NEW YORK – StandWithUS, the Israel educational organization, condemned a resolution passed by George Washington University’s student body on Monday calling for divestments from companies that do business with the Jewish state.
The organization also expressed outrage that the school’s Student Association failed to hold accountable one of its senators for anti-Israel bias before the vote.
“We are disappointed with the outcome of the SA’s [Student Association’s] decision in passing this bill.
The SA showed tonight its inability to condemn antisemitism and proves they don’t have the proper means and knowledge to discuss this topic in the first place,” said Tali Edid, president of GW for Israel and a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow.
Earlier in the evening, the Student Association failed to censure Senator Brady Forrest for allegedly employing racist rhetoric against Jewish organizations on campus.
Brady, currently an at-large graduate Student Association senator at the school, wrote in 2014 that groups like George Washington Hillel and the Jewish Student Association were “complicit with and supportive of the State of Israel and programs and ideology that is exclusive and racist.”
“It is important to note that my problems with these organizations is not because of their religious affiliation/ identification but rather the abandoning of religious beliefs at the expense of Zionism,” he added.
The messages were posted on the “Overheard at GW” Facebook group just months after the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 50-day war with the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.
According to student body rules, two-thirds of Student Association senators had to vote in favor of censuring him but only 17 out of 27 chose to do so, leaving him the opportunity to vote on divestment against Israel. As a result, nearly all Jewish students walked out of the SA meeting in protest.
The divestment decision was passed with a vote of 18 in favor, 6 against, and 6 abstentions.
This comes on the heels of a referendum passed at Barnard College last week calling for companies to divest from Israel.
The vote, taken on April 18, was 64% in favor and 36% against, with 1,153 students voting.
But in an unexpected move, the school’s president said that the referendum would not be implemented because it failed to meet the “exacting standards” outlined by Bernard’s Board of Trustees.
Sian Leah Beilock said in a statement issued on Sunday that any decision affecting the university’s endowment “must relate directly to Barnard’s mission, and there must be a clear consensus across the Barnard community that the recommended approach is the best means to address the issue at hand.”
“First, taking an institutional stand amid the complexities of the Mideast conflict would risk chilling campus discourse on a set of issues that members of our community should be able to discuss and debate freely,” Beilock explained in her statement.
“Choosing a side, therefore, would be inconsistent with our mission.”
Beilock also noted that the vote did not meet a second standard outlined by the University’s bylaws, stating that there while a majority of pupils who voted support the referendum, only 30% of Barnard’s student body bothered to take action on the issue.
“Thousands of alumnae have also voiced their opposition to the referendum...
For these reasons, Barnard will not take action in response to this referendum,” Beilock added.
Following Barnard’s student body vote, Jewish groups blasted the decision as an attack on Zionist activists on campus and furthers the goals stated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
“We feel at the macro-level that BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] is something that inherently is written with antisemitism,” said Evan Bernstein, director of the New York Anti-Defamation League.
Dov Waxman, professor of political science at Northeastern University, said that the influence referendums have on the “public sphere delegitimize Israel, gives Israel a bad reputation, and make it increasingly uncomfortable for pro-Israel supporters, including Jewish students on campus, to publicly identify with Israel.”
StandWithUs described the language on the referendum ballot as “discriminatory” and deceptive, arguing that the wording was designed to influence students to vote “yes.”
THEY POINTED to a statement written on the social media page of Aryeh, a Jewish student group that supports a two-state solution, which claimed that the process to bring the referendum to a vote was conducted behind “closed doors” and copied verbatim inflammatory language from the Columbia University Apartheid Divest campaign.
“This ensured that students voting with no prior knowledge of the conflict would be informed only by material specifically written to ensure one outcome. Finally, after securing CUAD [Columbia University Apartheid Divest] an overwhelming advantage in the wording of the referendum, SGA Executive Board unilaterally imposed campaign rules on Aryeh, guaranteeing an unequal playing field,” the group said in a Facebook post.
Language on the Columbia University Apartheid Divest website states: “We recognize the inherently imperialist motives of the Israeli state, and condemn the unjust surveillance, harassment, torture, and incarceration of Arab Palestinian community members at home and abroad, in particular, the censorship and detainment of those who have organized publicly for the Palestinian cause.
“We recognize and name the state of Israel as a white supremacist and anti-Black project in conception, and in practice a tool to wage war and inflict violence on Black and Brown communities for the sake of profit, domination, and the expansion of Euroamerican empire,” it adds.
The divestment decision targeted more than half a dozen companies, including Caterpillar, Boeing and Hewlett Packard, arguing that their dealings with Israel made them complicit in war crimes and “human rights violations.”
“Companies like Caterpillar, which make heavy machinery that [in the US] is used for general construction.
In Palestine and the West Bank, they’re used for extrajudicial home demolitions,” said Caroline Oliver of Students for Justice in Palestine.
According to CBS News, roughly 65% of students at Barnard College are Jewish.