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After six-hour debate, University of Illinois student government passes BDS resolution

February 13, 2020

Illini Students Supporting Israel board member Aaron Merlin, a junior, told JNS that the vote was wrong and not representative of the overall university community.

Students, faculty and clergy gather at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a vote to pass a BDS resolution on campus, a debate that went into the early-morning hours on Feb. 13, 2020. Photo by Ben Zavell.

(February 13, 2020 / JNS) After more than six hours of deliberation, the student government at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) passed a BDS resolution in the early hours on Thursday morning that calls on the university to divest from “companies that profit from human-rights violations in Palestine and other communities globally,” as well as from firms that provide weaponry and technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a copy of the resolution obtained by JNS ahead of the vote, which includes endorsements from the student government’s leadership committee.

The final vote was 20 in favor, nine against and seven abstentions.

The BDS resolution named companies such as Elbit Systems Ltd., Northrop Grumman and Raytheon as “involved in human-rights violations and violations of international law, including the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian lands, criminalization of immigrants and communities of color, and other human rights violations,” and therefore “make UIUC complicit in these crimes.”

The resolution was co-authored by Dunia Ghanimah, president of the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and has 22 sponsors, including Academic Affairs chair Sihah Reza.

It was endorsed by half of the student senate’s leadership committee, including Kirsten Peterson, chair of Community & Governmental Affairs; internal affairs chair Katrina Rbeiz; campus affairs chair Alexis Perezchica; financial affairs chair Jessica Tiggelaar; Bugra Sahin, chair of Sustainability, Resilience and Environmental Justice; and Shelby Sears, an event management student ambassador at the university’s division of intercollegiate athletics, according to her LinkedIn profile.

An amendment to take out all references to Israel failed by a vote of 11 in favor, 22 against and six abstentions.

‘Bigotry at all levels of the education system should not be tolerated’

Jewish and pro-Israel groups expressed severe disapproval over the resolution’s passage.

Illini Students Supporting Israel board member Aaron Merlin, a junior, told JNS that the vote was wrong and not representative of the overall university community.

“The Jewish community, the pro-Israel community is extremely disappointed in what just happened in our student government,” he said. “The student government does not represent the students. This is not the first time a BDS resolution has been proposed. The previous two times it has failed overwhelmingly because it was voted by the students.”

Those two times were in 2017 and 2018.

“Although the resolution passed, it is key to remember our campus has rejected BDS measures twice before this,” Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of Chabad at the University of Illinois and Champaign-Urbana, told JNS.“BDS was only able to pass this time because the system was manipulated in the senate after ISG was stacked with anti-Israel students. We know this vote does not represent the values and beliefs of students and faculty at the University of Illinois.”

Alums for Campus Fairness executive director Avi Gordon told JNS that “the passage of this discriminatory resolution is indicative of a disturbing trend of anti-Semitism at UIUC. Universities should be pillars of truth, academic freedom and open discourse, and when these values are compromised for any group, including Jewish and Zionist students, university administrators must respond appropriately.”

StandWithUs executive director of campus affairs Rena First told JNS, “Illinois student government has added to its already shameful record with this discriminatory resolution. Their unrepresentative decision does not negate the fact that the entire student body voted against almost identical proposals in two recent referendums.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of AMCHA Initiative, told JNS “these votes are all part of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) strategy to demonize and delegitimize Israel and its supporters on campus. Our latest report demonstrated that in 2018 the direct targeting of Israel’s supporters for harm, especially Jewish students, reached alarming levels. In fact, attempts to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from campus activities more than doubled, while calling for the total boycott or exclusion of pro-Israel students from campus life nearly tripled.”

“This Jew-hatred is nothing new. The passage of this pro-BDS resolution is the latest example of anti-Semitism surging at American universities,” Club Z executive director Masha Merkulova told JNS. “Bigotry at all levels of the education system—from elementary schools to universities—should not be tolerated under any circumstance. The Jewish community must take a strong, decisive stand and demand that Jewish students receive the same protections afforded to all other groups.”

Chancellor Robert Jones in October denounced anti-Semitism in response to a presentation during a mandatory meeting for the residential living team at the university that was replete with anti-Semitic references has come under fire from the pro-Israel community.

“I want to state publicly and unequivocally that acts and expressions of anti-Semitism are acts and expressions of hatred and discrimination that are in direct opposition to our core values,” he said. “Bias and prejudice are antithetical to the educational foundations of our university and hurtful to our entire community.”

Also in October, the UIUC student government passed a resolution introduced by SJP to condemn the chancellor’s remarks.

The university’s administration already said it would not enforce the resolution.


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