As announced by DePaul University officials at 3 p.m., a student referendum at DePaul aimed at calling on the university to divest funds from U.S. companies that do business in Israel passed by a vote of 1,575 to 1,333.
“While the results are unfortunate, the very strong showing against the referendum, in part a direct result of the hard work by Jewish and non-Jewish students who waged a valorous ‘Vote No’ campaign, is notable,” said Emily Briskman, Director of the Jewish United Fund’s Israel Education Center.
“Given the effort which went into passing this referendum, the numbers hardly reflect a sweeping mandate,” Briskman said. “The goals of those who created this referendum, and the larger Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement, are to falsely accuse and demonize Israel rather than create a civil dialogue based in fact. That approach was clearly reflected in the incendiary language of this referendum. The result was disappointing but the many students who voted ‘no’ saw through the misleading language in the referendum in favor of finding real solutions to peace in the region.”
At the beginning of April, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at DePaul successfully submitted a petition with over 1,000 student signatures to the Office of Student Involvement requesting that a referendum be placed on this week’s Student Government Association (SGA) election ballot. Citing DePaul mutual fund investments in four U.S. companies, the student referendum, which is not binding in any way, asked:
“Do you think that DePaul should follow socially responsible investment practices and divest its funds from companies that profit from Israel's discriminatory practices and human rights violations?“
Elections opened May 19 and concluded today.
“This action is different from resolutions that have appeared on campuses around the country to date, which have been debated in front of elected student senators,” said Briskman. “Nearly all of those resolution attempts have failed and the referendum is an easier path to the end goal. It allows activists to boil down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into slogans and sound bites in order to promote an anti-Israel agenda on campus and vilify the Jewish state.
“While these actions are not binding on any campus administration, the negative PR effect is divisive to the campus community, allows student groups such as SJP the platform to advance their hostility toward Israel and to attempt to intimidate supporters of Israel on campus, is corrosive to the university as a whole and creates a hostile atmosphere that is demoralizing to Jewish students and the greater Jewish community,” Briskman said.
JUF’s Israel Education Center (IEC) and community partners were on the forefront of combatting the divestment referendum by supporting students, faculty and staff at DePaul on a large-scale “VOTE NO” campaign that was launched at the beginning of April. A core group of student activists took charge of running the campaign with the IEC’s guidance and full support.
One of the leaders of the “VOTE NO” effort and IEC’s Israel Intern Jessi Barnes said "My family was forced to flee Libya in 1967 because of the Arab-Israeli War. Some family members came to Chicago through HIAS and others went to Israel. I am deeply committed to the survival of the Jewish state. When the DePaul Divest referendum was introduced I knew I had to stand up for what I believe in. BDS divided my campus and made me, my friends and Jewish community feel isolated and attacked for our beliefs. But witnessing our community stand together has been beautiful."
“Throughout this week, SJP members and other supporters of the referendum engaged in harassment tactics by shadowing, interrupting and yelling at volunteers throughout campus, protested every event the students held during the week, violated campaign rules, along with a few unconfirmed incidents that directly targeted Jewish students- these reports have been brought to the administration’s attention,” said Briskman. “Jewish students held their ground and the worse the intimidation tactics by SJP supporters, the more galvanized the Jewish students became.”
“Although the DePaul Divest Referendum has passed, the efforts, dedication and passion of the students who worked tirelessly throughout the campaign deserve much praise,” said Briskman. “As we move forward in the wake of the referendum, there are a few topics that we still will want to pursue, including the unsubstantiated inflammatory language of the referendum and concern about SJP’s behavior. “
“At this point, I couldn’t be prouder of the strong statement that students, staff and the community made in opposition to the referendum and the BDS Movement,” Briskman said. “Tactics like this referendum, while largely symbolic, create a divisive and hostile environment for Jewish students and Israel supporters on campus. JUF’s Israel Education Center will continue to support all efforts to combat BDS and delegitimization on Illinois campuses and provide opportunities for students to connect with Israel in a positive way.”
The IEC’s activities regarding the referendum were coordinated with Alpha Epsilon Pi, Stand With Us and the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest.