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March 7, 2016 4:19 pm

BDS Suffers Setbacks at Vassar, Northeastern and Indianapolis in Single Week

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Vassar College. Photo: Wikipedia.

Vassar College. Photo: Wikipedia.

Over the past week, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has suffered setbacks on three major American campuses: Vassar College, Northeastern University and the University of Indianapolis.

On Sunday, Vassar College’s student newspaper The Miscellany News reported,

On … Mar. 6, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) voted to pass the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution, which needed only a simple majority, by a vote of 15 in favor and 7 opposed. The resolution calls for the VSA’s political statement of support of the BDS movement. The organization did not pass the concurrently submitted BDS amendment, which would have required the VSA to restrict funding from the Vassar Student Activities Fund [and prohibit purchases from companies alleged to profit from the “Israeli occupation of Palestine”]. The amendment needed a 2/3 majority but failed by a vote of 12 in favor to 10 opposed.

These results do not mean the debate is over for the year, however, but merely shape the next steps, as the article further states:

To bring the resolution to [an all-]student referendum, the VSA [now] needs to be presented with 120 signatures (5% of student body). To bring the amendment to referendum it would need 360 signatures (15% of student body).

On Friday, two days before the vote, the VSA’s Executive Board sent an email to the student body indicating, as reported by the blog Legal Insurrection, that it had been informed by the administration that:

… Student Activity Funds used to fund VSA may be taken out of the control of VSA should the BDS [amendment] be adopted … The Board of Trustees and senior level administration of the college have publicly stated they do not approve of the BDS movement, and that they are concerned with potential legal consequences of using funds to support a boycott.

Legal Insurrection elaborated:

This legal concern makes sense because the New York State Human Rights Law prohibits boycotts based on national origin … Additionally, there is pending legislation in New York and other states which would prohibit, among other things, the state from contracting with entities that engage in a boycott of certain countries, including Israel. Although it is a private college, Vassar still presumably has some contracts or receives some funding from the State of New York.

On Thursday, three days before the vote, Vassar College President Catharine Hill issued this statement:

Vassar does not support the BDS movement nor the use of college resources for the boycott of any goods or organizations as called for by BDS. Student groups that support BDS have every right to exist on campus and express their views, as long as their actions are in accord with Vassar policies … [But] the college will not support the use of college resources for the boycott of any goods for political reasons.

According to an article in The Miscellany News on Saturday, President Hill also put out a joint statement with Dean of the College Chris Roellke, adding:

Were the VSA to adopt the amendment currently proposing such a policy, the college would have to intervene in some way. This intervention could come in a number of forms. … the options would include vetoing the proposal … or taking away the VSA’s authority over spending the activities fee, or overseeing that spending in some way so as to prevent it from implementing the boycott.

According to that article, some students were very critical of the administration’s intervention directly before the vote. VSA President Ramy Abbady ’16, for example, stated:

I think that the timing is definitely a coercive tactic and I am unsatisfied with the time we have been given to work through this … This action feels like a betrayal of shared governance. In fact, it highlights the fact that our shared governance has never and will never be based in any sort of equal power dynamic. …[T]here is a clear hierarchy in terms of who has the final call on any decision. I don’t know if this is a question of fairness, but a question of honesty in terms of what shared governance really means.

Following the defeat of the divestment amendment, a group of faculty members put out a statement on Sunday night supporting the VSA vote and condemning any “intimidation” tactics such as the threat to remove funding.

As of press time, thirty-eight faculty members had signed.

As The Algemeiner reported, Vassar made headlines last month for hosting a controversial lecture by Rutgers Prof. Jasbir Puar, in which she asserted that Israel deliberately stunted the growth of Palestinians, among other accusations.

On Feb. 28, the Executive Board of the Student Government Association at Boston’s Northeastern University voted for the second year in a row against a BDS resolution, this time with 4 opposed, 0 in favor and 2 abstentions. This resolution called for an all-student referendum on the question of whether the university should divest from companies “implicated in human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” according to the Facebook page of the Northeastern chapter of SJP.

