March 22, 2019
Brown University President Christina Paxson told Brown community members in a March 22 letter that the university would not be following through on a student-approved referendum calling for the university to divest from companies that conduct business with Israel.
The referendum states that the university should “divest all stocks, funds, endowment and other monetary instruments from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine and establish a means of implementing financial transparency and student oversight of the university’s investments.”
Out of the 3,076 students who voted in the campus elections from March 19-21, 69 percent voted in favor of the aforementioned referendum, the Brown Daily Herald reports.
Paxon said in her letter to Brown community members, “Brown’s endowment is not a political instrument to be used to express views on complex social and political issues, especially those over which thoughtful and intelligent people vehemently disagree. As a university, Brown’s mission is to advance knowledge and understanding through research, analysis and debate. Its role is not to take sides on contested geopolitical issues.”
She added that has continuously opposed efforts for the university to engage in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“In 2013, when a number of academic associations called for academic boycotts of Israel, I made it clear that Brown would not support academic boycotts of Israel or any other country, since doing so would inhibit the open scholarly exchange that is critical for the advancement of knowledge,” Paxson wrote. “The previous year, I had rejected a recommendation from Brown’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies to initiate dialogue about possible divestment from companies that do business in the occupied territories, expressing the same view that the endowment is not to be used to assert views on contested social and political issues.”
Paxson also pointed to a recent Brown Daily Herald op-ed from the university’s Investment Office leadership explaining that the university’s investment portfolio can’t be made public because it’s run by external investment managers and it is their “intellectual property.”
Before Paxon issued her statement, Brown Students for Israel (BSI) expressed their “disappointment” in the referendum vote in a March 21 Facebook post.
“This referendum is a defeat for all students who believe there is a better way to pursue peace between Israelis and Palestinians, who seek intellectually honest discourse about Israel and the conflict, and who prioritize a safe and inclusive community at Brown,” the group wrote.
BSI added, “Divestment is an empty promise and does nothing to improve the situation in Israel and Palestine. Now, we now must work together to ensure that our campus remains a safe place for all students and come together to achieve peace.”
Jesse Raviv, a member of BSI and a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, said in a statement, “As predicted, the Brown Divest vote polarized the student body, induced incidents of hate through online forums, and created a hostile environment for pro-Israel students. The passing of this vote further legitimized BDS, a movement that twists the truth and only shares one side of an incredibly nuanced conflict.”
“Although I am disappointed with the passing of such a misleading, divisive, and hate-fueled referendum, I feel more motivated than ever to stand with Israel,” Raviv said. “As a proud member of Brown Students for Israel, I can assure you that we will continue our efforts to create a campus climate where peace is possible.”
Lauren Feibelman, StandWithUs’ interim executive director of campus affairs, also said in a statement, “This was not a legitimate measure of opinion at Brown, as the referendum language clearly pushed students to vote yes. Unfortunately, their voices will now be used to promote a campaign of hate against Israel.”
The Brown Divest campus group had praised the vote as “historic” in a March 21 statement posted to Facebook, stating that the vote took “an emboldened and clear stand against the university’s complicity in human rights abuses in Palestine.”
Prior to the vote, a group of Jewish students wrote a letter to the Herald that was published on March 21 expressing their opposition to the referendum.
“The divestment movement divides the Brown community and widens the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians,” they wrote. “A solution that is truly based in Tikkun Olam would promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians through constructive measures, such as group meetings in which Israelis and Palestinians can share their historical and lived experiences in order to increase mutual understanding and promote open dialogue.”
Kyle Price, a junior at Brown, called the BDS movement “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” in a March 15 Herald op-ed.
“It masquerades as a noble display of support for oppressed people while concealing its intentions to demonize the Jewish state,” Price wrote. “Like every other country in recorded history, Israel has imperfect policies. But unlike its neighbors, Israel has the democratic framework to continuously improve these policies.”
Price also wrote, “Anti-Zionism, opposing the political movement of Jews to self-determination, may not always manifest in antisemitism, but it often can in the case of the BDS movement. The Jewish people have long- sought to achieve freedom and peace in their ancestral home, Israel. Yet the BDS movement rejects the existence of a majority Jewish state and applies egregious double standards to Israel’s actions, all while remaining silent on far more atrocious human rights violations.”
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