Beyond Dialogue: Moving Forward with the Sabra Boycott

On Monday, President Smith sent an email to students in which she refused to listen to students and end the sale of Sabra products from campus. Her email is deeply disturbing and morally indefensible. On March 3rd, 2018, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a petition to end the sale of Sabra products on campus. Within days of launching, over five hundred students and other community members had signed. After 26 days of silence, on April 30th, 2018, President Valerie Smith announced that “the College will continue to offer Sabra hummus, and starting May 2, will provide an alternative hummus brand on campus as well.” As SJP and more than five hundred community members have made clear, we do not want another hummus brand; we specifically asked for the permanent deshelving of Sabra Hummus, a brand owned by the Strauss group, which strategically donates to the Golani Brigade and thus supports human rights violations. By refusing to deshelve Sabra products, Swarthmore College remains complicit in the Occupation of Palestine and the atrocities of the IDF.

Even as President Smith evades her moral responsibility to end the institution’s tacit support for the Occupation, she concludes the email by celebrating the college’s commitment to dialogue, “especially those whose views and experiences differ from our own.” The Sabra petition did generate important and fruitful discourse within our community; indeed, many student organizations (SQU Board, SISA, ENLACE, SASS, MSA Board, Interfaith Interns) engaged in rich group conversations which resulted in their public support of SJP’s call to boycott. Yet, the petition was a collective call to action, to align our institutional practices with Palestinians’ expressed need for solidarity, in accordance with our community’s professed values.

“Dialogue” alone will not end oppression; and the immorality of human rights violations and military occupation are not up for debate.  President Smith’s email only perpetuates the language and strategy of the Occupation by framing it as a “conflict” with two sides that can be resolved through mere “dialogue,” rather than a military occupation characterized by a gross power imbalance. It is not a conflict between two sides; rather, it is a direct occupation of a land whose indigenous Palestinian population does not have an army, navy, or air force to respond. Supporting and defending Palestinian human rights is not simply a viewpoint; it is an ethical obligation. By selling Sabra, Swarthmore is an accessory to the Occupation of Palestine. And by celebrating dialogue without taking action, President Smith’s email is empty talk.

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This week, SJP is installing a mock Wall for members of the Swarthmore community to gain a better understanding of Palestinians’ experience under the Occupation. The mock Wall is an imitation of the illegal Apartheid Wall that separates the occupied West Bank from Israel. The Wall deliberately separates Palestinian communities from each other and from their land. Among other things, it curtails their freedom of movement, consequently impinging upon their rights to work, education, medical care, family life, and an adequate standard of living. We invite all members of the community to come to Parrish Parlors on Wednesday, May 2 at 4:15pm to learn more about the Wall and to let the administration know that the violence of the Occupation calls for institutional action, not just passive dialogue.