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November 26, 2014 4

California Campuses See Increase in Anti-Israel Activity

The doc­u­mented increase in anti-Israel activ­ity so far this aca­d­e­mic year has been most appar­ent in Cal­i­for­nia, which has seen a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the num­ber of sched­uled anti-Israel events.

Since the begin­ning of the aca­d­e­mic year, there have been 40 anti-Israel events sched­uled to take place on col­lege cam­puses com­pared to the 15 events sched­uled dur­ing that same time period last year.ucla-divest-bds

These events, which are fre­quently spon­sored by groups like Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine (SJP) and Jew­ish Voice for Peace (JVP), have addressed how to ini­ti­ate Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions cam­paigns against Israel and often attempt to bring atten­tion to their activism by couch­ing their hos­til­ity towards Israel in social jus­tice terms, link­ing the con­flict in Gaza to other unre­lated issues.

Just this week, for exam­ple, the UCLA stu­dent gov­ern­ment endorsed “A Res­o­lu­tion to Divest from Cor­po­ra­tions Engaged in Vio­lence against Pales­tini­ans.” The res­o­lu­tion, which was sub­mit­ted by UCLA SJP, calls for the uni­ver­sity to divest from 11 cor­po­ra­tions, includ­ing Boe­ing, Cater­pil­lar, Cement Road­stone Hold­ings, Cemex, Gen­eral Dynam­ics, Gen­eral Elec­tric, Hewlett Packard, Lock­heed Mar­tin, Northrop Grum­man, Raytheon, and United Tech­nolo­gies. Although the res­o­lu­tion was passed under the pre­text that those cor­po­ra­tions vio­late Pales­tin­ian human rights, none of those com­pa­nies listed are actu­ally engaged in vio­lence against Palestinians.

Other exam­ples of the types of events that Cal­i­for­nia uni­ver­si­ties have hosted so far this semes­ter include:

  • Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a week­long series of anti-Israel events which usu­ally occurs on cam­puses in the Spring, took place at UC River­side from Novem­ber 17–20, 2014. IAW at UC River­side fea­tured four events, which included a “die-in” and a per­for­mance by Remi Kanazi, an Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee mem­ber of the US Cam­paign for the Aca­d­e­mic & Cul­tural Boy­cott of Israel, who uses spo­ken word and poetry to pro­mote anti-Israel ini­tia­tives like divest­ment and a one-state solution.
  •  A lec­ture deliv­ered by Ali­son Weir at San Diego State Uni­ver­sity titled “The hid­den his­tory behind the US & Israel,” based on her most recent book, in which she claims that sup­port­ers of Israel have exer­cised undue con­trol over Amer­i­can soci­ety for “over a hun­dred years.”

Although anti-Israel activ­ity is not a new phe­nom­e­non on cam­puses in Cal­i­for­nia, this year’s increase is not a sur­prise, as it fol­lows 47 anti-Israel demon­stra­tions that occurred in Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing Oper­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge.  Many of these demon­stra­tions were co-sponsored by stu­dent groups like the Gen­eral Union of Pales­tine Stu­dents (GUPS) at San Fran­cisco State Uni­ver­sity and var­i­ous SJP chap­ters through­out the state. At sev­eral demon­stra­tions, par­tic­i­pants held signs that com­pared the State of Israel to Nazi Ger­many and at a demon­stra­tion in San Fran­cisco, par­tic­i­pants burned an Israeli flag.

Addi­tion­ally, in late Sep­tem­ber, Amer­i­can Mus­lims for Pales­tine (AMP), the lead­ing orga­ni­za­tion pro­vid­ing anti-Zionist train­ing and edu­ca­tion to col­lege stu­dents through­out the coun­try, began the aca­d­e­mic year with a call for an “Inter­na­tional Day of Action on Col­lege Cam­puses,” advo­cat­ing for a vari­ety of BDS-related ini­tia­tives in an effort to iso­late and demo­nize Israel and Jew­ish com­mu­nal orga­ni­za­tions. ADL doc­u­mented only ten “Day of Action” demon­stra­tions in the U.S. with three hav­ing taken place at Cal­i­for­nia uni­ver­si­ties such as Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, San Jose State Uni­ver­sity, and UC Berkeley.

