Jewish Students at University of Illinois Decry Passage of Anti-Israel Divestment Resolution During High Holidays
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s student government on Wednesday night voted in favor of a pro-BDS resolution calling for divestment from a number of companies over their alleged involvement in human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Companies mentioned in the resolution — titled “Human Rights Violations in University Investments and Police Forces” — included Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Company, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Elbit Systems.
The issue was complicated by the inclusion of language in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which placed pro-Israel students in the position of appearing to vote against racial justice, something many saw as a deliberate tactic.
In response, several Jewish students wrote a declaration of principles, which they read into the record before the vote was taken via Zoom.
“We are steadfast in our commitment to stand up for Black life and against antisemitism,” they said. “As Jews who have been targets of white supremacist hatred and feel the pain of antisemitism, we stand proudly in support of racial justice.”
“The conflation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement with the movement for racial justice distracts from the root cause of systemic racism in America,” they added. “The introduction of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions tactics against Israel into the movement for racial justice is a brazen attempt to give Jewish students an impossible choice between renouncing Zionism or selecting a position inconsistent with our support for human rights and the quest for equity.”
The resolution was passed by 22-11 margin, with seven abstentions.
In a statement published following the vote, the university’s chancellor, Robert J. Jones, and other top officials, said, “Illinois Student Government (ISG) is an independent organization that can pass non-binding resolutions on any topic it chooses. It is unfortunate that a resolution before the group tonight was designed to force students who oppose efforts to divest from Israel to also vote against support for the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The statement continued, “We are committed to dialogue and to supporting students as they navigate challenging conversations, and we will continue to plan programming designed to build understanding of different perspectives on complex and divisive issues.”
“This resolution includes several points on which we can agree, but a foundational value of this institution is inclusion, and this resolution includes language that we cannot and will not support,” it noted. “As one of the country’s top public universities, we find ourselves in the difficult position of defending speech and expression, so we can talk together about difficult circumstances and have uncomfortable conversations. We must always balance that with our need to create a community where it is safe to live, learn and work.”
The group Illini Students Supporting Israel issued its own statement, saying, “After years of failed BDS referendums that showed our student body does not support BDS, and a presidential veto of a BDS referendum only months ago, this BDS resolution was passed in the guise of social justice, during a pandemic, over a Zoom call, all in the midst of the Jewish high holidays.”
“The resolution was filled with slander, blood libel, and lies only lacking in fact and truth,” the group noted. “The ISG has continued to tarnish the name of our great university and serves as nothing more than a kangaroo court and a laughing stock of our student body.”
The group thanked the administration for its opposition to the resolution, but added, “We demand action that stands up to the consistent, hateful attacks on Jewish students often paid for with university dollars.”
The president of the group, Daniel Raab, told The Algemeiner on Thursday, “I am far from surprised on the content and timing of this vote. The authors of this resolution are members of Students for Justice in Palestine, the largest grassroots hate group that exists on college campuses today. It is not their goal or intention to improve the lives of the Palestinian people but instead to harass and make the lives of Jewish students on college campuses miserable. This is the third ISG resolution that has been authored by SJP just this past year that has fallen over the high holidays, two BDS and one to define antisemitism to protect themselves from consequences of their actions by denying that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”
“They meticulously try to push these kinds of resolutions through around the high holidays to suppress our voices by making Jewish students decide between defending their beliefs and identity or focusing on their academics that we fall behind on because of the holidays,” he pointed out.
The university’s Hillel chapter said the resolution was “an attempt to paint Israel and Jews as the obstacle to racial equity, amidst the holiest time in the Jewish calendar.”
“The Jewish students refused to submit to this antisemitic litmus test,” it stated. “Instead they issued a joint statement of principles declaring their steadfast commitment to Zionism and racial justice. During the ISG meeting Senators made clear that they are driven by their Jewish values which call for social, racial and environmental justice.”
“We are very proud of the statement of principles that the students read into the public record,” they added. “We want to express our deep admiration of the brave Jewish student leaders who stood for their values.”
The university’s Chabad chapter also commented, saying it was “deeply disappointed” by the vote.
“The University of Illinois should be a place of inclusivity, safety, open-mindedness, and equality,” Chabad said. “Rather, the Illinois Student Government has once again used its power to exclude, bully, and intimidate Jewish students.”
“Jewish students should never have to choose between standing up for social and racial justice while also having to shed their Jewish identity and their connection to the Jewish homeland to do so,” the group added. “Fighting for the rights of one marginalized community should not come at the expense of another marginalized group.”
Rachel S. Harris, an associate professor of Israeli literature and culture at UIUC, told The Algemeiner, “It is disappointing to see misrepresentations of Israel in an academic environment. I would strongly encourage those interested in learning more about Israel to take courses and inform themselves on the complexity and diversity of Israeli society, rather than choosing to gather their information from propaganda.”
“BDS resolutions have a negative impact on campus climate and have a tendency to inflame antisemitism against Jewish students on campus,” she went on to say.
Emily Briskman — the associate vice president for campus affairs and student engagement of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago — stated, “Antisemitism was emboldened yet again at U of I this evening. For the sixth time in five years, Jewish students had to defend their very existence in the face of tremendous hatred. We applaud the students who, informed by their Jewish values, were able to stand up and speak out against antisemitism while also affirming their commitment to social justice.”