Members of the Graduate Student Union at New York University have filed an appeal to reverse the recent passing of a resolution to join the BDS movement.
The student union, which operates under the umbrella of its parent union, the United Auto Workers voted at 66.5 percent last week in favor of joining the BDS movement “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall, recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles,” according to a post on its website. The resolution called on the UAW to divest from Israeli companies and also urged NYU to terminate its program at Tel Aviv University.
The NYU administration spoke out against the decision saying that it is “antithetical to the free exchange of ideas.”
According to the members of the Graduate Student Union who filed the appeal, the resolution violates the codes of their parent union as well as the student union’s own union contract with NYU.
The text of the appeal, signed by member of the student union Ilana Ben-Ezra and addressed to the Executive Board of United Auto Workers Local 2110, pointed out the resolution is illicit because it violates the UAW constitution’s pledge “to maintain free relations with other organizations,” goes against the University’s official position, which puts the union at odds with the institution and “vilifies” and hurts companies that are members of the parent union.
“Boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning companies are, by design, intended to hurt those companies and their workers. Should BDS be successful, and UAW members employed by targeted companies lose their jobs, our unit will be responsible for causing that harm,” Ben-Ezra wrote.
The pro-BDS decision was condemned by Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Council and the Anti-Defamation League last week but student groups such as NYU Law Students for Israel also strongly joined the protest.
“As law students, we feel obligated to address this vote specifically, and the BDS movement more generally,” the group wrote in an official statement.
“This movement stifles free speech, limits academic freedom, and minimizes social interactions at a time when more than ever, respectful dialogue is needed on the most complex and pressing issues of our generation.”
“If this motion were in fact adopted, NYU would be forced to cut all financial, academic, or political ties with any institution within or doing business with Israel,” they wrote. “In practical terms, NYU graduate students would lose their opportunity to study at NYU’s acclaimed program at Tel Aviv University, one of the world’s top universities.”
The students also pointed out that the financial loss NYU could face from such divestments would be “profound,” as NYU would “no longer be able to engage in any sort of business with companies ranging from Procter & Gamble to Intel to McDonald’s.”
NYU Law Students for Israel also added that last week’s vote reflects the wish of only a small minority of NYU graduate students. Out of the approximately 25,000 NYU graduate students, the union represents about 1,200 students who are eligible to vote.
NYU law student and incoming President of Law Students for Israel Sarah Benowich told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend that her group does not think of BDS as an issue dividing Jewish and non-Jewish students.
“There are students of all faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities on both sides of the issue and we respect the place that dissent and different thought has,” she said.
“As a Jewish student at a large institution with a sizable Jewish population in a metropolitan city that is home to so many Jews and Muslims, it is especially upsetting that the opportunity for meaningful and respectful dialogue is squandered and instead filled with caustic slogans and catchphrases that demonize certain people, countries, and ideas,” Benowich added.
According to her, NYU Law Students for Israel tries to “make a positive space for students to learn more about Israel through all of its many angles.”
“We do not want to silence or repress voices on the other side, as those who speak against BDS are often accused,” she made clear. “Instead, we are trying to rise above the slogans and provide avenues for deep and meaningful dialogue.”
“It is not easy to confront BDS: they have a clear and energizing message, and seemingly unified support,” she admitted. “But the reality is, their ideas are steeped in age-old anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. In the modern, pluralistic era, these anti-speech values are corrosive, especially in an academic setting.”
Benowich also said that she believes that “building social connections and speaking quietly and respectfully about the difficult issues is a better way toward peace” than shouting.
“If we cannot act peacefully on our own campus, a law school, how can we expect people to act peacefully in the heat of passion in the Middle East?” she told the Post.
NYU Law Students for Israel commanded the University’s President Andrew Hamilton for expressing his strong opposition to the pro-BDS resolution and said they hope “people will look more deeply into what Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction really is” in the future.