Even with the rise in anti-Israel activ­ity on many cam­puses in Cal­i­for­nia, most Jew­ish and pro-Israel stu­dents report feel­ing com­fort­able to express their reli­gious and polit­i­cal beliefs at their schools.  While anti-Semitism does occur too often at col­leges through­out the coun­try, gen­er­ally respect is the norm, and anti-Jewish big­otry is not openly tol­er­ated.  This mes­sage is often con­veyed by uni­ver­sity admin­is­tra­tions, who are on the front lines of the strug­gle to com­bat hate on cam­pus while bal­anc­ing free speech, aca­d­e­mic free­dom, and main­tain­ing uni­ver­si­ties as the “mar­ket­places of ideas” simultaneously.

An exam­ple of this occurred after a very divi­sive and dif­fi­cult quar­ter on the UCLA cam­pus in the Spring of 2014 sur­round­ing the Israel-Palestinian issue. At that time, UCLA Chan­cel­lor Gene Block issued a state­ment on The Impor­tance of Civil Dis­course, remind­ing the cam­pus com­mu­nity that “Polit­i­cal speech that stig­ma­tizes or casts asper­sions on indi­vid­u­als or par­tic­u­lar groups does not pro­mote healthy debate but debases it by try­ing to intim­i­date indi­vid­u­als and groups… [I]f we lis­ten only to those who already share our assump­tions, truth gets lost, our intel­lec­tual cli­mate is impov­er­ished and our com­mu­nity is diminished.”

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June 19, 2014 1

Anti-Israel Resolutions Debated at Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly

Israel is very much on the agenda at this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA) of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church USA (PCUSA), cur­rently meet­ing in Detroit.  All four­teen res­o­lu­tions, or over­tures, being con­sid­ered by the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee con­cern the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as does one before the Ecu­meni­cal and Inter­faith Com­mit­tee.  The PCUSA, which has had a pres­ence in the Mid­dle East since the early 1800’s, has taken up divest­ment at each bien­nial meet­ing since 2004. In 2012, the divest­ment res­o­lu­tion was nar­rowly defeated.  This year, it is once again on the agenda, as are over­tures to boy­cott Hewlett-Packard (HP), to label Israel an “apartheid state,” and to study whether the Church should main­tain its com­mit­ment to a two-state solu­tion. ADL, rep­re­sented at the GA by its Inter­faith Direc­tor, Rabbi David Sand­mel, opposes these mea­sures as unfair to Israel and con­trary to the goal of achiev­ing a two-state solution.

There are also over­tures being con­sid­ered that oppose divest­ment and sug­gest a “third way” of engag­ing the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict through sup­port­ing peace-makers, travel to the region and encour­ag­ing study­ing a broad range of views through local relations.

Dur­ing the first few days of the GA, com­mit­tees receive over­tures pro­posed by local gov­ern­ing bod­ies, hear tes­ti­mony, debate amend­ments, and even­tu­ally decide what actions to rec­om­mend the GA take regard­ing the over­tures they received.  While the com­mit­tees have a great deal of influ­ence on what finally ends up before the entire polity, it is the GA that makes the final deci­sion, which is sched­uled for Fri­day, June 20.

Pow­er­ful groups within the Church, such as the Israel/Palestine Mis­sion Net­work, which pro­duced the anti-Semitic “Zion­ism Unset­tled doc­u­ment,” sup­port divest­ment.   Due to the GA’s struc­ture, these groups have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate voice in the Com­mit­tee, and are sup­ported by the anti-Israel Jew­ish Voice for Peace, whose promi­nent vis­i­bil­ity at the GA has con­fused some par­tic­i­pants into think­ing they rep­re­sent the main­stream Jew­ish com­mu­nity.  More mod­er­ate voices within the Church, such as Pres­by­te­ri­ans for Mid­dle East Peace, have been work­ing closely with the ADL and a broad coali­tion of other major Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions and reli­gious lead­ers to bring a fairer per­spec­tive to the deliberations.

