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May 11, 2015 2:46 pm

BDS Gains Strength, But Still Faces Challenges on College Campuses

avatar by Alex Margolin

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BDS supporters. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

Last month’s student election at Stanford University included allegations of anti-Semitism by the Students of Color Coalition against Molly Horwitz – who identifies as Jewish and as a woman of color. The contentious debate that followed has drawn attention to a new dynamic facing Jewish students on college campuses across America.

Increasingly, the BDS movement is pitting Jews who support Israel against student groups that represent minority rights on campus.

The twist, as the New York Times reports, is that American Jews have traditionally been at the vanguard of progressive causes, as well as the strongest supporters or Israel.

College activists favoring divestment have cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a powerful force’s oppression of a displaced group, and have formed alliances with black, Latino, Asian, Native American, feminist and gay rights organizations on campus. The coalitions — which explicitly link the Palestinian cause to issues like police brutality, immigration and gay rights —have caught many longtime Jewish leaders off guard, particularly because they belonged to such progressive coalitions less than a generation ago.

And with student groups like the progressive and pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace emerging on numerous campuses, Jewish students are increasingly forced to choose sides in divestment debates, with Jews on both sides of the aisle.

The news, however, is not all bad. Despite failing to win the endorsement of the powerful Students of Color Coalition, Horwitz won a seat on the Student Senate. A few months earlier, at UCLA, Rachel Beyda was initially denied a place on the school’s student council Judicial Board after being asked how, as a Jewish student, she could be expected to be objective.

Last week, however, the slate of UCLA students who questioned Beyda’s fitness for student government was dramatically swept out of office. The losing slate, known as Let’s Act, was made up of progressive groups. It had passed two divestment motions during its term in power.

Indeed, the Times’ article on the issue contained bad news along with some that’s not-so-bad: divestment movements are growing wildly across the college spectrum, but the level of success remains meager at best.

There are now Israel-related divestment groups at hundreds of major colleges, including the University of Michigan, Princeton, Cornell and most of the University of California campuses. Their proposals are having mixed success: So far this year, students have passed them on seven campuses and rejected them on eight.

This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

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