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University of Illinois student government set to vote on ‘divisive’ BDS resolution

JNS / Jewish New Syndicate

Jackson Richman

February 11, 2020

The student government at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is scheduled to vote on a BDS resolution on Wednesday 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 that includes endorsements from the student government’s leadership committee.

The BDS resolution names 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 has endorsements from half of the student senate’s leadership committee, including its director, Marissa Finley; Kirsten Peterson, chair of Community & Governmental Affairs; internal affairs chair Katrina Rbeiz; campus affairs chair Alexis Perezchica; financial affair 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.

‘A hostile environment for Jewish students on our campus’

UIUC Hillel executive director Erez Cohen called the measure “divisive,” and said that the “Illinois student body is not interested in being manipulated by the BDS movement.”

“The divisive BDS resolution that was proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine is a clear attempt to emotionally blackmail student senators and create a hostile environment for Jewish students on our campus,” he said. “The resolution refers to Israel 11 times more than any other country mentioned. This is a continued attack on our growing community of Israeli and Jewish students at the University of Illinois.”

StandWithUs executive director of campus affairs Rena First called the resolution “unsurprising,” considering that the student government passed a resolution in October that was introduced by SJP, which reprimanded the university’s chancellor, Robert Jones, for condemning a streak of anti-Semitic incidents, including a swastika being found on one of its buildings and an anti-Semitic presentation at a mandatory meeting for the school’s residential living team.

The October 2019 a slideshow presentation for the school’s residential living team, titled “Palestine & Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror,” which was hosted organized by a student involved in SJP, included included libelous statements about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, that Chancellor Jones said “incited division, distrust and anger” among students.

“This is unsurprising coming from the same student government that shamefully denied any connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism earlier this year,” said First. “A body that disregards the voices of Jewish students has no legitimacy to vote on issues affecting the Jewish community.”

Alums for Campus Fairness executive director Avi Gordon echoed First, saying, “This resolution, being voted on by the senate of the Illinois Student Government, is the latest in a series of incidences at UIUC that have endorsed hate and discrimination against Jewish and Zionist students—including the passage of a resolution that attempted to separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism.”

In response to the latest BDS measure, AMCHA Initiative co-founder and director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin noted that “the intended consequence of this resolution, and all BDS resolutions, is to purposely incite hatred and divisiveness on campus,” and that “while these votes carry zero weight in the eyes of the university, they are invariably linked to the harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus and pose a serious threat to their safety.”

“Academic institutions across the country are plagued by Jew-hatred, and student groups like SJP are the primary driver of it on campuses. The University of Illinois is not an exception,” said Club Z executive director Masha Merkulova. “Instead of responding to each incident in a vacuum, we need to have a better strategy to stop SJP and SJP-like groups from poisoning our society.”

“The Jewish community must prioritize actual Israel education, how anti-Semitism manifests today as anti-Zionism, and what we can do to actively combat it. Students and faculty must come together to send a clear message that all forms of anti-Semitism will not be tolerated,” she added.

The Jewish United Fund of Chicago also criticized the resolution.

“The bill is being promoted by its proponents as if it is not a BDS resolution, a tactic designed to trick students into believing it is about human rights,” said Emily Briskman, the organization’s assistant vice president for campus affairs.

“In fact, Israel or the Israeli Palestinian conflict are mentioned three times more than any other country in the bill. There is no hiding what this is,” she continued. “Despite the student body voting overwhelmingly against BDS in two previous referenda, proponents continue their efforts to demonize Israel.”

Briskman warned that “if the resolution is adopted, the result will only be further isolation of the Jewish community and softer ground for even more virulent anti-Semitism.”

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