University of California will heed students’ call to boycott Israeli institutions | Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions News

Sonoma State University, a public school in Northern California, has said it will not form partnerships with Israeli universities, responding to a call from pro-Palestinian student groups pushing to boycott Israeli businesses and institutions during the war in Gaza .

The decision, announced Tuesday, comes after a recent wave of campus protests across the United States, with encampments and demonstrations popping up at schools including Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

As part of their demands, student activists sought to sever schools’ ties with academic bodies and companies seen as complicit in Israel’s war and decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territory.

In an email to students on Tuesday, Sonoma State President Mike Lee said the school had reached an agreement with the protesters, who set up an encampment on campus three weeks ago.

Sonoma State would do more to disclose its contracts and seek “divestment strategies,” Lee wrote. It would also not pursue partnerships “sponsored by, or representing, the academic and research institutions of the Israeli state.”

In exchange for the concessions, student activists agreed to dismantle the tent cluster on campus on Wednesday evening.

Many universities have responded to the demands of anti-war activists with police crackdowns on encampments. But these efforts have done little to dampen calls for divestment, and campus activists have compared their efforts to historic student protests against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

Several pro-Palestinian university camps have been disbanded after negotiations with administrators over divestment demands.

In late April, for example, protesters tore down their tents at Brown University in Rhode Island after the Ivy League school’s board of trustees agreed to consider divesting in a vote in October.

However, the call for divestment could be controversial in the US, where Israel enjoys strong political support.

Israel receives $3.8 billion in US military aid each year, and US lawmakers, with the encouragement of pro-Israel groups, have moved to punish and even criminalize calls for a boycott of Israel.

In Texas, for example, Republican Governor Greg Abbott responded directly addressed student divestment demands, saying earlier this month: “This will NEVER happen.” Under his leadership, the state passed a law banning government agencies from entering into contracts with companies that boycott Israel.

Opposition to Sonoma State’s decision

Jewish groups and a handful of state politicians have also condemned Sonoma State’s decision, saying it represents an attack on Israel and the Jewish community.

Some linked the university’s decision to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which aims to pressure Israel to protect Palestinian rights through nonviolent means. It also aims to draw attention to companies seen as complicit in rights abuses on Palestinian territory.

BDS critics, however, view the movement as anti-Semitic for its attacks on Israeli companies and groups.

“Yesterday, the president of Sonoma State University aligned the campus with BDS, a movement that aims to destroy Israel, home to 7 million Jews,” California Sen. Scott Wiener said in a message Wednesday. on social media.

In another message, the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area said Sonoma State’s decision was in “clear violation” of California’s 2016 anti-BDS law. It called out the chancellor of the California State University system — of which Sonoma State member – to ‘correct’ the situation.

However, free speech groups say anti-BDS laws stifle criticism of Israel and confuse scrutiny of Israel’s alleged human rights abuses with anti-Semitism.

Protection of students and freedom of expression

Campus protests, like those at Sonoma State, have fueled debate about the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Jewish hatred.

It has also raised concerns about how to protect free speech on campus while addressing discomfort some students have expressed about the protests.

Student demonstrators have sought to shed light on the plight faced by Palestinian civilians, especially since the start of Israel’s war in Gaza on October 7.

In the intervening months, Israel’s military offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians and displaced some 1.5 million people internally.

The war has also left parts of the Palestinian territory in a state of “complete famine.” United Nations experts have warned of a “risk of genocide” in the enclave.

But even before the start of the current war, rights groups like Amnesty International have concluded that Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories constitute the crime of apartheid.

Although the vast majority of pro-Palestinian campus protests have been peaceful, fears of anti-Semitism on college campuses are high.

For example, shortly after the war began in October, a report emerged that a 24-year-old Jewish student had been attacked with a stick on the campus of Columbia University in New York.

Columbia University President Nemat Shafik was called before a congressional committee last month to answer questions about alleged cases of anti-Semitism on her campus, although several U.S. representatives questioned the narrow focus of the hearing.

“Anti-Semitism is not the only form of hatred on the rise in our schools,” Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat, told the committee.

“Islamophobia and hate crimes against LGBTQ students have also increased recently. They have led to deaths by suicide and harassment. But this committee has not yet held a single hearing on these issues.”

Advocates say pro-Palestinian protesters have also faced a spike in harassment since the war began. At UCLA, for example, counterprotesters attacked an anti-war encampment, and observers later reported that campus police were waiting to intervene.

The episode led critics to question which students were protected — and why.