The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Jewish Problem
In late March, representatives of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student government proposed a resolution: “Social Responsibility and University Divestment from Corporate Human Rights Abuses.” The measure claimed to target human rights abuses committed by corporations in which UW may be invested. In reality, the measure clearly singled out the State of Israel.
Not only were Jewish students hurt by the content of this hateful resolution, but we were also extremely disappointed by the undemocratic and unethical manner in which it was proposed. The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) representatives who proposed the measure neglected to engage with our community. Despite this — and with just 29 hours to prepare — we managed to mobilize approximately 130 students to attend the March 29 council meeting; more than 30 students, including myself, testified there during an open forum.
As I sat on the floor for six and a half hours — to ensure that my voice was heard — I found myself in a hostile environment, where I was clearly unwelcome.
Although the resolution was tabled indefinitely by a 13-12-1 vote, everyone left that meeting hurt. And the damage will be lasting.
The next ASM meeting was set to take place on April 12 — during the Jewish holiday of Passover. On April 7, a Jewish student representative, Ariela Rivkin, sent an email to ASM Chair Carmen Gosey informing her of the holiday, and asking the ASM to postpone any continuation of the March 29 meeting, so that Jewish students could participate. Gosey, however, ignored the request, and placed the divestment item on the agenda — thereby excluding many in the Jewish community.
Prior to this meeting, Badgers United Against Hate — an organization committed to fostering unity and inclusion on campus — worked with the authors of the initial ASM divestment legislation to try and craft a new resolution. And during the April 12 meeting, the authors claimed that Jewish students supported the new legislation.
That was a lie. In fact, the Jewish students’ comments, edits and feedback were not incorporated into the new legislation, and the Jewish community never signed off on it. Furthermore, according to the organization’s rules, it should have taken six weeks to pass the new legislation. However, the ASM suspended its rules to allow for an immediate vote on the resolution.
Because of all these shenanigans, a student court ruled that the April 12 vote violated the rules, and blocked it from taking effect.
In late April, during the final ASM meeting of the semester, a resolution was proposed that calls for divestment from businesses involved with private prisons, arms manufactures, fossil fuels and border walls. This resolution, in its initial form, did not target Israel. Therefore, regardless of our deep disappointment with ASM’s past actions, the Jewish community showed up to voice our appreciation to the authors of this resolution for hearing our concerns.
To our dismay, ASM members then introduced amendments to this legislation that targeted Israel, and evoked strong anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment. These amendments were premeditated, and the sponsors of the resolution were not transparent about their true intentions.
The incredible tolerance of anti-Jewish rhetoric, and the direct harassment of Jewish students, on the part of ASM and the UW student population is a heartbreaking reminder of our provisional acceptance on campus.
This student body has acted in a way that repeatedly excludes the Jewish community — and makes us feel targeted and unwelcome. And as a Jewish student, I feel deeply let down by my “representatives.”
Zoe Kellner is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a board member of Badgers for Israel.