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If the long-rumored Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel comes to Penn this semester, you will only be asked one question: Which side are you on? BDS reduces the conversation on Israel and Palestine to a stark dichotomy: Are you “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine?” As the chair of J Street U Penn, I believe that being pro-peace requires approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with far more nuance.

Thus, while I do not support the decades-old Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, I stand with other pro-Israel leaders on campus in opposing BDS. BDS makes the work of ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution more difficult. Its divisive and one-sided narrative alienates many allies seeking a just solution to the conflict that achieves peace and statehood for both Israelis and Palestinians.

This year, BDS resolutions passed at Northwestern and Stanford. If Penn is going to counter BDS effectively, then we must learn from the lessons of other schools. Students at Northwestern failed to defeat BDS in part because their “Coalition for Peace” did not offer a true alternative to divestment. Student leaders were given the difficult choice of either supporting BDS or joining a coalition which tacitly supported the occupation by ignoring Israel’s actions in the West Bank. Unsurprisingly, empty rhetoric supporting “peace” was not enough to defeat BDS. At Penn, we cannot let ourselves fall into the same trap.

Providing an alternative to BDS means acting in support of two truths. First: that Israel has a right to exist as a secure state and homeland for the Jewish people. Second: that its existence and security, along with the rights of millions of Palestinians, are undermined by the ongoing occupation. As a supporter of Israel, I strongly believe in its right to exist as a refuge for the Jewish people and a manifestation of Jewish self-determination. But I recognize that the occupation of Palestine is a stain on Israel’s moral character.

While many groups assign absolute blame to one side or another, Think Peace — a newly established group at Penn comprised of pro-Israel advocates and other campus leaders — offers a space for discussion and open dialogue; for this, it should be commended. But we have to ask ­— when it comes to helping Israelis and Palestinians, is dialogue enough?

Supporting Israel means holding true to my values. It means supporting democracy, equality and human rights in Israel. Yet, the disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians under Israeli control is not democracy. Restricting where they can travel and where they can live is not equality. The imprisonment of Palestinians without trial is not human rights. When the Think Peace Coalition refuses to address these issues in its mission statement or in any of its statements or actions, it abandons these values and perpetuates a destructive status quo.

It also weakens Penn’s fight against BDS. I’m ready to fight BDS, but I know this fight risks failure if Think Peace refuses to offer a constructive and proactive alternative to divestment. When Think Peace calls for a two-state solution, it needs to reaffirm that this solution will be based on pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps and a shared Jerusalem as a capital — the compromises needed to make two states a reality. It needs to assert opposition to settlement expansion and publicize support for maintaining a democratic Israel alongside an independent Palestinian state.

If Think Peace continues to fail to present a viable alternative to divestment by ignoring the realities of the conflict, then we risk joining the Stanford and Northwestern coalitions that chose to ignore these principles in favor of empty words and now must grapple with the consequences of divestment passing on their campuses. It is up to us to choose to act on these values of democracy and justice. I invite you to work with me and with J Street U Penn in working towards a two-state solution and real peace.

LiZA BERNSTEIN is a College sophomore from North Miami Beach, Fla., studying MMES. Her email address is 

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