One of the most controversial aspects of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is the academic boycott.

That academic boycott has been condemned and rejected by the Presidents of over 250 American universities and colleges, and major groups such as the American Council on Education (1700+ Higher Ed Institutions), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (216 Universities and University Systems), Association of American Universities (62 Universities).

The American Association of University Professors (approx. 48,000 members) not only rejects the academic boycott, it also calls it a violation of academic freedom.

Almost all resolutions introduced at student governments by groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) focus on divestment from companies allegedly aiding Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. These are symbolic resolutions since student governments have no say on university finances; sometimes they pass, but more often they fail.

Last year, an academic boycott resolution went to a full student body vote at Bowdoin College, and was overwhelmingly rejected (14% Yes, 71% No, 15% Abstain) after students learned just what the academic boycott entailed and how it violated the academic freedom of Bowdoin students. Indeed, over 360 Bowdoin students had signed a petition supporting the referendum, but only 228 students ended up voting for it, showing that many of the students who initially signed later didn’t support the academic boycott.

Fast forward to a BDS Resolution proposed by Vassar SJP jointly with Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).  The Resolution will be voted on by the Vassar College Student Association council on March 6, 2016.

These posts document the nasty campaign and atmosphere surrounding the BDS effort:

The SJP/JVP Resolution and a related Amendment to VSA Bylaws are embedded at the bottom of this post. [There also is a Vassar J Street counter-resolution up for vote, one I consider to be almost as bad, but that is a discussion for another time.]

Here is the operative part of the SJP/JVP Resolution:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that on the basis of the VSA’s commitment to antiracism and intersectional feminism, it encourages the reconsideration of Vassar College’s economic contributions to human rights violations worldwide,

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the VSA endorses the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement,

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the VSA Council supports Vassar College divesting from the Strauss Group, the Osem Group, Ben & Jerry’s, Hewlett-Packard Company, Ahava, General Electric, Eden Springs, Motorola, Caterpillar,  4S, and Elbit Systems.

The Bylaws Amendment provides:

The following clause shall be added to Section 1 of Article IX of The Bylaws of the Vassar Student Association:

E. VSA monies cannot be used to purchase items from Sabra, Tribe, Ben & Jerry’s, Hewlett-Packard Company, Ahava, General Electric, Eden Springs, Motorola, Caterpillar, G4S, and Elbit Systems.

Almost all of the media attention has been focused on the divestment aspect of the resolution, particularly the proposed ban on Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a move that has brought much mockery. But the Resolution is a serious matter, not a joke, and has been debated at the VSA Council ahead of the March 6 vote.

I was surprised in reading a March 2, 2016, article in The Miscellany News, the student newspaper, that at a February 28 council meeting the issue of an academic boycott was argued by an SJP representative:

In addition to the boycott of companies, the BDS Resolution and Amendment would also limit the representation of Israeli institutions on cam­pus. SJP stated at the beginning of the Feb. 28 VSA meeting, “We support boycotting and divesting from those [academic] institutions [that support Israel’s military occupation] because those insti­tutions are institutionally racist and they prevent non-Jewish people from attaining higher educa­tion. They are not symbols of higher education, they are symbols of apartheid and colonialism.” SJP also noted that professors from Israeli insti­tutions would be permitted to come to Vassar as long as they do not come representing their in­stitutions.

Nevertheless, multiple VSA members and ad­ministrators perceive the academic boycott as contrary to the mission and policies of the col­lege. Town Students Representative Eduardo de la Torre ’17 opined during the VSA meeting, “The boycott of academics is a little nerve-racking for me regardless of whether or not I agree with it because it feels like censorship.” President Cath­arine Hill agreed, suggesting that the college will not endorse the BDS resolution and amendment. She wrote in an emailed statement, “Two years ago, the Dean of the Faculty and I rejected the American Studies Association call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, supported by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. As we said at the time, Vassar College is firmly commit­ted to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. We are opposed to boycotts of scholars and academic institutions and we strongly rejected the call for a boycott of Israeli academic institu­tions.”

There is no language in the proposed SJP/JVP Resolution or Bylaws amendment that explicitly mentions the academic boycott. The only reference anywhere is in an Appendix SJP/JVP submitted, and even there it’s several pages into the Appendix and does not make clear that by adopting the Resolution VSA would be adopting an academic boycott.

At most, there is this vague language in the SJP/JVP Resolution endorsing BDS:

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the VSA endorses the Boycott, Divestment,
and Sanctions movement,

That sentence apparently is the hook into claiming passing the Resolution would include an academic boycott, because the academic boycott is part of BDS. I have confirmed with one student familiar with the situation that most students likely do not understand the implications of the academic boycott as part of the SJP/JVP Resolution.

This is a stealth attempt to get the Vassar student government to pass an academic boycott of Israel, an issue that has not been the focus of the campus debate and is not explicitly mentioned in the Resolution.

Passing the SJP/JVP Resolution would be purely symbolic, because the Vassar administration already has said it would not engage in an academic boycott.

Nonetheless, that symbolism would mark the Vassar student government, purporting to speak for the Vassar student body, as being on the most extreme fringe of the small number of student governments that have passed BDS resolutions.

That such a stain on the Vassar student body could pass under the cover of a vague Resolution that doesn’t even mention the academic boycott makes it even worse.

[Featured Image via Vassar SJP Facebook]

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Vassar BDS Resolution 2016