In the aftermath of the deadliest attack in American Jewish history, a measure calling on New York University to separate its interests from firms that do business with Israel was introduced in the school’s student government.
“Again a few radical students can set the agenda and because of the widespread indifference to, or dismissal of such initiatives, can appear to represent the majority,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.
Only students with NYU IDs will be allowed to attend the meeting. To protect student privacy, the anonymous final vote will be held on Dec. 6.
“The secret ballot is not just proof of the student government’s lack of transparency and accountability. It shows its members aren’t genuine human-rights activists,” Hali Haber, CAMERA’s Director of Campus Programming, told JNS. “Do you think Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. fought in secret? When you have morality on your side, you fight for it openly.”
“Until members of the assembly are willing to attach their own names to the resolution, nobody else should take their vote seriously either,” said Haber.
“The threat of violence implicit in BDS campaigns such as the one at NYU is the very reason why student senators do not feel safe in openly expressing themselves about this issue, and why the NYU vote must be conducted by secret ballot,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, told JNS. “That fact alone speaks volumes about the hostility and violence that many Jewish and Zionist students face when trying to express their identity or support for Israel at NYU or on many other college campuses.”
Titled the “Resolution on the Human Rights of Palestinians,” the BDS resolution has the backing of 54 student groups and was introduced by Rose Asaf, Bayan Abubakr and Leen Dweik. The measure also has the backing of 34 faculty members. It claims that BDS is an “an inclusive, anti-racist, and non-violent set of tools to pursue the Palestinian human-rights movement” that opposes all discrimination, “including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
“As a Palestinian, this resolution is deeply personal to me,” Dweik told NYU Local. “As an NYU student, it hurts and shocks me that the university would continue to invest in companies that directly contribute to the human-rights violations of my family and my people.”
“As an American-Israeli Jew, I reject the categorization of BDS as anti-Semitic,” Asaf told JNS in October. “BDS is a set of nonviolent tactics aimed to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law and respect the dignity of the Palestinian people.
“Criticizing a nation-state and promoting human rights is not in any way anti-Semitic,” she continued. “As someone who lives with the trauma of generational anti-Semitism, I know this well. I am in solidarity with Palestinians not in spite of my Judaism, but because of it.”
Singling out on country only: Israel
Jewish and pro-Israel groups, such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), denounced the resolution and its timing.
“This divestment resolution claims to be inclusive, anti-racist, and non-discriminatory, when on its face, it’s the exact opposite,” Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, told JNS. “The resolution singles out companies simply because they do business with one country only: the Jewish State of Israel.”
“The fact that the resolution will be voted on by secret ballot is outrageous. Those voting are in the student government,” continued Tuchman. “They’re accountable to the students they represent and their actions should be completely transparent.”
Jennifer Dekel, EMET’s director of research and communications, told JNS: “NYU’s divestment resolution is the latest example of efforts by radical anti-Israel groups to alienate and silence Jewish students, and other students supporting Israel, on campus.”
“Groups leading the effort, such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, have a track record of creating a hostile environment for Jewish students and should be put on notice by the university that their actions may be in violation of Title VI of The Civil Rights Act,” added Dekel.
Jewish Voice for Peace has been accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery in its “Deadly Exchange” activities that seek to “end police exchange programs between the U.S. and Israel.”
Andrea Levin, president and executive director of CAMERA, said her organization is “disheartened” by the BDS resolution from Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, both groups that have a history of anti-Semitism.
“There can be no doubt that [the resolution] aims to intimidate the vibrant community of Jewish students at NYU. CAMERA on Campus maintains the unshakable belief that the BDS movement, with its single-minded focus on the Jewish state, works exclusively to worsen conditions needed for dialogue, coexistence, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” she told JNS.
“We’ve heard from many NYU students about how the student government lacks transparency and doesn’t fairly represent their constituents,” Rena Nasar, StandWithUs tri-state campus director, told JNS. “It seems the problem is only getting worse as a result of this campaign of hate that has been launched by JVP and SJP on campus.”
Although NYU president Andrew Hamilton denounced BDS in April, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, StandWithUs and Alums for Campus Fairness wrote a letter four months later to Hamilton, asking his administration to address a discriminatory joint statement issued in April by 53 NYU student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace, which declared that the student organizations would boycott two pro-Israel student groups on campus: Realize Israel and TorchPAC.
While the August letter acknowledges that although NYU has condemned the BDS movement, the university has yet to adequately denounce the discriminatory statement and address how the vitriol has affected the overall student-faculty community, according to a joint statement by the three organizations.
Out of 51,123 undergraduate and graduate students, there are 6,000 undergraduate and graduate Jewish students at NYU, or 11.7 percent of the student population, according to Hillel International.