(March 18, 2019 / JNS) Undergraduate students at Brown University are expected to vote on a referendum from March 19-21, calling on the school to divest from Israel.
“The #BrownDivest campaign is organized by a coalition of undergraduate students to identify and divest from companies that profit from Israeli violations of human rights,” states the referendum. It accuses the university of doing business that “engage in human-rights violations,” such as “Boeing, Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett Packard Enterprise CO, Motorola Solutions Inc., Oaktree Capital Group LLC, Textron, Volvo and The Safariland Group.”
The referendum was approved by the Undergraduate Council of Students on March 6 as part of an effort by the #BrownDivest campaign. The #BrownDivest group has had a history of promoting anti-Israel sentiment on campus, including holding events encouraging the divestment of Israel and erecting a mock “apartheid wall” on the main green on campus in February that insinuated that Israel is carrying out ethnic cleansing.
Students have already spoken out ahead of the vote.
Members of Brown’s chapter of the Beta Rho Pi fraternity called the upcoming referendum “a disheartening moment on our campus,” according to a Facebook post shared by Brown Students for Israel.
“We are ultimately forced to believe that some students on this campus are so absorbed in their narratives that they feel justified in focusing on Israel alone,” it stated. “Yet for us and many students who find this singular focus problematic, we can’t help but notice that the world’s only Jewish state is held to a higher standard than all others.”
“As members of a Jewish organization, we feel obliged to speak out and describe our own discomfort with the proliferation of this sentiment at Brown,” it continued. “This has been especially difficult with the rise of the Brown Divest campaign, including the construction of the ‘Apartheid Wall’ on the Main Green and a litany of inflammatory posts online aimed at the Jewish community. These posts have normalized rhetoric on camp is that makes us, and many members of Brown’s Jewish community, feel deeply uncomfortable.”
In The Brown Daily Herald, junior Kyle Price blasted the BDS movement for its anti-Semitic agenda that showcases political hypocrisy—for example, being “damningly silent on China, which has been accused of killing or imprisoning 1 million Uighur Muslims.”
“BDS is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It masquerades as a noble display of support for oppressed people while concealing its intentions to demonize the Jewish state,” wrote Price. “Like every other country in recorded history, Israel has imperfect policies. But unlike its neighbors, Israel has the democratic framework to continuously improve these policies.”
Anuj Krishnamurthy, a senior and student council member, wrote in the student newspaper how the resolution would have a detrimental effect financially on Brown while it wouldn’t have any on the companies the resolution calls on the university to divest from.
“When it comes to preserving the University’s capacity to provide aid and fund academic and extracurricular programming, small differences in asset performance and portfolio diversification matter,” he said. “The trade-off here is clear: Selling shares in profitable companies might make us feel better about ourselves and our moral footprint in the world, but it won’t make a meaningful difference to the targets of our activism, and it will meaningfully hurt low-income students relying on sustained endowment returns for financial aid.”
Members of the pro-Israel community nationally and locally condemned the referendum.
“It is deeply unfortunate that such a clearly biased referendum question was approved, shortly after the Columbia student government rejected a similar proposal,” StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein told JNS. “The language includes arguments in favor of voting yes, while excluding crucial context that might influence students to vote no. As such, this will not be a legitimate measure of student opinion regarding discriminatory boycotts against Israel.”
“The Brown Divestment campaign is promoting another round of lies and distortions about Israel and the Palestinians, fueling misunderstanding,” Andrea Levin, president and executive director of CAMERA, told JNS. “If BDS proponents are unhappy about Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the lack of a Palestinian state, they should blame the Palestinian leadership, not Israel.
“The current [Palestinian] leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has followed the same path, repeatedly refusing a state,” she said. “The BDS effort actually [impedes] the creation of a Palestinian state by taking the pressure off the very leaders who could make that happen.”
AMCHA initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told JNS, “As many students at Brown have already correctly recognized, BDS campus resolutions carry no weight and result in no action by the university. Their only intention is to divide the campus, shut down genuine debate and discourse that could lead to progress, and inject hostility and hate.”
Members of the Rhode Island Jewish community also have spoken out against the measure by signing a joint letter that includes the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, the Rhode Island Coalition for Israel and Americans for Peace and Tolerance as signatories.
“We take note that the student government at Columbia U. has rejected the holding of a referendum on divestment because of its divisiveness to the community,” stated the letter.
“Rhode Island’s civil society depends on tolerance,” it continued. “With partisan emotions running high both on and off campus, we believe that the referendum will only serve to heighten the rancor and divisiveness this issue generates.”
The state was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, who was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious beliefs.
“For that reason,” it noted, “we call on the Brown community to at least postpone this ill-advised vote until emotions have cooled.”