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February 8, 2017 8:55 am

Student Group at Illinois U Vows to ‘Expose True Hateful Nature’ of BDS, in Response to Launch of Anti-Israel Divestment Campaign on Campus

avatar by Rachel Frommer

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An FOA protest in support of the BDS movement. Photo: FOA/Facebook.

An FOA protest in support of the BDS movement. Photo: FOA/Facebook.

One of the heads of a pro-Israel student group told The Algemeiner about a new initiative to “expose the true hateful nature” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and “counteract its divisive nature” on campus.

Elan Karoll, co-president of IlliniPAC at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said that the impetus for the initiative — called “United Illini for a United Campus” — was last week’s launch of a campaign by 15 student organizations to pressure the school’s Board of Trustees to divest from companies “that support the marginalization of Palestinians.”

The campaign kicked off on Feb. 2, with an event that included spoken word poetry advocating “resistance” and speeches by organizers explaining the aims of BDS, including: “to pressure the state of Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands; to end its state-sanctioned discrimination of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and to respect the right of return for Palestinians.”

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In a video of the event posted on Facebook, MJ Oviatt — co-president of environmental justice group UIUC Beyond Coal, a sponsor of the BDS campaign — is seen describing Zionists as “murderers,” accusing Israel of “genocide” and mocking Jews’ claims to Israel as “their birthright” as being “built on empty religious rhetoric.”

“This disgusting domination has never been about living on the land, and if it was, that would imply living as one with the Palestinians,” Oviatt said.

Sebastian Parra, the midwest campus coordinator of educational Israel-advocacy group StandWithUs, told The Algemeiner, “Tearing down Israelis is not the same as supporting Palestinians or upholding human rights.”

Parra added that he’s “confident UIUC students will see through the rhetoric and realize that this campaign is an attempt to exploit their voices for an unjust cause.”

Erez Cohen, the executive director of the school’s Hillel chapter, told The Algemeiner that UIUC’s Jewish community “is strong and will remain strong.”

“Our students are proud of their Jewish identity and have withstood past provocations about their personal relationships and connection to Israel,” he said.

The groups co-sponsoring the BDS campaign are:
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)
Black Students for Revolution
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA)
Campus Union for Trans Equality and Support (CUTES)
UIUC Beyond Coal
United Muslim Minority Advocates
Gharbzadegi Art Collective
Mixed Student Union
Students for an Arab Cultural Center
Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation–Central Illinois
Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC)
Graduate Employees Organization (GEO)
Arab Student Association
Illini Progressives
Students Against Sexual Assault

None of the organizations responded to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign ranked 35th on The Algemeiner‘s first annual list of the “40 Worst Colleges for Jewish Students in 2016,” for anti-Israel activity on campus. In 2014-15, the school made headlines when it first offered a teaching position to anti-Israel activist Steven Salaita and then retracted it, when the board discovered a series of antisemitic tweets he had posted following Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas in Gaza. More recently, after participating in “A Roundtable Discussion of Racism, Antisemitism: On Campus and Beyond” — the president of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter announced: “I have no will, no desire and, quite frankly, no f***ing time to deal with Zionist bullshit.” Last year, the menorah at the school’s Chabad house was vandalized three times.

However, as the description of the ranking noted, there is a strong grassroots pro-Israel student movement at UIUC, with a supportive on-campus Jewish leadership.

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