A friend of mine posed an interesting question to me in light of a vote on a divestment resolution at the CUNY Doctoral Students’ Council several weeks ago:
What effect, if any, might BDS have on college credits issued by yeshivot and seminaries in Israel?
As I thought about it, I realized the boycott and divestment movement actually does have the potential to do considerably more damage to Jews in America than it does to Jews in Israel.
Consider a scenario where a few American colleges cut ties with Israel. In practice, this means they don’t allow Israeli lecturers to teach from their lecterns, bar Israeli research and researchers from their laboratories, and end study-abroad programs in Israel.
A likely consequence of the discontinuation of Israeli study abroad is that colleges that divest would stop accepting “yeshiva credits,” as they’re known colloquially.
If that happens, many young Jewish adults in Brooklyn and beyond will feel the effects of a forced change in trajectory.
Granted, we’re probably still a long way from that kind of thing happening, but it’s not all that farfetched a possibility.
In our hypothetical scenario, a group of students convinces another group of students that Israel is the devil. They stop doing research or business with Israeli universities. Next, the anti-Israel crowd moves up from doctoral students to the student senate. Suddenly, none of the student groups at CUNY wants to do business with Israel.
And while faculty members are often split on issues, it’s entirely conceivable that the faculty under these circumstances might approve some kind of divestment. And once the adults in the room decide they don’t like Israel, it’s only a matter of a few bureaucratic cycles before the entire university implements a boycott – bells, whistles, and no more seminary credits.
Now, I realize I’m “catastrophizing” here, as my father would call it. It’s not clear to me that the BDS movement is strong enough politically to convince ivory-tower movers and shakers to boycott the only democracy in the Middle East.
Nor is it a given that a standard BDS policy would, in fact, invalidate credits earned while studying in Israel. It is, however, a possibility that should be carefully weighed.
In a world where a gap year between high school and college would no longer earn a student between 26 and 30 credits of electives, an entire additional year of classes would be required to compensate.
For a college student like me, that’s a terrifying thought.
In communities where marriage during one’s early 20s is common and getting an education and a job is top priority for young people, the credits amassed in that gap year are extremely important. If universities were to stop accepting them as a result of backhanded politics, the educational – and, ultimately, vocational – progress of many young people would be unfairly delayed.
Although Israelis are, as I understand it, entirely confident the BDS movement will have no effect on Israel and its economy, American Jews need to consider the possible repercussions over here.
Depending on a student’s background, a full additional year at a university may have unintended and perhaps deleterious consequences. That extra year could delay marriages and families from being built. It could also result in an increase in the number of religious students who see their commitment to Judaism weaken in the diverse and secular environment of a college campus. There’s a good reason why many students fortify themselves spiritually by immersing in religious study for a year prior to college.
The CUNY Doctoral Students’ Council has postponed the divestment resolution vote, but it isn’t dead yet.
We should make it clear to elected officials, university administrators, and professors that we support Israel’s right to educate American Jews who choose to study there. Let’s talk to them and urge them to do the right thing: Say no to BDS.