Letter: Northwestern should choose dialogue over divestment

    Dear Northwestern Community,

    I am a graduate student at Kellogg and a concerned member of the campus community. As an undergraduate at UCLA, I saw the negative impact of the BDS campaign: it created tension, ruined friendships and polarized the campus.

    As a supporter of Israel, I understand that I see the world differently from supporters of divestment, and in the past I was able to see different perspectives on this issue. But that was before the “apartheid wall” was constructed on UCLA’s campus on Holocaust Remembrance Day. That was before the die-ins and the eviction notices in NYU dorms and careless phrases like “the New York and the St. Louis police departments were both trained by the Israeli military” were used in the NU divestment campaign video. That was before BDS passed at UC Davis and a student leader celebrated by posting pictures to Facebook with the caption “Israel will fall.”

    BDS supporters on campuses around the country have abandoned rationality and logic in favor of intimidation tactics and demonization of Israel. This is not the way to create positive change. I hope this does not happen here at Northwestern. I hope that supporters of divestment do not create a toxic campus environment and do not alienate people like me who might have listened before being personally attacked. I’ll offer two suggestions for a better way forward.

    1) Stop the singling out and demonization of Israel. It is hard to accept that human rights are the goal when there is no Students for Justice for Nigerian School Girls, or Students for Driving Rights for Saudi Women, or Students for No More ISIS Beheadings. Or maybe just Students for Justice, where a range of human rights issues can be discussed, including a way for the student body to contribute to positive change in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The war in Syria has killed more than 100 times the number of people that died in last summer’s war in Gaza, but there is no outrage on this or any other campus. Why?

    2) Choose compassion and empathy instead of intimidation. Choose friendship and dialogue instead of division. Marching down the path toward divestment will only create an environment of polarization – and to what end? BDS just passed this fall at UCLA, after a decade of fighting. The result? UCLA will not follow the recommendations; there will be no boycott, no divestment, no sanctions. But thousands of current and former UCLA students share the negative knee-jerk reaction to BDS and SJP that I do. At UCLA they made enemies, but no progress.

    Divestment supporters want to change the world, and by engaging in this debate, they definitely will. But they get to choose their impact. They can choose intimidation and demonization, and create a generation of Northwestern graduates that shares my experience and views. Or they can choose friendship, empathy, and dialogue. The world is full of complicated and scary problems, but we must always seek to build with positivity rather than destroy out of hate.

    Michael Phillips, Kellogg '16


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