Israel advocates celebrate passage of BDS bill at Chicago school. Huh?

The campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Credit: Onar Vikingstad via Wikimedia Commons.
The campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Credit: Onar Vikingstad via Wikimedia Commons.

By Paul Miller/

Both the pro-Israel and anti-Israel camps are celebrating the passage of a college campus divestment measure. That doesn’t happen too often, if ever. But for the pro-Israel side in this Chicago episode, the hope is that the student government legislation marks the start of a reframing of the debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

On Feb. 15, the Undergraduate Student Government Association at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) unanimously passed a pro-BDS measure that does not single out Israel. The legislation asks the school’s Faculty Senate to support “divest[ing] fully from companies profiting from human rights abuses and violations of international law including in, but not limited to, Palestine, Syria, China, United Kingdom, U.S.-Mexico border, and Chicago.”

The original legislation, proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and sponsored by the campus group UIC Divest, did single out the Jewish state.

According to The Algemeiner, UIC industrial design student Amitai Loew learned about the resolution days before an initial vote on the measure. He quickly formed a group called UIC Coalition for Peace with fellow students Moshe Rubin and Chloe Schofield, and “immediately created and posted an online petition to try and prevent it.”

But according to Loew, “The meeting was a farce.” His organization was allowed 20 minutes to make their case against the resolution, while bill proponents denounced Israel for more than 90 minutes.

Even though it was outgunned, UIC Coalition for Peace was able to use UIC Divest’s argument that its bill was not “against Israel, but for social justice” in order to convince the legislative body to revisit the text of the resolution. Two days later, in the presence of a mediator, the resolution no longer singled out Israel and now includes the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.K., China, Syria, and Chicago.

SJP UIC spokesman Manar Daghash told the Haym Salomon Center, “passing the bill represents a success for the BDS movement as it brings the University of Illinois in Chicago one step closer to maintaining and advocating human rights.” Some Arab media outlets, meanwhile, are reporting the story as a defeat for Israel, with no mention of the other nations and locations named in the measure.

Opponents of BDS, however, regard the bill’s passage as a victory.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the campus-focused anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, told the Haym Salomon Center, “We commend the UIC students for getting their student government to recognize the blatant discrimination on display here. BDS is anti-Semitic. It singles out the one and only Jewish state for condemnation not applied to other countries and its goal is Israel’s complete destruction.”

A statement issued by Jewish United Fund (JUF) of Metropolitan Chicago, the area’s Jewish federation, said, “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.”

JUF added, “The charge of anti-Semitism in relation to BDS arises from the movement’s singling out of Israel among all nations for criticism…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.”

When asked about Israel advocates interpreting passage of this legislation as a victory for them, SJP’S Daghash responded, “To condemn multiple governments does not legitimize or make the violations of the Israeli government any less unacceptable; as is often said, wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it and right is right even if you are the only one doing it. The only victory to be won is that of restoring human rights to all regardless of nationality, race, religion, etc.”

Daghash does not believe this measure changes the goals of the BDS movement.

“As Students for Justice in Palestine, we keep our main focus to violations committed against the Palestinian people while still prioritizing human rights above all. In all strategies, progress is made by making change one step at a time….The resolution was not an attempt to single out a nation or a people, but a system promoting and profiting from war crimes and human rights violations,” said Daghash.

While this effort by the UIC student government is not expected to be implemented by the university itself, it is regarded as unique in that it advocates the boycotting of businesses that profit from human rights abuses in countries such as China, Syria, and the U.K., as well as a municipality—in this case, the school’s backyard of Chicago.

But this action is not the first time a U.S. school has advocated boycotting the U.S. About a year ago, the University of California (UC) Student Association board, which represents nearly 250,000 students enrolled in the UC system’s 10 campuses, approved a resolution that calls for divestment from the U.S.

That measure cited alleged human rights violations by the U.S. for drone strikes that have killed civilians, and claimed that America’s criminal justice system is racist. The resolution also called on UC system leaders to withdraw investments from the governments of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Sri Lanka, and Mexico.

Haym Salomon Center Distinguished Fellow Abraham H. Miller, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, called the UIC measure “a parody of the educational system.” He added, “It is nonsense like this that reconfirms my decision to have taken early retirement.”

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