Update (12/9/14 12:13PM): The WSA Dining Committee has released the following statement based on developments over the weekend:
As many people on and off campus are aware, Wesleyan recently switched from stocking Sabra hummus to a local brand, Cedar’s. Though we made this change in the interest of sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint, it unfortunately has been misinterpreted in the media and elsewhere as a political statement in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. In order to clarify our continued political neutrality, and to give students a choice, we will be stocking both Sabra and Cedar’s hummus, starting in January.
Obviously, this is big news that counteracts the political/ethical implications of destocking Sabra hummus. Given that this is the first notice of these changes, we have no statement from those involved in the campaign to remove Sabra, as of yet. We will update this article again with any further developments.
Update (12/9/14 7:08PM): A statement has been released by Yael Horowitz ’17, Students for Justice in Palestine, and “another group of concerned students”:
We are extremely disappointed in the University’s decision to put Sabra Hummus back on the shelves. It is not an ethical response, but is instead motivated by public relations and the opinions of President Michael Roth. Student opinion is against Israeli apartheid and occupation, and we will continue to make this known. This is not the end of the conversation.
So maybe you’re a freshman, nervous and overwhelmed by all the information coming at you about classes, housing, what to bring from home – and are feeling like you can’t even begin to think about bigger issues on campus. Or maybe you’re a senior and feel like you’ve gotten this far and never really involved yourself in any social/political engagement on campus, so now it’s way too late and where would you even begin if you wanted to. Wherever you might stand, activism at Wes can seem like a huge, widespread and unnavigable thing.
Thankfully, some very committed students are trying to change that sentiment and make activism within the Wesleyan world an approachable and cohesive community. This past week, the Disorientation Guide was released through the University Organizing Center site to bring together the wide-ranging issues affecting us into one document. The entire Disorientation zine can be downloaded here, and I strongly recommend that everyone take a look at it.
A few days ago, on Sunday, May 4, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) passed Resolution 11.35: Wesleyan Divestment from Companies Profiting from or Contributing to Illegal Occupation of Palestine. This resolution has two operative clauses. The first calls upon Wesleyan University to divest from companies that a) provide weapons, security systems, prisons, or military support for the occupation of Palestinian land; b) build or maintain the wall between Israel and Palestine and the demolition of Palestinian homes; and c) help build, maintain, or develop Israeli settlements, outposts, roads, and transportation systems in occupied Palestinian territory (defined in the resolution as the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem). The goal of the resolution is to remove the financial incentive to participate in the occupation of Palestinian land. The resolution’s second clause recognizes that the University will likely not divest from Israeli companies, and thus calls upon the WSA to divest its own endowment from the University’s endowment to avoid supporting the occupation by the transitive property.
In recent months, colleges around the nation have started challenging Hillel International over their policy surrounding Israel discourse. The movement first started at Harvard, where the local Hillel was barred by the national organization from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group.
Swarthmore became the first “Open Hillel” in early December, declaring that they will no longer abide by the guidelines presented by Hillel national. In their official statement, Swarthmore’s Hillel declared that, “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”
Hillel’s official guidelines specify that groups or speakers that deny the right of Israel to exist, support the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement or, “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel” will not be hosted by the organization.
The movement has been met with backlash, especially from the national Hillel organization. As quoted in the New York Times, Eric Fingerhut, the president and chief executive of Hillel, responded to the movement by stating that, “ ‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.”
There are new developments from the ongoing controversy around President Roth’s denunciation of the American Studies Association’s recent resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Alums began circulating a still-growing petition earlier this month expressing support for the ASA decision and criticizing Roth for poor argument and hypocrisy.
Current Wes students, it seems, have followed suit. A separate petition has been making the rounds on email and social media in recent days and has already garnered over fifty signatures. Echoing the alumni declarations of support for the ASA’s boycott, the document also calls on the WSA to divest its own holdings from “companies that directly profit from or materially contribute to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories”.
If such a resolution is adopted, Wesleyan will be following a long and growing line of universities who have endorsed the BDS movement. Read the full text of the petition after the jump or sign here:
Over the past few weeks, it has been difficult to see a newspaper, blog or journal without reading an opinion about the recent vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli universities. The ASA boycott incorporates “formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions” and “scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions.”I think the boycott is misguided and wrong. Boycotting all Israeli universities is a grave assault on academic freedom and does little to achieve peace.
I am glad to see that President Roth condemned the boycott. Roth argued that the boycott lacked consistency. That is, why boycott Israel while ignoring North Korea, Russia or China? This argument has merit and proves a double standard on the part of the ASA. However, many opinions have used this argument to show that the boycott has its foundations in anti-Semitism. The President of the ASA did not help his case when stating that, “One has to start somewhere” when explaining the decision to boycott Israel. However, there is no reason to believe that the ASA had its motives rooted in anti-Jewish sentiment.
To understand the morality of the boycott, I think it is important to explore the purpose of a university. Universities, like many institutions, are concerned with professional, not political, performance. While the ASA will not be boycotting specific Israeli professors based on their citizenship, they will not allow them to participate in academic forums if they are sponsored by an Israeli institution. However, if an Israeli institution condemns the occupation, they are exempt from the boycott. I personally do think that Israeli universities should take a stance in opposition to the occupation, but I think it is wrong to boycott universities based on their views. To explain this reasoning I would like to propose a thought experiment. University X is a progressive, liberal institution. However, Professor Y, who is eligible for tenure, is an outspoken critic of many of the university’s policies. It would be wrong of the board of trustees to deny this professor tenure because he does not conform to the university’s beliefs. Non-conforming ideas lead to progress. A university has the right to define its own beliefs, however misguided they may be.
Will our own WSA follow suit?
Last week, the student government of UC Irvine (the equivalent of Weslayan’s WSA) unanimously passed a resolution supporting divestment from all companies that support the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The move came amidst the ongoing U.S.-backed bombardment of civilians in the Gaza Strip. According to news reports, the attacks have claimed the lives 95 Palestinians in the past week, including at least twelve children and a pregnant mother.
The UC Irvine resolution (which is fairly short; I encourage folks to read in full) is part of a growing international solidarity movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS for short) which seeks to withdraw support and legitimacy from the Israeli occupation, much like the divestment campaign that eventually led to the downfall of the apartheid government in South Africa in the 1990s, of which college campuses and the student movement were an integral part.
Similar resolutions have been passed or proposed on campuses across the U.S., and the campaign was even discussed at Wes during Thursday’s panel with leading independent Israeli journalists. Progressive blogger Noam Sheizaf threw in his support: