Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Community members held up signs in support of divestment at the Student Assembly meeting on March 28th, 2019.

March 28, 2019

A Divided House Debates BDS at Student Assembly Meeting

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The Student Assembly convened Thursday for a public forum on a resolution for the boycott, divest and sanction movement on campus. Community members voiced often emotional opinions on the pro-divestment Resolution 36 and delivered pointed appeals toward S.A. members in a packed room.

Several supporters of the resolution wielded large signs with slogans such as “Cornell has blood on its hands” and “Our tuition is funding oppression.”

Protestors holding signs at the S.A. meeting on March 28th, 2019.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Protestors holding signs at the S.A. meeting on March 28th, 2019.

The resolution, which calls upon Cornell to “divest from companies participating in the human rights violations in the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” was introduced by co-sponsors Max Greenberg ’22 and Mahfuza Shovik ’19 — S.A. representative for the College of Engineering —  as well as Students for Justice in Palestine leader Omar Din ’19, who is also S.A. representative for the College of Human Ecology.

BDS has commanded the spotlight in the Student Assembly this semester, emerging as a major focus of S.A. presidential debates and assembly meetings, The Sun previously reported. At last week’s S.A. meeting, controversy erupted over allegations that supporters of the resolution had tried to force an early private vote, culminating in what observers called “Islamaphobic” comments.

Thursday’s meeting put the controversy around the measure on full display.

S.A. president Varun Devatha ’19 began the open microphone session by organizing the room by ideology, with supporters and opponents of the resolution lining up on opposite sides of the room. Members from each side then took turns speaking to Assembly members.

President of Cornellians for Israel Jay Sirot ’19, who had previously presented the anti-BDS argument to S.A. as part of a teach-in, firmly condemned the resolution.

“SJP does not wish for peace and BDS will not help us get there,” Sirot said. “Its only goal is to demonize, delegitimize and hold a double standard on Israel.”

An opponent of divestment speaks at the S.A. meeting on Thursday.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

An opponent of divestment speaks at the S.A. meeting on Thursday.

Many students from both sides of the argument decried the lack of dialogue and understanding from the other.

“The unwillingness by the opposition clearly shows the lack of willingness to entertain the idea of dialogue with supporters of the resolution,” said divestment supporter Samir Salih ’19.

“Last month, I stood before this assembly … and explained how BDS prevents thoughtful dialogue, is a false choice and does not promote peace [and] over the past month, we’ve seen my hypothesis could not have been more accurate,” Sirot said.

Opponents of the resolution argued that the measure would give rise to anti-Semitic sentiment on campus, citing the appearance of swastikas on campus earlier this year. Resolution 36 “plays into a deeply anti-Semitic narrative [that] ultimately alienates Jewish students,” said resolution opponent Annie Gleiberman ’22.

Representatives from minority organizations on campus, such as the Men of Color Council, the Native American community and the South Asian Council, spoke in support of divestment. All five ALANA-funded umbrella organizations have already endorsed the resolution, Greenberg said.

A divestment supporter speaks in favor of the resolution.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

A divestment supporter speaks in favor of the resolution.

“Our call for divestment is not in any way, shape or form a denial of the state of Israel. Rather, it is a call to attention to the lack of dignity and self-determination given to Palestinians,” said Salih.

Students supporting the measure cited a need to separate the politics from the religion. “Too often I was told as a kid that to be Jewish, you had to be Zionist,” said resolution supporter Ezra Stein ’20. “BDS, it’s not a religious issue.”

Transfer representative and vice president of diversity and inclusion Cat Huang ’21 expressed optimism after the meeting, citing the “civil” nature of the discussion.

“I think it was a good meeting and I think lots of student’s voices were heard,” Huang told The Sun in a message. “It’s more important than ever that we are getting student input and perspectives from all sides.”

Prior to the open microphone session, the S.A. passed a motion to approve the name change of the Women’s Resource Center to the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition.

Also presented to the S.A. were revisions to Cornell University Policy 6.4, Procedures for the Resolution of Reports Against Students. Representatives from the Title XI office explained changes to deadlines for complaint filing, from one to three years, as well as other revisions including those mandated by the Trump Administration.

Resolution 36 will be re-visited at the next S.A. meeting after spring break on April 11.