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April 13, 2016 7:52 am

Opponents Mobilize as BDS Votes Loom at New York City Graduate Schools

avatar by Andrew Pessin

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CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan. Photo: wiki commons.

CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan. Photo: wiki commons.

Anti-BDS activists are preparing for student government votes in the coming days on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions against Israel at both the City University of New York (CUNY) and New York University (NYU), The Algemeiner has learned.

However, while most campus BDS campaigns target undergraduates, these are targeting graduate students.

The first is CUNY, where the Doctoral Students Council of the CUNY Graduate Center will vote Friday afternoon on a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The vote culminates a series of anti-Israel events over the past several weeks promoting the resolution.

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In response to that campaign, “CUNY Docs For Dialogue” recently launched a petition arguing that the BDS resolution would violate “long-established academic principles defending the free exchange of ideas.” Moreover, it continues, BDS wrongly blames only Israel for the impasse in the conflict and is counterproductive for obtaining peace. Further, it claims, the resolution, if passed, would make CUNY campuses “divisive and uncomfortable for many of our Jewish and pro-Israel faculty and students.”

The group’s Facebook page offers articles and resources opposing BDS.

A graduate student — who writes under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation from pro-BDS faculty — observed last week, “The context and timing of this boycott drive couldn’t be more uncomfortable for CUNY, given the recent scandals and allegations surrounding incidents of antisemitism on CUNY campuses … mostly surrounding the activities of CUNY chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine.”

In recent months alone (as reported by The Algemeiner), the Zionist Organization of America wrote a letter describing antisemitic incidents at multiple CUNY campuses; the New York State Senate voted to slash funding to CUNY over the antisemitism problems; students disrupted a faculty meeting at which they called its chair a “Zionist pig;” and a professor filed a suit alleging pervasive antisemitism; among others.

Just two miles downtown from CUNY Graduate Center, meanwhile, opposition is also mobilizing against the BDS resolution to be voted on by NYU’s Graduate Student Union from April 18-22.

A group called “GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine” has established a website to marshal votes against the resolution, in which they argue that “BDS violates academic freedom, shuts down dialogue, undermines co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians, and empowers radical voices on all sides … BDS will not bring peace. By voting NO to BDS, we say YES to peace and open dialogue.”

Like their counterparts at CUNY, they, too, include a counter-petition against the resolution, as well as statements that critique the “factually incorrect, slanderous, and inciting” claims of BDS proponents and condemn the antisemitic nature of what amount to “blanket boycotts” of Israelis.

The NYU resolution does differ in important ways from the CUNY one, however. While both target graduate students and endorse academic boycotts, the NYU resolution also calls on both NYU and the Graduate Student Union to divest from and decline to work with Israeli institutions and international companies doing business with Israel.

Another difference is that the NYU Graduate Student Union is affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), which makes its policies ultimately subject to UAW approval. Four months ago, UAW overturned a BDS resolution passed in 2014 by the University of California Graduate Student Union, also affiliated with UAW, on the grounds that the resolution espoused “discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage,” and could “easily be construed as academic and cultural discrimination against union members on the basis of their national origin and religion.”

According to the pseudonymous graduate student mentioned above, graduate student organizations, an apparently new target of the BDS campaigns, may be particularly susceptible to them. Many undergraduate student government members are aspiring politicians, he or she writes, but “most doctoral students have neither the time nor the inclination to get involved in student politics. This leaves the [graduate student unions] as a fever swamp of frustrated activists and graduates of the Occupy Wall Street protests.”

Moreover, only those graduate students “most committed to fighting BDS would consider taking the time, effort … to vote. [And] as is the case elsewhere, actively opposing BDS in the contemporary academy is not always advisable for aspiring academics.”

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