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April 24, 2018 5:53 pm

George Washington University Senate Votes to Divest From Israel, Fails to Censure Student Leader Accused of Antisemitism

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The campus of George Washington University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

George Washington University’s student government called on its administration on Monday to divest funds from companies accused of violating Palestinian human rights, while failing to censure a student leader accused of antisemitism.

In a secret ballot vote of eighteen to six, with six abstentions, the Student Association Senate adopted a resolution urging the university to withdraw its holdings in nine companies that do business with the Israeli government.

The measure — nearly identical to one that failed to pass last year — was rejected by University President Thomas LeBlanc on Tuesday.

“I want to be clear to our university community that this does not represent the university’s views and the university will not implement such a proposal,” LeBlanc said.

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The senate also voted down a resolution to take action against one of its members, Brady Forrest, who came under fire last month for supporting a boycott of multicultural and interfaith events because they included GW Hillel and the Jewish Student Association (JSA). Forrest has denied charges that he is antisemitic, claiming instead to have singled out the Jewish organizations because of his opposition to Israel.

The meeting drew mixed reactions from campus groups, with the JSA accusing the senate of abandoning its Jewish constituents.

“By failing to censure or remove this senator, they failed as the representatives of Jewish students and as leaders on a campus that should foster a joyous multicultural community,” the group wrote on Tuesday.

The Zionist student club GW for Israel likewise decried the meeting’s results, saying “it is unacceptable that the SA continues to allow an open and unapologetic anti-Semite to represent all students on this campus.”

Some of the group’s members also participated in a mass walk-out in opposition to the divestment resolution, led by Hannah Finkel, the president of Chabad GW.

“There is no reason why we have to sacrifice the protection of some students in order to get the protection of others,” Finkel told her peers during a three-hour-long public comment period. “This resolution can do both and don’t sell yourselves short by voting for this piece of s**t.”

Her frustration was shared by Noah Shufutinsky, a freshman representative with GW for Israel, who criticized the bill’s authors for claiming to support human rights while ignoring “the very real racism members of the African diaspora face at the hands of the Palestinian government.”

“As a politically active black, Jewish student, I find most aspects of this bill problematic,” said Shufutinsky. “It provides a biased narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promotes a campus climate that is exclusive to students who seek a more balanced perspective.”

Shufutinsky said he has sometimes felt judged and generalized on campus based on his ethnicity and religion, particularly in activist spaces.

“When I attend meetings for progressive organizations and people hear of my Jewish identity, the first question they always ask is for my opinion on Israel,” he said. “When I respond that I support the Jewish right to self-determination, people stop engaging me and treat me differently.”

Yet Divest This Time — the student coalition that supported the divestment legislation targeting Israel — issued a celebratory note on Tuesday, framing its victory as an “opportunity to create a campus that calls for diversity, is socially responsible, and that wholeheartedly stands with Palestinians and their strive for liberation.”

“Our next steps will be to further communicate our demands to the administration in regards to both, divesting from the 9 corporations as well as the general safety of Palestinians on our campus,” added the coalition, which includes members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace.

The two groups staged a sit-in at the Student Association’s office last week, after a hearing on the divestment resolution was cancelled due to a lack of sufficient security presence. Both the clubs said their members felt threatened after finding stickers on campus earlier this month calling SJP “antisemitic cowards” and JVP “fake news, fake Jews.”

The messages were posted near flyers with the logo of Canary Mission, an anonymous website that profiles BDS activists, which Divest This Time accused of initiating a “smear campaign.”

Similar stickers were found on campus this Sunday, the night before the senate vote. “SJP hates Jews,” one read, while another claimed, “SJP you saw 2 of us, we see all of you.”

Canary Mission has dismissed charges that it was involved in sharing the messages, saying it “does not poster campuses.”

Yet GW for Israel, along with 107 students and several campus Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, nonetheless condemned the group for “promoting a negative perception of Muslims” and using “extremist tactics” that “discouraged pro-Israel students from wanting to fight BDS due to fear of association with the shadowy blacklist.”

“Canary Mission obstructed pro-Israel George Washington students from pursuing inclusive and respectful dialogue to combat BDS,” they wrote on Monday.

The Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights group, subsequently applauded the students “for exposing Canary Mission’s Islamophobic & racist rhetoric.”

“While anti-Semitism on campus is a serious concern, intimidation tactics and blacklisting students is not the right response,” it warned.

Canary Mission pushed back against these accusations, arguing that it does not single out Muslims, but “investigates and profiles anti-Semitism from the far right, far left and among anti-Israel activists.”

“Those who postered at GWU are not serious,” the group told The Algemeiner, while “those who blame CM are equally unserious.”

“However, SJP’s anti-Semitism is serious. JVP’s collusion with SJP is serious. The far right is serious,” it added. “They might be different flavors of extremism but they have something in common — they want Israel gone.”

Update: On April 26, the Anti-Defamation League walked back its criticism of Canary Mission, calling it “overly broad.”

“It was wrong to apply those labels to a group working, like us, to counter anti-Semitism on campus,” an ADL spokesperson told JTA.

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