Representatives from Cornellians for Israel and Students for Justice in Palestine led a “teach-in” about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for a packed audience at Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting in Willard Straight Hall’s memorial room.
Founded in 2005, the BDS movement advocates for the return of Palestinians to the areas inhabited by their ancestors before Israel became a state in 1948, NBC News previously reported. Drawing inspiration from the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS campaign seeks to apply global economic pressure to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, according to BDS’ official website.
Since its inception, the BDS movement has drawn both intense praise and condemnation. On one hand, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights claimed that the grassroots activism resonated in the United States, leading to more than 250 “wins” for the movement. On the other hand, many Jewish groups find BDS as thinly-veiled anti-semitism. For instance, the Anti-Defamation League argued that “BDS advocates employ anti-Semitic rhetoric and narratives to isolate and demonize Israel.”
It was this national and international controversy that recreated itself on the assembly floor on Thursday as the pro-BDS and anti-BDS students led their own teach-ins to sway the S.A. representatives to their viewpoints.
The teach-in took place in response to efforts by SJP to introduce an S.A. resolution to boycott, divest and sanction Israel to protest its treatment of Palestinians, The Sun previously reported.
Members of Cornell Hillel, a dominant Jewish student organization on campus, passed out flyers to members of the audience and the S.A. before the meeting began, which detailed reasons for Hillel’s opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement espoused by SJP.
Omar Din, representative for Students for Justice in Palestine and S.A. representative of the College of Human Ecology, explained the origin of the BDS movement at Cornell, detailed in a previous letter to the editor published in the Sun. He defended the proposed resolution, saying that it is “not meant as an attack on the Jewish community. Rather, it is a call for the University to cut ties with business enabling the occupation.”
Din ended the address by listing organizations supporting the SJP divestment campaign, including Black Students United, Cornell Asian Pacific Student Union and La Asociación Latina.
Jay Sirot ’19, president of Cornellians for Israel, and Isabelle DeBrabanter ’19, representative of CFI and president of Cornell Democrats, delivered the second presentation, which began with an introduction on the history of Israel, from its establishment in 1947 to present day.
“No side is perfect in this conflict,” Sirot stated.
The CFI presentation then discussed the potential effects of BDS on campus as its boycott on Israeli products would extend to education, particularly to the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a joint Israeli-Cornell organization within the new Cornell Tech campus in New York City. Sirot argued that this represents an attack on Cornell’s policy of academic freedom.
In response to a question by Dale Barbaria ’19, S.A. vice president of finance, on how Cornellians ought to react to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as college students, DeBrabanter said that CFI would propose programming at Cornell that would “foster peace with dialogue.”
Kirubeal Wondimu ’22, the S.A. first generation student representative, asked whether the goals of BDS would also end the administration of Israel as a Jewish state, to which Din responded, “BDS is not meant as a political solution. Everyone wants a more inclusive and accepting Israel, no matter the solution.”
After the teach-in, leaders and representatives from both organizations said they were pleased with the proceedings and expressed hope for future conversation. Calling the meeting “a very constructive dialogue,” Din commended the “level of civility” in the discussion.
Cornell Hillel president Jillian Shapiro ’20, expressed similar feelings, commenting that she felt the teach-in was an example of “very respectful dialogue.”
“It was a great opportunity for the Jewish community to learn about the other side of the argument because it is very important to have a nuanced understanding because it’s an incredibly complicated issue,” Shapiro said.
The Sun attempted to interview additional SJP supporters that were at the teach-in, but they declined to comment.
“The best thing we can take from this is that people are willing to be civil about this, so we can have this dialogue and space. I’m excited to continue this discussion,” said Adam Khatib ’20, president of Islamic Alliance for Justice.
Correction: A previous version of this article misnamed the Anti-Defamation League as the American Defamation League. Furthermore, the article misquoted Din as saying that BDS was a movement to “cut ties with Israeli businesses.” The quote should be “cut ties with business enabling the occupation.” The article has been updated to correct these errors.