Last week, much of the Kenyon community saw posters hung around campus which claimed that “Kenyon Boycotts” a number of products. A small group of students (whose signs give the impression that they are speaking on behalf of everyone) have challenged the community to become more conscious about consumption. On the boycott list were products made with questionable labor practices (Starbucks, Driscoll’s, Wendy’s), products that contribute to the problem of climate change denial (Keystone Light via campaign support of President Trump, Koch Industries) and products whose parent companies operate in the only functioning liberal democracy in the Middle East (Sabra and HP). One of these categories is not like the other.
As I mentioned in my column last week, I am a member of Kenyon’s Israel Club, so in fairness I should also mention that I was a part of DivestKenyon — the group spearheading the “Solidarity Boycott” — in its infancy. I initially joined because I respected its specific goal: to lobby and pressure Kenyon to divest from fossil fuels. While I chose to leave the group in an attempt to disconnect myself from Kenyon while I was abroad, I have become very hesitant about getting involved again given their new stance on Israel.
I still personally endorse divestment from fossil fuels because climate change is without a doubt the most terrifying, immediate issue that humans (especially young humans) will have to deal with. Of course every stance like this is a bit of a moral dilemma: Divestment could have an adverse effect on the College’s financing, including financial aid. Even so I feel that we should do all we can, regardless of how small, to try to cut down on emissions and cool the planet down.
It is for this same reason that I think including Sabra and HP in the “Solidarity Boycott” simply because of their ties to Israel is entirely misguided.
Israel is a global leader in the development of the technology that will not just be useful, but necessary in combating the effects of climate change. The nation uses innovative agricultural practices like drip irrigation to adapt to its desert climate. The aridness of the region also created a need for a new way of obtaining water and thus Israel has become a global authority on desalination technology, which treats sea water to make it potable. The benefits of this technology have extended throughout the region and the world, from Iran to California. Seth Seigel, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, details all of this in his book Let There Be Water, which the Kenyon Israel Club offered free copies of last semester.
Should Kenyon students also be challenged to boycott the tap water in the San Diego area because much of it has been desalinated with Israeli technology?
The idea behind lumping these products together seems to center around a notion of connected injustice. I should be corrected if I’m straw-manning, but it seems to me that the idea is that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is seen as unjust and human treatment of the environment is seen as unjust, and somehow ending one injustice will aid in ending other injustices. By this line of reasoning, the end of settlement activity in the West Bank (and then the destruction of the Jewish State — the ultimate goal of any anti-Israel movement) will somehow aid in ending the climate crisis. Such reasoning is not only nonsense — it’s dangerous. Anyone who claims to be serious about climate change needs to get serious about Israel.
I am quite disappointed that the leaders of the Environmental Campus Organization (ECO) chose to co-sponsor (and include their group’s name in an email) a boycott of Israeli-invested products simply because of their ties to the Jewish state. Doing so alienates the students at Kenyon who are pro-Israel environmentalists. How can we in good conscience be asked to participate in a boycott whose aims are to hurt one of the global leaders in environmentalism? Perhaps a new environmental group should arise that doesn’t lose sight of its mission for the sake of an alliance? I challenge my fellow students to think critically with regards to the “Solidarity Boycott” and to consider its strange, contradictory ends.
The effort to stop climate change needs all of the support it can get; the issue is too important to make the mistake of alienating via an anti-Israel stance.
Evan Cree Gee ’18 is a political science major from Norfolk, Mass. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.