Though the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee did vote on June 17 in favor of divest­ment from HP, Cater­pil­lar and Motorola, it also explic­itly stated “the action does not mean align­ment with the over­all strat­egy of BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions).” The over­ture that rec­om­mends divest­ment also reaf­firms Israel’s right to exist within secure and inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized borders.

There is also the large major­ity of Pres­by­te­ri­ans who sup­port the state of Israel while also sym­pa­thiz­ing with the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tini­ans. They feel torn between their com­mit­ment to pos­i­tive Jewish-Christian rela­tions and desire to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and some have expressed feel­ing over­whelmed with input from all sides. While the bar­rage of anti-Israel rhetoric from cer­tain sec­tors has been chal­leng­ing to hear, the shrill­ness of their mes­sage may be pro­duc­ing a back­lash, espe­cially when com­pared to the more mea­sured pre­sen­ta­tion from the mod­er­ates and rec­og­nized main­stream Jew­ish organizations.

It is clear that the Church is divided on how best to address the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as demon­strated by the con­flict­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee. The process in the com­mit­tees is dif­fer­ent than that of the GA where the debate is much more bal­anced. While in the past the GA has rejected rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­mit­tee, what will hap­pen this year can­not be pre­dicted, and, as the vote draws near, there will likely be intense lob­by­ing of the vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all sides.

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April 24, 2014 1

Momentum For Divestment On California Campuses Falters

Despite the best efforts of anti-Israel stu­dent groups, divest­ment res­o­lu­tions debated on two Cal­i­for­nia cam­puses failed last night by wide mar­gins, while a third passed by just one vote.sdsu divest logo

Stu­dent Sen­a­tors at San Diego State Uni­ver­sity (3 Yes-16 No-3 Absten­tions) and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara (8–16-0), rejected res­o­lu­tions that called on their respec­tive uni­ver­si­ties to with­draw invest­ments from multi­na­tional com­pa­nies that work with Israel. A sim­i­lar res­o­lu­tion did, how­ever, pass by a razor-thin mar­gin at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Riverside.

The results of the River­side res­o­lu­tion, though not favor­able, are telling in and of them­selves about the state of sup­port for BDS on Amer­i­can col­lege cam­puses. The final vote was 8–7 and that was only after the Sen­a­tors voted to con­duct a closed vote so that the rep­re­sen­ta­tives would not have to openly declare their anti-Israel views.

More­over, it appears that the pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate did not sup­port the res­o­lu­tion. Based on live-tweeting from the event, it seems that the pres­i­dent, Sai Pata­dia, asked those in favor of divest­ment to explain why it was legit­i­mate to sin­gle out Israel for pun­ish­ment, an issue often cited by the pro-Israel com­mu­nity. [Last Novem­ber, Pata­dia also tried to resolve an issue that had arisen when a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion on cam­pus was intro­duced in stealth, strip­ping pro-Israel stu­dents of the oppor­tu­nity to present an alter­na­tive view­point.  This time around, Pata­dia encour­aged Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine to reach out to the pro-Israel com­mu­nity and let them know when the res­o­lu­tion was drafted, accord­ing to an arti­cle in the cam­pus newspaper.]

UC River­side and UC Santa Bar­bara have both dealt with sim­i­lar res­o­lu­tions before. A res­o­lu­tion sev­eral months ago was voted down and last March, a res­o­lu­tion passed but was then rescinded a month later. At UC Santa Bar­bara, a vote last April failed 10–11-1 where­upon pro-Israel stu­dents took it upon them­selves to run for Stu­dent Sen­ate, pre­sum­ably in the hopes of avoid­ing a sim­i­larly close vote this year.

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