The reasons given for the Board’s rejection of the resolution, according to sophomore Kaila Fleisig, were that it failed to “fit requirements for ballot questions, which are as follows: fairness of wording, adherence to University policy, and feasibility.” She pointed out that in addition to “wording that presented a biased view to the [student voters],” the resolution “contained numerous factual errors.” Moreover, she continued,

SGA President Eric Tyler … explained that the proposed referendum does not adhere to University policy because of the history of such proposals in making individuals “[feel] socially excluded and isolated from other students” and because of the potential for its adding to the “recent history of antisemitic acts on Northeastern’s campus.” Also … “overwhelming empirical evidence suggests that even if the proposed referendum were to occur and support divestment, Northeastern University would not divest … Despite divestment measures having passed in [other] student governments … no university in the United States has divested.”

After the vote, the Northeastern chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) that had proposed the resolution published a statement on its Facebook page, suggesting that “Zionist groups saw our referendum as a strong enough threat that it had to be stopped,” and objecting to the SGA’s decision because it suppresses dialogue:

…[T]he vote that took place was not about whether or not to divest—it was a vote on whether or not the cabinet would allow students to have the chance to vote on this topic. We argued that if the cabinet wanted to have dialogue, then this discussion had to happen in an open setting across campus.

Northeastern’s Hillel chapter also put out a statement, shared with The Algemeiner, condemning the defeated resolution and praising the work of pro-Israel students against it. The statement read in part:

For the second year in a row, the Northeastern community demonstrated that it will not allow politicized messages of hate to tear apart our campus community or to isolate Jewish or pro-Israel students.

Northeastern Hillel invests in students’ leadership development skills throughout the year. This past week, those skills were on full display as students from Northeastern Hillel and Huskies for Israel fought for the moral and intellectual integrity of our university. They invested their time in researching and preparing speeches to urge senators to vote against this anti-Israel referendum. We are extraordinarily proud of the effort, character and resolve they demonstrated in working collaboratively over many late nights leading up to the SGA vote.

Northeastern’s full Student Government Association also rejected an SJP-sponsored BDS resolution last March, with 25 student senators voting against the measure, 9 favoring it and 14 abstaining.

At the University of Indianapolis, on Feb. 27, the Student Senate rejected the BDS measure before it, as reported Friday in the student newspaper, The Reflector. The measure required 41 votes to pass. Of the 62 student senators in attendance, 39 voted in favor, 3 against and 20 abstained.

That left the proposed resolution just two votes short of passing.

The vote came after a two-hour meeting, according to The Reflector. One student who spoke against the resolution, junior finance major Jonathan Schwarz, expressed concern that the meeting was being held on the Jewish Sabbath, which he believed kept some opponents from attending.

One supporter of the resolution, civil rights lawyer Mark Sniderman, spoke on behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace and insisted, “We have the right, we have the obligation, to … criticize the policies of any nation-state, especially those that kill in our name.”

After subsequent discussion by the student senators, the vote was taken. When the measure failed to pass, the decision was made to “open the conversation to the entire campus,” according to The Reflector.

Just four hours later, Dean of Student Affairs Kory Vitangeli emailed the campus a list of five upcoming events, running from March 22 through April 19, on various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A source who preferred not to be named told The Algemeiner that given the closeness of the vote, the campus chapter of SJP, which had sponsored the BDS resolution, was planning to use those events to persuade more senators of their cause, and then call for a BDS re-vote later in the semester.

The Algemeiner reached out to Vitangeli to ask whether the upcoming events were planned before the vote, and whether SJP had been involved in planning them, but had not received an answer by press time.

The week leading up to the Feb. 27 vote had already included four events sponsored by SJP to promote the resolution, listed on the Facebook page “UIndyDivestWeek.”

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