‘We Were Ambushed,’ Say Claremont Colleges’ Jewish Students After Senate Passes Sudden Pro-BDS Motion on Passover, Easter Sunday
Jewish student leaders at the Claremont Colleges told The Algemeiner they felt “ambushed” by an unexpected vote on a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) motion in the student senate on Sunday, which was Passover’s sixth day and Easter.
Members of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance (CPIA) said Wednesday that the vote at Pitzer College — one of five California-based undergraduate institutions included in the Claremont consortium — “directly negated” the senate’s values of free speech, dialogue and representative governance by passing the amendment to the budget by-laws on a day when many Jewish and Christian students involved in the Israel issue were off-campus celebrating their respective holidays.
Kate Dolgenos, president of CPIA, said the “lack of transparency from Pitzer Student Senate is disturbing” and that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — the group CPIA believes to have been behind the amendment — initiated a “secret vote” that gave students like her no opportunity to respond.
Deena Woloshin, who sits on the executive board of CPIA, said the group was given “no forewarning” of the vote and the timing effectively “silence[d] the Israeli narrative.”
The amendment stated that “Student Activities Funds shall not be used to make payment on goods and services from any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories. Products include those products from corporations and organizations delineated in the boycott list maintained by bdsmovement.net…” That list includes a number of major brands such as Sabra Humus, Ahava Dead Sea products, SodaStream, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard (HP).
According to CPIA, 14 senators were absent from the meeting, with one member of the senate — who asked to remain anonymous because she said she has received severe backlash for her views on Israel in the past — saying, “I know a majority of them were not present because of their religious observance.”
That same senator said that one hour of discussion followed the amendment’s sudden introduction, but the few dissenting voices in attendance were “intimidated into silence.”
The senator explained that the amendment will force the treasurer to scrupulously review student groups’ activities to ensure the senate does not cover purchases made from any of the blacklisted companies, but added it was mostly a “symbolic move” that demonstrated the extent of the “aggressive” anti-Israel influence at Pitzer.
The president of the senate, Josue Pasillas, defended the timing of the vote, saying the senate firmly supports dialogue and that the amendment was introduced and passed “following the senate procedures in place.”
He added that even if the vote had been postponed to allow for further conversation, he believes “the amendment would have passed regardless.”
“This was just one example of our student senate taking another strong stance on important issues and making our voice heard,” said Pasillas (who added that he attended the AIPAC Policy Conference last month and always favors “open conversations and hearing from the other side”).
The executive boards of the CPIA and Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) have organized a petition calling on Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver and the college faculty executive committee (FEC) to evaluate what they called the “outrageous” scheduling of the senate vote.
“Excluding religious students from debate on the issue is undemocratic and antithetical to Pitzer’s values as an institution, particularly the value of ‘Student Engagement’ which guarantees that students are active members of Pitzer’s governance,” the petition states.
The Pitzer President’s Office and the FEC did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s requests for comment.
Jenny Gurev, who sits on CPIA’s executive board, said the environment at the Claremont Colleges has been toxic for Zionists since the 14-day Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) programming began earlier this month, but that, “even so, none of us saw this coming.”
“It was Tufts all over again,” Gurev said, referring to the Passover Eve vote at the Massachusetts university in favor of a pro-BDS resolution.
This vote was only one in a series of anti-Israel activities that took place during the Passover holiday at campuses across the US, a trend an expert described as a “fairly common tactic” used to “shut down Jewish voices.”