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December 7, 2018 4:25 pm

NYU Students Pass Divestment Resolution Targeting Israel, but Administration Condemns Boycott

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A New York University (NYU) building near Washington Square Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Students at New York University passed a resolution on Thursday endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel — a Palestinian-led movement that the school’s administration has repeatedly denounced.

In a secret ballot vote with 35 in favor, 14 against, and 14 abstentions, NYU’s Student Government Assembly adopted legislation calling on NYU to divest from Caterpillar, General Electric, and Lockheed Martin for their alleged involvement “in the violation of Palestinian human rights and human rights globally.”

NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the university would not abide by the measure, citing President Andrew Hamilton’s previous rejection of economic and academic boycotts of Israel.

“The University opposes this proposal,” Beckman said in a statement sent to The Algemeiner. “It is at odds with the Trustees’ well understood position that the endowment should not be used for making political statements.”

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He also underscored the difficulty of divestment “on an operational level,” as NYU cannot direct its financial managers to avoid certain companies, and would rather have “to liquidate assets in a time of considerable market volatility.”

The resolution — spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) — was backed by 35 faculty members and 59 other student groups, among them the undergraduate student government of the NYU Silver School of Social Work. Many of the groups had already endorsed BDS in April, and pledged at the time to boycott both Zionist student clubs at NYU and prominent off-campus Jewish and Zionist organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League.

TorchPAC and Realize Israel, the two clubs blacklisted in the April pledge, denounced the BDS resolution after it was introduced last month by Senators at-Large Rose Asaf and Bayan Abubakr and Alternate Senator at-Large Leen Dweik — none of whom were directly elected by the NYU student body.

Both groups circulated a petition calling the BDS campaign — whose leading advocates oppose the continued existence of a Jewish nation-state in the Middle East — an “antisemitic movement” that was “fostering an intolerable climate on campus for Jewish and pro-Israel students,” and specifically marginalizing them through April’s boycott.

Realize Israel also released a video opposing BDS that has been viewed more than 53,000 times on Facebook since it was posted on Tuesday. The clip gives a voice to Zionist students like Ezra Meir Cohen, an NYU junior, who argued that “the BDS case cannot be looked at in isolation.”

“What’s actually happening on campus is that students are being targeted and physically attacked,” Cohen said, pointing to an incident earlier this year when members of SJP and JVP protested an outdoors party held by Realize Israel. During the event — held in honor of Israel’s Independence Day — an anti-Zionist student burned an Israeli flag, while one male student was filmed grabbing the arm of a female peer and forcibly taking her microphone before shouting, “Free Palestine, end the occupation.”

Both TorchPAC and Realize Israel mobilized its members to attend Thursday’s hearing at the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, with dozens of Zionist students assembling outside of the room while BDS supporters held a rally on the stairs leading to the building.

Adela Cojab, president of Realize Israel, told The Algemeiner that while many members of her group showed up early, they were instructed to move aside from the entrance of the room to prevent creating a fire hazard, and therefore lost their strategic position by the door shortly before it was opened. Ultimately, most members of the pro-Israel community — around 70 people — were forced to wait outside due to the room’s capacity limit, she said.

“Our community was finally given the opportunity to tell the student government what they think, and because of capacity issues they ended up leaving most of the people from a single community outside of the room,” she said.

“Once I was inside the room, it was probably the emptiest I’ve seen it,” Cojab continued. “There were open spaces, open chairs — there were tables and coat racks in the back.”

The president of the student government later allowed 10 more people to come in — initially permitting five from each side, but then changing it to six from the side opposing the resolution and four from the side supporting it, after Cojab noted the uneven distribution of the people in attendance.

Many of those who were barred from the meeting continued to wait outside, at one point singing the Jewish folk song “Od Avinu Chai” in unison, with their voices carrying over into the closed room.

Each side was allowed to speak for 12 minutes during the debate preceding the vote, though the authors of the resolution were given more than 35 extra minutes to present it — meaning that Zionist students had even less of an opportunity to make themselves heard, Cojab said. She herself was allotted extra time to speak by a senator who yielded their time, but said this didn’t much affect the discrepancy.

TorchPAC also underscored the limited amount of time allotted to opponents of the resolution, saying in a statement after the hearing that the process was “unfair and systematically silenced our community and our voices.”

The resolution ultimately passed after the meeting was extended four times, drawing cheers from supporters inside the room.

“After a two year campaign, divestment passes at NYU! BDS WORKS!” JVP posted on social media. “We will not succumb to fear. Palestine will be free.”

SJP similarly celebrated their victory with a brief statement, noting that it came “after more than a semester of discussion, club endorsements, town halls, and rallies with the aim of Palestinian human rights!”

Among the groups’ activities in the lead-up to the resolution was the release of a declaration endorsing a boycott of NYU’s study abroad program in Tel Aviv, which accused Israel of engaging in “targeted discrimination against activists and Palestinian and Muslim students.” That boycott was endorsed by 32 other student clubs, but rejected by NYU’s administration, which reiterated its “clear, long-standing policy opposing an academic boycott of Israel.”

In March, the SGA passed a resolution calling on NYU to issue “a formal memorandum to the State of Israel to remove its barricade of entry for NYU Students for Justice in Palestine and NYU Jewish Voice for Peace,” referencing a 2017 Israeli law barring entry to any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

The resolution also called on the school to “conduct a fully transparent review of its nondiscrimination policies for Palestinian, Middle Eastern and other affected students traveling to the State of Israel and attending NYU Tel Aviv.”

JVP urged students last November not to visit Israel on a trip organized by NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, partly on the basis that it opposes BDS. More than 20 student groups pledged to comply, including NYU College Democrats.

Months earlier, student activists published a 50-page “NYU Disorientation Guide” that equated Zionism with racism and called the Tel Aviv portal campus one of NYU’s “imperial projects.”

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