University of Illinois administration rejects student government BDS resolution

The Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

by JNS and Israel InSight reports

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rejected a BDS resolution passed by the student government in the early hours on the morning of Feb. 13.

“Illinois Student Government is an independent organization that can pass non-binding resolutions on any topic it chooses,” said the university in a statement. “It provides students the opportunity to engage in discourse on issues such as this one that have been debated around the world for centuries, but does not represent the university administration.”

“ISG resolutions are non-binding, and the university has no plans to act on this one,” continued the statement. “We are committed to dialogue and to supporting students as they navigate challenging conversations about diversity and inclusion, and we will continue to plan programming designed to build understanding of different perspectives on complex and divisive issues.”

The resolution called on the university to divest from “companies that profit from human-rights violations in Palestine and other communities globally,” as well as from firms that provide weaponry and technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a copy of the resolution obtained by JNS ahead of the vote, which included endorsements from half of the student government’s leadership committee.

The final vote was 20 in favor, nine against and seven abstentions.

The BDS resolution named companies such as Elbit Systems Ltd., Northrop Grumman and Raytheon as “involved in human-rights violations and violations of international law, including the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian lands, criminalization of immigrants and communities of color, and other human rights violations,” and therefore “make UIUC complicit in these crimes.”

The resolution was co-authored by Dunia Ghanimah, president of the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, and has 22 sponsors, including Academic Affairs chair Sihah Reza.

It was endorsed by half of the student senate’s leadership committee, including Kirsten Peterson, chair of Community and Governmental Affairs; internal affairs chair Katrina Rbeiz; campus affairs chair Alexis Perezchica; financial affairs chair Jessica Tiggelaar; Bugra Sahin, chair of Sustainability, Resilience and Environmental Justice; and Shelby Sears, an event management student ambassador at the university’s division of intercollegiate athletics, according to her LinkedIn profile.

An amendment to take out all references to Israel failed by a vote of 11 in favor, 22 against and six abstentions.

Jewish and pro-Israel groups expressed stark disapproval over the resolution’s passage.

In a joint statement, Illini Hillel and the Jewish United Fund in Chicago said, “Jewish students and allies worked hard to defeat the bill, with more than 30 students speaking out against the bill in public comments. Unfortunately, the climate of ISG was deeply hostile not only to Israel, but also to Jewish communal concerns.”

“Jewish student leaders spoke clearly and thoughtfully about the threat of rising anti-Semitism,” they added, “and the fact is that the U of I student body overwhelmingly rejected BDS referenda twice in prior years.”

After the passage, a joint statement was issued by several Jewish and pro-Israel groups calling on SJL and the student government to condemn a statement that was made during the debate.

During the public comment portion, a student whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors described seeing an SJP poster on campus saying “F— Nazis, Support Palestinians.” The statement said “When our student described being called a Nazi to the student government, a student sitting with the writers of this resolution and with SJP responded, “damn right!” and was applauded by several members of the audience, SJP, and members of ISG.”

The coalition, which includes Illini Students Supporting Israel, Illini Public Affairs Committee, IlliniPAC, Illini Chabad, Illini Hillel at Cohen Center for Jewish Life and JET UIUC, said “Despite our disagreements, we hope that we can all come together to denounce this disgusting and vile behavior that is unwelcome on our campus. This act of hatred is unacceptable and is in opposition to everything our university stands for.”

Illini SSI also pointed out that despite the administration’s condemnation, the resolution has not been vetoed by the Senate and unless it is, it “will remain on the books of the Senate and ISG will continue to give a voice to anti-Semitism.”