism that divesting from Israel is a double standard that singles out one regime for human rights violations. He characterized this response as a “classic misdirection.” 

    The BDS movement, Rosen said, is not merely a human rights campaign, but a show of solidarity with the Palestinians who launched the campaign. 

    “The real question before us is do we think [the Palestinians’] call is worth hearing?” he said.

    Rosen also addressed the claim that the BDS movement “delegitimizes Israel.” 

    “I don’t know if countries can be legitimate or illegitimate,” he said, “but their actions can be illegitimate,” he said. 

    Rosen also brought up an op-ed recently published in the Chicago Tribune by Northwestern law professor Steven Lubet that criticized the NU Divest campaign. Lubet characterized NU Divest as inflammatory, even while noting that the student body at Northwestern has a long history of political apathy. 

    Rosen said he found the op-ed “offensive and patronizing” to the students at Northwestern who are trying to challenge the apathy around them. At this, the audience burst into applause. 

    Rosen ended his talk by reading a passage from an article describing the “Palestine-Mexico border,” a term which refers to the increased militarization of the US-Mexico border through the use of many of the same techniques, technology and suppliers which have built up the borders between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper. 

    Supporting divestment, Rosen said, is a way to express discontent at the events occurring “right in our backyard.” 

    During a Q&A session following the event, Rosen spoke about his evolution from being what he called a “liberal Zionist” to being able to speak out against injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government. 

    “It’s extremely unusual for Rabbis to speak out against Israel,” said Noah Whinston, a Weinberg junior who organized the event and who knows Rosen from his childhood. 

    Rosen observed that “unquestioning support [for the government of Israel] is eroding very quickly” among younger generations in Jewish communities in the United States. 

    Michael Knudsen, a Weinberg senior, doesn’t know where he stands on the issue of divestment. However, a study abroad experience in Israel allowed him to see both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the narrative. 

    “I met a lot of people on both sides,” he said. “They’ve all had experiences that I can’t refute, and that’s why I’m unsure of the way forward,” he said. 

    Lisa Kosowski, an Andersonville resident who has known Rosen for years as part of his congregation, came to Thursday night’s event to show support for students who were, she said, “doing the right thing.” 

    “Divestment receives a lot of pressure and hostility,” she said. “Anything changing the status quo does.”  


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