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May 9, 2014

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 9, 2014 Campus divestment votes surge, but pro-Palestinian activists don't get many wins StandWithUs Members of UCLA's student government listen to supporters and opponents of a divest- ment resolution targeting Israel in a session that stretched into the early morning hours of Feb. 26, 2014. By Talia Lavin governments have weighed divestment measures, includ- ing nine this spring, though a majority have rejected them. "There's been a significant increase in divestment votes," said Max Samarov, a senior research assistant with the Israel advocacy group Stand- WithUs. "I think activists were using previous years to test the waters and are now roll- ing divestment out as a truly national strategy." The divestment measures proposed to student govern- ments generally strongly criticize Israeli policies and urge universities to divest themselves of investments in companies doing business with the Israeli military or with West Bank settlements. Their significance is largely symbolic, since they are not binding on universities. Last academic year, the bulk of the votes took place at California universities, most of them large public schools, several of which approved divestment. This spring, many of the votes have been on campuses in other states. Pro-Palestinian groups see themselves as making head- way on campus. "There's more and more campuses that are taking up this issue," said Ramah Ku- daimi, membership and out- reach coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. "We've welcomed 10 to 15 new student groups in the past year." On campus after campus, student government meet- ings to discuss divestment resolutions have been heated affairs often stretching into the night. But with only a couple exceptions, student governments this academic year have rejected divestment measures, a worse showing than the previous year for pro-Palestinian activists. "In terms of actually win- ning votes, it's been an over- whelmingly unsuccessful year for divestment activists," Samarov said. "They may consider it a success because they've managed to intro- duce more total resolutions at more total universities in this country, but at the same NEWYORK(JTA)--OnTwit- ter, pro-Palestinian activists dubbed it "DivestApalooza." Student governments at three Southern California public universities all voted on divestment resolutions targeting Israel in a single day. The April 23 votes were part of a surge in student governments at American universities voting on divest- ment resolutions. In the past two years, at least 16 student LYNDA MILLER, REALTOR i i:i) :-:i..i:iii'-,.i(; ii;,'::i : -,. .... . !,i.::',:. ........ "I'm going to do more to help you GET MORE!" 407-620-2924 time, the anti-divestment movement on campuses has become more cohesive and more prepared to push back." DivestApalooza yielded only one win for the pro- divestment crowd, with the student government at the University of California, River- side approving by a single vote a measure titled"Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid." The other two student governments voting that day--at the Uni- versity of California, Santa Barbara and San Diego State University--both roundly rejected divestment. One place where the stu- dent government did vote for divestment this spring was Loyola University in Chicago. But the student government president, Pedro Guerrero, vetoed the resolution. "This resolution caused harm among the student community," Guerrero wrote in a March 26 letter to the student body. "In supporting such resolutions, we run the risk of isolating students from the resource we intend to be." At many schools, divest- ment votes have spurred tensions between supporters and opponents. At the University of Michi- gan, a divestment motion that was tabled initially went to a vote after pro-divestment students staged a weeks-long sit-in to bring the measure to the floor. Jewish students there organized an:"tnvest in, Peace" campaign and emailed student representatives to lobby them during the period. "In those weeks, the cam- pus climate was extremely tense," the Michigan student government's vice-president, Bobby Dishell, said in an emailed statement. "The en- vironment was also very tense during the vote itself." At the University of Cali- fornia, Los Angeles, a divest- ment resolution was brought to the student government in February by the campus chapter of Students for Justice inPalestine. Jewish students with a broad spectrum of views opposed the measure, which ultimately failed. "The BDS movement's reli- ance on a one-sided narrative isolates and alienates Jewish students on campus," Dor Carpel and Gil Bar-Or, mem- bers of the dovish campus Israel activist group J Street U wrote in UCLA's Daily Bruin. While some divestment votes provided students an opportunity for ample--if often strained--discussion, other divestment votes were put on the agenda hastily. "We found out at the last minute," Rabbi Shimon Brand, the Jewish chaplain at Oberlin, said of the Ohio col- lege's divestment resolution that passed in May 2013. "This was not normal procedure for the student senate." According to Brand, the divestment resolution arose in the Oberlin Student Senate af- ter a student petition garnered some 200 signatures--asmall fraction of the student body. "On a campus like this, anyone will sign petitions," he said. Students affiliated with the Oberlin Hillel gathered and worked out a strategy to oppose the measure. "Twelve to 14 students went to the Student Senate meeting," Brand said. "Other than the Student Senate themselves, there were maybe three other students there." Student speakers at the meeting managed to narrow the scope of the divestment resolution, he said. The reso- lution adopted by the Oberlin Student Senate applied to six specific companies that the resolution alleges "directly profit from the ongoing viola- tions of international law and human rights." "Of course, Hillel and many of the students would have preferred divesting from noth- ing," Brand said. "But we only found out at the last minute." Hal Ossman, executive director of the Cornell Hillel in upstate New York, similarly recounted Jewish students be- ing confrontedwith a surprise divestment resolution. "We found out 48 hours before that [the divestment : resolution] was on'theApri110 meeting agenda, although we had known that a resolution had been written," Ossman said. The meeting date, which was the Thursday immedi- ately preceding Passover, ordinarily would have served as a travel day for many Jewish students heading home for seder. Nevertheless, Jewish student leaders at Cornell mobilized quickly. "Student leaders met that day from about 5 p.m. to 3 in the morning at the multi-faith center where the Hillel offices are," Ossman said. "They were here all day Thursday organiz- ing materials, talking points and questions, getting the word out to students to come out and be present at the stu- dent assembly meeting and lobbying members of the stu- dent government to vote no." In the end, the resolution was tabled indefinitely follow- ing a meeting that ended in tension and invective. Weeks later, debate is ongoing on the Cornell campus. "It's important that the students are the voice coun- tering this, not adults, not the outside organizations speaking on their behalf," Ossman said. "This is their student-elected government, and they are the student voice of Israel on campus." Custom Print l.g Irtations & ts Digital & Offset Prir,ing Brochures & Booklets Direct IVil Services Forrm & Le 407-767-7110 __ 205 North Street- Longwood, FL 32750 = ",VVW. eq(pcint . Net MenonTh Ad d Recede 18"/o Di:xx