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November 26, 2014

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

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

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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