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November 9, 2021 5:53 pm
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Dozens of Organizations Call on Virginia Tech to Reject Grad Student Endorsement of Israel Boycott

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Photo: CBGator87 / Wikimedia Commons

Nearly 80 nonprofit organizations called on Virginia Tech president Tim Sands on Tuesday to reject the recent endorsement by the schools graduate student senate of an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

The Virginia Tech Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) passed a resolution in October accusing Israel of “apartheid, colonialism, and military occupation” and demanding that the Virginia Tech Foundation begin divesting from Israeli companies.

Tuesday’s letter — signed by groups including B’nai Brith International, World Jewish Congress North America, and the AMCHA Initiative — urged the school to guarantee that “no student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel, or subject to unfair discrimination or harassment, because of a boycott.”

It also cited a statement from President Sands defending “free speech rights” in response to the resolution’s passage.

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“Your statement failed to recognize the possibility that GPSS members, many of whom serve as Graduate Teaching Assistants, may implement elements of the academic boycott on campus and in their own classrooms, in ways that that would directly and substantively harm undergraduates on your campus, particularly those who are Jewish and pro-Israel,” it said. “We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that this does not happen at Virginia Tech.”

Promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement at Virginia Tech, the groups argued, could mean the denial of letters of recommendation to students applying to study in Israel, disrupting or cancelling Israel related events, or eliminating study abroad trips to Israel.

“It’s crucial to understand that although an academic boycott of Israel targets Israeli universities and scholars, its implementation on US campuses such as Virginia Tech can’t help but violate the academic and civil rights of undergraduate students,” they said. “All of these actions directly subvert the educational opportunities and academic freedom of undergraduate students who want to study about or in Israel.”

Responding to the GPSS move in an Oct. 29 statement, President Sands said, “Virginia Tech strongly supports the free speech rights of members in our community as well as organizations to express their opinions, regardless of whether as well as organizations to express their opinions, regardless of whether those views are widely shared or controversial.”

“Those who engage in debates on controversial issues can expect to be challenge,” he continued. “That said, there are legal boundaries that must not be crossed, and university policies with consequences for those who violate them. Everyone in our community should be free from harassment, discrimination, and physical threats to their safety.”

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