Chicago students turn tables on BDS with new tactic

The tactic was an innovative strategy to try to redirect and water down BDS resolutions instead of fighting against them in universities where anti-Israel elements outnumber pro-Israel element.

February 19, 2016 09:01
2 minute read.
Anti-Israel BDS

Anti-Israel demonstrators march behind a banner of the BDS organization in Marseille, June 13.. (photo credit: GEORGES ROBERT / AFP)

Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago have reframed the anti-Israel divestment debate so that a resolution passed by the student government no longer singles out Israel for criticism.

Rather, it calls on UIC to divest from companies contributing to alleged human rights abuses in a wide spectrum of countries.

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The modified resolution, passed by the student government on Monday evening, which mentions the US, China, Syria, Brazil, India, the United Kingdom and others, still includes Israel, but only on a list with many other countries – successfully watering down the impact.

The tactic was an innovative strategy to try to redirect and water down BDS resolutions instead of fighting all-out against them in universities where anti-Israel elements outnumber pro-Israel elements (at UIC the Muslim population is estimated at 15 percent – 4,500 students – and the Jewish population at 3 percent, fewer than 1,000 students).

The Coalition for Peace did not endorse the final resolution, but did not oppose it with the changes.

A group of students opposed to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign, organized under the moniker Coalition for Peace to blunt the anti-Semitic impact of UIC Divest, the BDS campaign of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, which aligned with Jewish Voices for Peace and 20 other campus groups.

A statement issued by Jewish United Fund of Chicago stated, “Coalition for Peace unmasked the anti-Semitic aspects of the anti-Israel divestment campaign, which was cloaked under the guise of concern about human rights abuses generally.”

It added, “the charge of anti-Semitism in relation to BDS arises from the movement’s singling out of Israel among all nations for criticism...

and false accusations that Israel commits crimes such as genocide and ethnic cleansing. The implicit objective of the global BDS initiative is to end Jewish sovereignty and self-determination by eliminating the State of Israel.”

Despite a process that anti-BDS students described as non-transparent and discriminatory, the Coalition for Peace convinced student government leaders that the original resolution which singled out Israel for condemnation was anti-Semitic and targeted Israel unfairly.

“Negotiations over the resolution were not easy but we tempered it so that it does not single out one nation, Israel, for condemnation,” said Moshe Rubin, a student involved with UIC Coalition for Peace.

“Considering that Jewish students were held to very different standards than BDS activists, were subject to hostile questioning and were given no clear directives about how to participate in the process, they did a remarkable job,” said Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Metro Chicago Hillel.

“The anti-Semitic nature of the global BDS movement has poisoned the atmosphere and distorted the debate about issues of concern to many students,” said Emily Briskman, executive director of JUF’s Israel Education Center. “Through their thoughtful, principled and tenacious work, the students at UIC are changing the nature of the debate.”

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