This post is written by Ryan Wonders, a campus leader at UC Davis, class of 2015.
When the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (BDS) came to the University of California, Davis, I was a sophomore elected to serve on student government. I had only recently taken my seat as senator and was still working to find my footing when a friend, also on student government, approached me.
“I want to talk about Israel,” she said.
“OK, shoot,” I replied.
At this point, my knowledge of Israel was minimal. I knew where it was located and I knew Israel was historically the United States’ ally. Besides those basic concepts and perhaps small flashes regarding current events on various news stations, I knew very little, and never imagined that it would matter and leave a lasting impact on me. After all I wasn't Jewish, so I never felt any obligation to commit myself to the subject.
“Something is coming that I think you should know about,” she told me.
She then explained to me what BDS was, and how it had been active on several other UC campuses in recent months. She showed me copies of resolutions from other universities and we read through them together. Then she asked me what I thought.
My first impression of BDS was that something seemed “off” about it. I couldn't put my finger on it, but my general feeling was that it was wrong. So that night I did some research and tried to find the facts. After learning about the origins and history of the BDS movement, my concerns were confirmed. The next day, I met with my friend.
“Alright, I’m in. Tell me more.”
It’s difficult now not to pause and reflect on that moment, the moment I began my journey as a pro-Israel advocate.
That night, for the first time, I attended an Aggies for Israel meeting, the pro-Israel student club at Davis. I met an entire community that night, eager to meet me, learn my story, and be my friend. It is difficult to imagine a more welcoming feeling. The club proceeded with their meeting as, together; we talked about divestment and the student government. Despite being new to the community, I felt comfortable and provided my insight on the political climate of our campus. In return, they answered my questions about Israel and what it meant to be pro-Israel.
That year, my sophomore year, the BDS resolution did not reach the senate table. It failed to receive the necessary votes in sub-commissions and for a brief moment we felt as if we had seen the end of it. Through the process, I wasn't the only outsider to be accepted into the pro-Israel community at UC Davis during this time. Other members of student government, Greek life, and leaders in campus political groups all became involved when faced with BDS.
To this day, I assert the reason BDS was defeated so hastily in 2013 could be linked to the relationships that the pro-Israel community built before and during their time of need. By building genuine friendships, and not simply political acquaintances, the pro-Israel community on our campus was greatly bolstered.
This, not the defeat of BDS, is the success story of the pro-Israel community at UC Davis.
A year later, in 2014, the UC Davis campus again faced BDS and again the pro-Israel community answered the call. Hundreds attended the multiple hearings, for the second year in a row, and spoke directly to their elected student government officials about why they opposed BDS. Some spoke in defense of their homeland and identity, while others, especially those of us who had been welcomed into the community, spoke in defense of our friends. After over fifteen hours of combined hearings, once again, BDS failed to pass student government.
Now, on January 29th of 2015, the student senate of UC Davis will consider yet another BDS resolution. And once again, the positive relationship building initiated by the pro-Israel community on this campus, could not be more apparent. For this reason, the outcome of the vote simply represents an arbitrary decision made by worn down individuals. But, as far as I’m concerned, the Pro-Israel community cannot “lose."
It is a community that has spent years fostering sincere dialogue and promoting understanding among students on campus, and that is the true victory. Yet, on the night of the third BDS resolution, it is evident that the Pro-Israel community at UC Davis could always use more friends, more allies. If a small group of college students can build a community centered around Israel, imagine what the pro-Israel community at large can accomplish. So, sometime this week, remember UC Davis and the pro-Israel students accomplishments here. Remember the power of a simple conversation. This week, let’s all sit down with an acquaintance or a co-worker, and let’s talk about Israel.