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After a year of failures, many campus anti-Israel groups remain silent

One group is planning more demonstrations; another refuses to comment

A year after successive failures at universities and colleges across the country, many campus anti-Israel movements are refusing to comment about their plans for the current school year.

In May, The College Fix reported on several student-led movements at major universities that failed in their efforts of boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning the country of Israel. These “BDS” initiatives, as they’re popularly called, are aimed at pressuring colleges into cutting academic and financial ties with Israel due to purported human rights abuses by that country.

The Fix followed up with student groups who advocated these initiatives last year, seeking to learn their plans for the upcoming school year. Most of them were silent.

President doesn’t back down from pro-Israel stance

In April, Cornell University’s student government saw the failure of its Resolution 36 aimed at forcing the university to terminate its investments with companies like Raytheon that “profit directly from Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Earlier that semester, the school’s president, Martha Pollack, had expressed her “strong opposition” to the BDS movement.

“BDS unfairly singles out one country in the world for sanction when there are many countries around the world whose governments’ policies may be viewed as controversial,” Pollack told her students.

Reached via email, a campus spokesman confirmed to The Fix that Pollack “stands by her position.” The school’s Students for Justice in Palestine group did not respond to requests for comment.

‘We are definitely planning actions’

Six times over the past seven years, the student government at the University of California, Santa Barbara has attempted, and failed, to pass a BDS resolution. The most recent failure of that measure at the school came in April, when a lengthy meeting ended in a vote against the anti-Israel position.

Reached for comment, the campus’s Students for Justice in Palestine group—an organization that regularly presses for BDS measures at schools across the country—indicated that it was not backing down in the coming year.

“We are currently in the early stages of planning for this year and don’t have any concrete plans yet. However, we are definitely planning actions to raise awareness and stop our university’s complacency in the brutal Israeli occupation of the occupied Palestinian Territories,” the group told The Fix via email.

The movement’s defeats last year could be strikingly lopsided. In December, Ohio State University “decisively rejected” a BDS proposal, voting 30-7 with three abstentions to keep the university invested in companies like Caterpillar, which does business in Israel.

One campus official indicated that there are no anti-Israel efforts currently planned through the student government.

“In the past few years, resolutions pertaining to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [movement] have been brought to the body when a student organization on the campus has contacted or approached their representatives to write legislation on the topic. At this time, there do not appear to be any resolutions pertaining to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement submitted to our Steering Committee for upcoming sessions,” Celeste Morris, a spokeswoman for Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government, told The Fix.

At the University of Oregon last year, a BDS measure that had passed the prior year was scrapped when the judicial branch of the student government struck it down, claiming it violated a “viewpoint-neutral” principle by which public universities must abide regarding student fees.

The university’s pro-Palestine group, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, was unwilling to discuss any of its planned activities at the university this year.

“We are not interested in Engaging in your project. As we appreciate that kind of interest that you show, we would like of you to do more investigation about human rights violations in Palestine that have been committed by the Israelis’ officials and IDF,” the group said via email.

BDS has failed every year

A spokesman for the University of Maryland’s student government, meanwhile, indicated the possibility that a new anti-Israel provision might be likely this year. A BDS measure at the University of Maryland failed last year after being scheduled during the major Jewish holiday of Passover.

“Currently, we do not have a bill on BDS on our table just yet, but it would be brought up once one of our legislators sponsor a BDS resolution. For the last few years, the SGA has seen a BDS bill every year, but…we have not seen a successful passage of the bill so far,” the spokesman said.

Officials at Pitzer College did not respond to requests for comment, but at that university last year its president, Melvin Oliver, rejected a college council proposal to cut Pitzer’s ties with the University of Haifa in Israel.

Oliver said that to implement the measure would run “counter to Pitzer’s core value of intercultural understanding.” A retaliatory resolution demanding Oliver’s firing was rejected by the student government.

MORE: Anti-Israel efforts dealt repeated blows on campus

MORE: Anti-Israel activists fail as student government rejects BDS referendum

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About the Author
Kyle Hooten -- St. Olaf College