By AARON B. COHEN
Students at University of Illinois at Chicago have reframed the divestment debate on their campus. The students, who oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, have negotiated a student government divestment resolution that now targets countries in addition to Israel.
The modified resolution passed in an Undergraduate Student Government meeting Monday evening.
The students opposed to BDS, organized under the moniker Coalition for Peace, succeeded last Friday at blunting the anti-Semitic impact of UIC Divest, the BDS campaign of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, which has aligned with Jewish Voices for Peace and some 20 other campus groups.
Coalition for Peace unmasked the anti-Semitic aspects of the anti-Israel divestment campaign, which was cloaked under the guise of concern about human rights abuses generally.
The charge of anti-Semitism in relation to BDS arises from the movement’s singling out of Israel among all nations for criticism; employing a double standard for human rights—one they apply to Israel and another for virtually all other nations, including the United States; and false accusations that Israel commits crimes such as genocide and ethnic cleansing. The implicit objective of the global BDS initiative is to end Jewish sovereignty and self-determination by eliminating the state of Israel.
After a process that students described as non-transparent and discriminatory, the Coalition for Peace made its case for fairness during a meeting of Undergraduate Student Government. During two hours of often hostile debate, the Coalition for Peace made the case that the divestment resolution, as written, was anti-Semitic and targeted Israel unfairly.
Concerned USG members invited the Coalition for Peace to sit with members of UIC Divest and USG to re-write the resolution. At a meeting during which BDS proponents and opponents reportedly negotiated fairly, the parties agreed to a new resolution.
"Negotiations over the resolution were not easy but we tempered it so that it does not single out one nation, Israel, for condemnation," said Moshe Rubin, a student involved with UIC Coalition for Peace.
The new resolution calls on UIC to divest from companies contributing to human rights abuses in the United States, China, Israel, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
The Coalition for Peace no longer considers the new resolution anti-Semitic, and so will not oppose it. But the group will not endorse it either, remaining concerned that the resolution is still connected to the global BDS movement.
"I'm happy with the work we did to change the language of the resolution and I feel we accomplished what we set out to do," said Coalition for Peace member Amitai Loew.
Meanwhile Jewish groups on campus have called on the UIC administration to address the lack of transparency and discriminatory practices of the USG in their treatment of Jewish students during the original USG meeting.
"Considering that Jewish students were held to very different standards than BDS activists, were subject to hostile questioning and were given no clear directives about how to participate in the process, they did a remarkable job," said Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Metro Chicago Hillel. Hillel, which has been at UIC since the 1960s, has urged the university to provide anti-discrimination training for USG members.
"The anti-Semitic nature of the global BDS movement has poisoned the atmosphere and distorted the debate about issues of concern to many students," said Emily Briskman, executive director of JUF’s Israel Education Center. "Through their thoughtful, principled and tenacious work, the students at UIC are changing the nature of the debate."