(November 14, 2018 / JNS) With a new resolution calling for divestment from Israel on the horizon at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), anti-Israel activists on that campus could be pressuring their school to contravene state law.
According to the recently created Divest UMD Facebook page, UMD’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter is gearing up to submit its latest divestment resolution to the school’s student government. SJP is the campus group whose calls to “kill Jews,” “kill all Zionists” and “stuff some Jews in the oven” prompted the Los Angeles City Council to recently approve a resolution calling for University of California, Los Angeles to cancel the organization’s upcoming national conference on the UCLA campus.
In October at UMD, SJP held two events promoting the BDS movement, titled “BDS at UMD” and “BDS Teach-in and Panel.” On the Facebook page of one of the events, SJP stated the events were planned “in anticipation” of a UMD Student Government Association bill put forth by the anti-Israel group that urges the university to support BDS.
The Divest UMD campaign last month published a list of 24 companies that it is urging the university to divest from, including the Africa Israel Group and its subsidiary Danya Cebus, BAE Systems, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Boeing, Caterpillar, General Dynamics, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin and Motorola.
While it is unclear if UMD actually invests in these companies, Maryland law requires all firms with state contracts to disavow boycotts of Israel, per an executive order signed last year by Gov. Larry Hogan. With Hogan’s order, Maryland joined a group of about half of U.S. states nationwide that have passed similar anti-BDS laws or declarations. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney who heads Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, stated explicitly that it is against state law for a public research institution like the University of Maryland at College Park to divest from Israel.
According to The Washington Examiner, when the UMD’s SJP chapter submitted a previous BDS resolution during the last academic year, an anti-BDS petition circulated on campus described that the bill “comes at a time when we see an escalation in hate bias incidents on our campus. BDS campaigns create a hostile campus atmosphere that singles out Jewish and pro-Israel students and subjects them to intimidation, bullying and abuse. We know that BDS fosters an environment on campus that can lead to anti-Semitism.”
The Diamondback, a UMD student newspaper, reported last year that pro-Israel students who circulated the anti-BDS petition saw a connection between the SJP’s BDS activism and the rise of anti-Semitism on campus.
“BDS does nothing to promote dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis or students on campus. What BDS does is to shut down the conversation before it ever could be had,” Taylor Gordon, a UMD student, told the student newspaper. At the time, Avi Shneider, president of the student group Terps for Israel, expressed concern that BDS resolutions could lead to increased anti-Semitism on campus.
Divest UMD’s current campaign comes amid a recent uptick of anti-Semitic incidents at the school. In early October, a swastika and the number 1488, which is associated with white supremacism, were found on a bathroom wall at UMD. Around the same time, a swastika was drawn on a student’s T-shirt at an off-campus event. In September, a UMD student stated in an online chat, “The Jews did 9/11.”
Rachel Avraham is a fellow at the Haym Salomon Center and is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media?”