By Nicole Weinstein
The Student Government Association voted against a bill proposed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions organization Wednesday night that “calls on our university to divest from any companies that do business with Israel.”
After three hours of debate in the Stamp Grand Ballroom, the SGA General Assembly voted to not accept the proposal, which means they will continue to permit Israeli products and associated companies on campus.
The issue gained attention from the United States Congress, which issued a letter to the SGA saying, “We believe that passing this Resolution (and others like it in other parts of the country) would be profoundly counterproductive to the goal of advancing real peace, mutual security, human rights, and the two-state solution in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”
Around 400 students attended the debate, and about 60 got the chance to speak for two minutes each about whether the SGA should vote for or against the bill. The bill was shut down after the SGA Student Affairs Committee first gave the bill an unfavorable report in a 21-1 vote against it, with three members abstaining. Legislators then voted on whether to overturn the negative committee report but failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds vote to do so with a vote of 23-13 against the motion with one abstention.
Students argued this bill could create an even wider divide between on-campus groups and does not solve the true issues within the unresolved Palestine-Israeli conflict.
“Anyone who’s been to Israel has seen everything it has to offer,” said sophomore communications major Alice Lekach. “It’s incredible, cutting ties with that is a huge mistake. Israel is home to me and it means the world to me. I’d do anything to support it.”
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aims to utilize international pressure to end what is described as Israeli apartheid and colonialism. It does this in three ways: boycott Israeli goods, universities and cultural institutions; divest from companies that provide vital equipment to the Israeli military; and urge countries to slap sanctions on Israel.
It works to delegitimize and eliminate the state of Israel. It was created by the Palestinian civil society in 2005 as a non-violent way to demand that Israel respect the rights of Palestinians.
“I am here in support of the bill. BDS is a peaceful solution to put pressure on the political heads in Israel,” said senior anthropology major Erin Oakes. “People speak that this will cause a divide in the speech between people here on campus, that divide already exists. All that voting against this does is ignore the oppressed voices of the Palestinians and the voices of the minority people here on campus.”
The bill that was proposed by BDS is titled, “A Resolution to Promote Human Rights by Divesting from Companies that Profit from Investments in Palestine.”
Freshman letters and sciences student Keren Pickholz spoke to the SGA about her experiences with a leader in the BDS movement.
“This past summer, while spending three months in Africa volunteering, I had the rather unfortunate experience of being confronted by the leader and figurehead of the South African division of the BDS movement,” Pickholz said. “I was speaking in Hebrew with two other girls who I was in the Israeli army with. The leader came over and proceeded to make derogatory remarks to myself and my friends, and say, ‘When I look at you I don’t see a human being – I see an oppressive monster.’”
A petition formed against the proposal garnered over 1,000 signatures from students and faculty in just a few weeks on campus. This university has one of the largest Jewish populations on the East Coast, with about 20 percent of the undergraduate body being Jewish.
“I signed the petition opposing the BDS bill. I visit Israel every year and I have relatives that live there and I have such a strong connection to the country,” said sophomore psychology major Amanda Haimm. “I also studied there for a year after high school, it holds a special place in my heart and it would hurt myself and many others on this campus if this bill was passed.”
Some of the recent hate bias at this university has been aimed towards the Jewish community, like swastikas drawn on various buildings around campus.
Jewish Student Union President Josh Goldstein spoke out on this.
“Just this past semester there have been a number of hate crimes and racial slurs on campus,” Goldstein said. “These actions are only contributing to disunity, confusion and angst on campus. Supporting BDS would only encourage division and decrease dialogue instead of strengthening the unity of the Terrapin spirit.”
In the end, it was the students’ overwhelming opposition and passion against the bill that showed legislators which direction to vote.
“As a freshman, I became the president of UMD’s only active Israeli cultural club. This bill takes away internship and job opportunities for students on our campus,” said junior government and politics major Noa Dar. “It sacrifices education for political beliefs. It fuels hatred and anti-semitism on a campus that is supposed to be all-inclusive.“
SGA Off-Campus Neighboring Representative Elizabeth Crosby was one of the legislators who voted to accept the committee’s unfavorable report.
“I voted to accept the negative committee report on the bill for three reasons. One is that I believe that this issue is beyond the scope of the SGA,” said Crosby. “Secondly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incredibly complex. I assume that a majority of legislators do not have enough information to form an educated opinion. Finally, I did not believe in this bill’s merit. If the bill were to pass, I know that many legislators, including myself, would be ashamed. We aim to be as bi-partisan as possible for this reason.”