March 29, 2014

Zionists play Whack-a-Mole; but the moles keep digging

This just in from Mike Cushman of BRICUP:

Recent weeks have seen an outbreak of BDS activity on North American campuses. Each student action has met a virulent reaction from Israel’s defenders; each Zionist reaction prompts further action elsewhere.

The current round started on 24 February at Northeastern University in Boston when Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) repeated a tactic used on other campuses and posted mock eviction notices under students’ doors. These notices:

bring Israel’s campaign of demolition and eviction to the attention of all students. It is frequently, and falsely, alleged that Jewish students are targeted for these notices in an act of antisemitic intimidation. No evidence of this has ever been produced and as the aim is to spread information such a tactic would be counter-productive. Such claims were dismissed by the authorities at Rutgers and Florida Atlantic Universities.

The administration at Northeastern responded brutally. They suspended the SJP chapter and involved the police and threatened the only women of colour in the group that distributed the leaflets with expulsion-level charges. The threat of expulsion was rescinded following a nationwide outcry. University president Joseph Aoun recently protested, on spurious free speech grounds, against the American Studies Association decision (see Newsletter 72) to adopt BDS; he obviously sees free speech on his own campus as less vital. 

This was followed on 1 March by a 798 to 585 vote by students at Windsor University, Ontario, to support BDS. University President, Alan Wildeman, immediately tried to undermine the validity of this well supported vote making claims of irregularity without providing evidence. On 12 March he announced he had hired a lawyer to carry out an “investigation” of the BDS referendum.

Worse was to follow when Richard Spencer, an alumnus and major donor posted: “I am reasonably certain that the majority, if not all, of this small percentage of the student body are of the Muslim faith, which promotes violence and hatred toward the Jews in the middle east.” Wildeman has very correctly distanced himself from these comments. However, it provokes a question about the due diligence the University conducts before accepting donations if it had been pleased to accept funds from someone prone to making such racist statements.
Despite these attacks the students at Windsor remain committed to putting their BDS policies into effect.

Next the focus moved to Barnard College in New York, an affiliate of the prestigious Columbia University. On 10 March Barnard/Columbia SJP kicked off Israel Apartheid Week by hanging a banner of a map of Palestine  outside Barnard Hall where groups conventionally post banners promoting their events. The campus former Hillel president wrote “The banner features a map of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, without any internal borders, colored uniformly green. That is to say, C-SJP's banner, brazenly displayed on the front door of Barnard College, entirely erases the Jewish State from the map. While I hesitate to use the term too loosely, I am at a loss as to how to categorize this display as anything less than anti-Semitic.” These claims are strange, not only because Israel frequently produces maps without borders, although they tend to colour the territory blue. More weird are Hillel protests against a map that does not detail Israel’s land grabs.

Barnard’s administration swung into prompt action on receiving these pleas and tore down the banner. An action that accords with their support for Zionist Birthright trips to Israel and tolerance of regular events on campus supporting and celebrating the Occupation.

These repressive measures have fallen foul of deep US attachment to free speech and the first Amendment and even some staunch supporters of Israel have denounced such censorship.

Hillel, the organisation that seeks to organise and support Jewish students has itself become an arena of contest. Many Jewish students are arguing that Hillel should represent all of them and not make support dependent on a commitment to Israel’s policies. National Hillel has been operating a policy of sanctioning any campus group that attempts to host any speaker critical of current Israeli policy, regardless of their attitude to the continuance of the state as a Jewish entity. Harvard Hillel even banned Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel’s Knesset. In reaction campus Hillel groups are declaring themselves to be Open Hillels and not subject to a rigid Zionist dogma.

On 18 March students at Loyola, a Jesuit University in Chicago, agreed to divest from companies complicit in aiding the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. They identified Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlitt-Packard, G4S, Raytheon, Elbit Systems, SodaStream, and Veolia. The vote at the student senate was passed nem con with 26 votes in favour and 2 abstentions; it followed a year long campaign by Loyola SJP and a petition signed by over 800 students. It is just a year since students at San Diego State University, UC Irvine and UC Riverside passed similar resolutions

The senate revisited the issue on 24 March and confirmed their earlier decision, albeit by a smaller margin. Despite this the President of the Student Association unilaterally vetoed the resolution the following day. The spotlight moves back to the Senate who can override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

On the same day students at the University of Michigan started an indefinite occupation in protest at the student government’s refusal to hold a vote on divestment. Their campaign led by SAFE, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality ,forced the student government to convene a meeting on 18 March to hold a debate and a vote. Hundreds attended but the debate was cut short and a motion to indefinitely delay a decision was passed by 25 votes to 15 but it is significant that opponents did not have the confidence to try and vote BDS down outright.  Despite this setback the campaigners are sure they have ignited a debate about Palestine at Ann Arbor and increased knowledge about Israel’s actions enormously. The campus newspaper The Michigan Daily printed an editorial supporting SAFE’s campaign for the University to be more active in investigating the ethical status of their investments. They intend to bring the motion back and are confident of winning UM students to BDS. 

Meanwhile Vassar has been convulsed by a row over a study trip to Israel and the settlements to investigate water supply organised as part of the International Studies programme. On 6 February Vassar SJP picketed a meeting of the class, some of the students in the class claimed they felt intimidated and a meeting was held on 3 March to allow both sides to express their concerns. SJP argued the case about why the trip was discriminatory and how it embedded US support for Israel. Philip Weiss has written a detailed and nuanced account of the meeting and the events leading up to it and the wider significance of the turmoil at Vassar for the development of the campaign for Palestinian rights on US campuses.

On 19 March students at Arizona State University joined the campaign, again a motion moved by ASU Divest from Caterpillar Inc was postponed but it will be raised again on 1 April.
On 26 March McMaster University Student Union in Hamilton, Ontario passed a BDS resolution but at a well-attended but inquorate General Assembly meeting – opponents of BDS left the meeting to make it inquorate rather than staying to register tier opposition. 27 years ago McMaster students were among the first to support South African BDS.

This article is correct at the time of writing but this is a fast changing situation which we will try to track on the BRICUP website and is well reported at Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss and on twitter.[with Jews sans frontieres bringing up the rear]

Mike Cushman
28 March 2014 

I got this from Mike Cushman early yesterday and as Mike said there could be changes on the way, in fact it's fair to say, in light of the above, Change is gonna come.  Hey, that's a good idea for a song:


Post a Comment