Update: Bowdoin College students overwhelmingly reject Israel boycott

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The Bowdoin College Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group may obtain sufficient signatures on a Petition to send a referendum endorsing the full academic and cultural boycott of Israel to a vote by the full student body.

This is not a mere “divestment” resolution.  In calling on the full student body to endorse the complete boycott of Israel, the referendum appears to be taking an unpredecented move among college anti-Israel initiatives, which normally are narrowly tailored.

It is a resolution, much like that passed by the American Studies Association, that would cut all academic and cultural ties with all Israeli Universities and any Israeli scholar or student acting on behalf of or through those universities.  The ASA boycott was condemned as a violation of academic freedom by over 250 University Presidents (including Bowdoin’s) and several major academic groups, such as the American Association of University Professors.

Whether SJP will obtain sufficient signatures is a matter currently under dispute.

As of last night, SJP was claiming that it reached the required number at the time it closed the Petition.

Bowdoin SJP Announcement Enough Signatures

According to the Bowdoin Orient student newspaper 360 signatures were needed, but the online petition as of this writing shows only 351 signatures.  I am told that in a new development this afternoon, the number of signatures needed was raised to 383, as there has been a miscalculation of the total number of students.

Accordingly, the Petition drive appears to have been reopened, through Friday, May 1 at 5 p.m.

If sufficient signatures are obtained, the vote could start almost immediately, and likely would last several days.

There was an interesting dynamic the past several days.  In the final days of the original Petition drive, I am told, several SJP members aggressively buttonholed students outside the dining hall seeking signatures.

That led to an effort to educate petition signers as to the true nature of the Petition, leading dozens to withdraw their names.  The Petition went from 347 signatures, back down to 308 signatures, and then in a day back up to 360, at which time SJP claimed the voting closed. Almost immediately, however, the vote dropped back below the threshhold.

That Threshold now is even higher, and SJP once again is aggressively seeking signatures.

Bowdoin SJP FB Banner

The referendum is so sweeping that it literally would shut down much of Bowdoin’s intellectual life, particularly in the STEM areas, as joint programming and intellectual interaction with leading-edge Israeli universities would be barred.  Equally important, it would prejudice students and faculty who wish to interact with Israeli Universities.

Bowdoin’s outgoing President Barry Mills issued the following statement to Legal Insurrection through Scott Hood, Senior V.P. of Communications:

President Mills is on record as opposing any boycott of Israeli educational or cultural institutions. Please see this statement issued to the College community in December 2013.

His position has not changed.

As to the position of incoming President Clayton S. Rose, Hood emailed: “Barry Mills is president of Bowdoin until June 30, 2015. The next president will make his views clear on July 1.”

Unlike the pro-boycott side, the anti-boycott side has not been organized to fight this move, particularly coming as students enter reading period and finals.  This is a phenomenon I have seen on multiple campuses —  the pro-boycott students devote their lives to the cause, while the anti-boycott students only get involved at the last minute as they have other things to do.

But an informal group of Bowdoin students is organizing, both to fight what are perceived as possible petition irregularities, and to educate students as to the negative repercussions of the boycott.

While there is no chance that the Bowdoin administration would actually implement a boycott, if passed the student referendum would be a great propaganda victory for the anti-Israel movement, particularly since Bowdoin is such a highly ranked college.  It also likely would damage Bowdoin’s reputation.

One student told me: “On top of our other objections, we believe that the passage of this academic and cultural boycott will deter applicants and future members, both faculty and student, from engaging in future scholarship at our institution.”

We will keep you informed as this progresses.

[Featured Image Source: Bowdoin College]