BDS conference organizers welcome BDS foes


Supporters of Israel tend to regard, with good reason, calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as hostile acts. Nevertheless, organizers of next month’s National BDS Conference at the University of Pennsylvania are going out of their way to strike a note of courtesy toward pro-Israel activists.

In a statement issued in response to criticism of the conference by Jewish groups, the sponsoring organization, Penn BDS, writes:

We welcome participants who do not support BDS or agree with the organizers’ analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We also wish to emphasize that while the majority of our speakers and panelists are in favor of some form of BDS, this is not the case with all of them, and we have attempted to represent an anti-BDS position on certain panels. We also reached out to representatives of the University of Pennsylvania Hillel and to liberal pro-Israel groups like J Street to gauge their interest in participating in the conference as dissenting voices. One of these invitations is still outstanding.

The statement continues:


We continue to welcome individuals from Penn Hillel or from the Philadelphia pro-Israel community to attend our conference and ask challenging and respectful questions of our speakers. No courteous voice will be suppressed. We hope the conference will be a welcoming and engaging atmosphere for everyone, regardless of one’s views on Israel or BDS.

And — lest pro-Israel activists be wary of attending for fear their admission fee will further the cause of BDS — there is this rather extraordinary pledge from conference organizers:

(Note: the conference entry fee we charge–now $20 for students, $25 for non-students–will go towards covering food, printing and speaker costs. None of that money will be used to launch or support BDS campaigns.)

Granted, the conference itself is clearly aimed at furthering BDS, so the entry fee, in subsidizing the conference, does effectively support BDS campaigns. So the disclaimer, while noteworthy, seems a bit hollow. I’d also be curious to know which of the speakers, specifically, are not BDS supporters.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community is discussing how to respond, and the University of Pennsylvania administration wants it to be known that the school does not support divestment or boycotts.

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