A total of 79 civil rights, religious and education organizations called on Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) president Tim Sands to reject a resolution recently passed by graduate students that supports an academic boycott of Israel.

Virginia Tech’s Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) approved a resolution on Oct. 21 that supports a boycott of “all Israeli academic institutions complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and the denial of basic Palestinian rights” and divestment from “all institutional investments from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

In an email to Sands on Tuesday organized by AMCHA Initiative, the organizations cited a statement he issued last week in which he defended “free speech rights” in response to the resolution.

“What your statement failed to address is that you and the Virginia Tech administration have the same free speech rights, which include the right to reject and condemn the resolution,” said the groups, which include B’nai B’rith International, StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America. “More importantly, your statement failed to recognize the possibility that GPSS members, many of whom serve as Graduate Teaching Assistants, may implement elements of the academic boycott on campus and in their own classrooms in ways that would directly and substantively harm undergraduates on your campus, particularly those who are Jewish and pro-Israel. We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that this does not happen at Virginia Tech.”

The groups also noted that the resolution calls on supporters to end academic exchange programs in Israel; refuse to write recommendation letters for students wanting to study in Israel; and cancel Israel-related educational activities and events. They noted that “all of these actions directly subvert the educational opportunities and academic freedom of undergraduate students who want to study about or in Israel.”

The groups additionally asked Sands to affirm his commitment to ensuring that “no student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel, or be subject to unfair discrimination or harassment, because of the implementation of such a boycott on your campus.”


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