Bowdoin College Student Government held an unprecedented all-student referendum, sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, for a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel (not just “divestment” from certain companies).

Bowdoin is one of the most elite Liberal Arts colleges, ranked 5th by U.S. News & World Report.

The referendum was held after SJP managed to get 20% of the student body to sign a Petition calling for a boycott. Our prior posts have the full background:

In order to pass, one-third of the 1915 students needed to participate in the vote, and two-thirds of those voting needed to vote in favor.

The results have just been officially released in an email from the student government president:

Dear Students,

The voting for the student referendum has now closed. The number of voters reached the necessary quorum of 1/3 of the student body but only 14% voted in favor of the referendum, therefore it does not pass. The results are as follows:

In favor: 228 votes, 14%

Opposed: 1,144 votes, 71%

Abstaining: 247 votes, 15%

Total Votes: 1,619 votes, 85% of the student body

Thank you to everyone who voted.

This is a particularly crushing blow to the boycott movement, with 150 fewer students voting in favor than signed the Petition.  This reflects that many students were pressured into signing the Petition and also were misled as to the nature of the boycott.

That 85% of student body participated reflects that the student body spontaneously rose up against this threat to academic freedom.

(added) Outgoing Bowdoin President Barry Mills issued the following statement on the school’s website:

“There was never any question about Bowdoin College joining this movement,” said Bowdoin President Barry Mills, who issued a public statement in December 2013 strongly opposing any boycott of Israeli institutions. “That said, it is gratifying to see this resounding and unambiguous statement by our students who clearly understand the vital importance of open discourse between scholars and educational institutions and the free exchange of ideas and knowledge.”

The referendum was the result of years of preparation by SJP and others. As far back as January 2014, a “Statement of Solidarity from Bowdoin Students, Staff, Faculty, and Alumni, with the American Studies Association ” was circulated supporting the academic boycott.

There also were pro-boycott speakers brought to campus, like Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as an exhibit by the pro-boycott American Friends Service Committee.  A small number of Jewish SJP members were in the lead in orchestrating the boycott referendum.

The referendum drive was immediately preceded by a week-long anti-Israel festival similar to Israeli Apartheid Week activities at other campuses, but called “Justice for Palestine Week.”  SJP students also were active in writing Op-Eds calling for a boycott of Israel.

The opposition to the referendum was less organized.  Bowdoin J Street opposed it, as did an informal group of students who came together in response to the petition drive.

More to follow.

There are some lessons here.  

This was close to a perfect storm in favor of SJP. It had a core group of seniors who for years have been advocating against Israel on campus. It was operating on a highly progressive campus, and was very organized in its approach. It obviously had interaction with and learned from two of the most vicious anti-Israel groups — Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee. SJP knew to put its Jewish members out front to lead the boycott drive, something we have seen at other campuses. Plus, it was the end of the semester when SJP must have assumed there would be low turnout as students entered reading period and finals.

All in all, this was a best case scenario for the anti-Israel, anti-Academic Freedom movement on campus. And it failed miserably.

I understand from people involved that once students really found out how damaging the academic boycott would be to academic freedom, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

This demonstrates what I have said for years — it is through false and misleading propaganda, often by faculty, that BDS has gained a foothold in academia.  At Bowdoin, even a years-long campaign to demonize and dehumanize Israel could not overcome the good sense of the student body who understood that destroying academic freedom for everyone is not the answer to any problem.

Additionally, those opposed to the BDS movement need to do a better job getting out the vote. At Bowdoin, almost everyone participated in the vote. At other places, including at faculty groups, anti-Israel groups are able to take advantage of low turnout to pass resolutions with a small percentage of the overall membership.

In the United States, at least, there is little overall appetite for the boycotters’ agenda — so expose it, refute it, and Get Out The Vote.

[Featured Image Source: Bowdoin Communities]