On last legislative day, LSU Student Senate passes BDS bill

by Larry Brook

In a move that received almost no publicity until well after the fact, the Student Senate at Louisiana State University passed a bill that urges the university to divest from firms that “profit from or engage in human rights violations,” with a focus on “Occupied Palestine.”

Though the resolution was passed on April 20, the final student government meeting of the academic year, it was not publicized until Cooperation Rouge touted it on its social media over a week later.

On May 1, Cooperation Rouge, a self-described “Marxist-Leninist student organization,” announced that it had passed “the first Student Government BDS bill in Louisiana and the 2nd such bill in the south.” It was May 16 before there was any additional notice, in the student newspaper LSU Reveille.

The bill passed 36-0, with 10 abstentions from those who wanted more specifics on who would be subject to a boycott. The bill further pledges student government support for any such effort to get the university to divest, including establishment of a faculty-student committee to investigate those corporations.

Cooperation Rouge founder Soheil Saneei, who wrote the bill, told the LSU Reveille that the bill was modeled after the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement against Israel. “Then we thought about how we could relate it to more people,” and sections were added to include human rights violations through prison labor, to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and environmental concerns for residents in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” around petrochemical plants.

Despite the broadening in focus, the only entities singled out by name in the resolution are Israeli.

The Tiger Prison Project and Students for Justice in Palestine at LSU were also involved in the resolution’s passage.

Minna Ismail, SJP LSU president, said “the fact that LSU students have managed to pass this BDS bill is a monumental step for the university, as well as the Southern region of the United States.” The Jenin native added that it is difficult to get the attention of those who feel something half a world away has no effect on them.

Claire Neal, president of Tigers for Israel and a campus fellow for Jewish National Fund, said there was no advance notice that a resolution like this was being discussed, and she was not aware of it until the coordinator for the Jewish On Campus Coalition contacted her for a reaction.

The Student Senate has not posted meeting agendas or minutes online for the last couple of months.

Neal said it was “sickening” that SJP and Cooperation Rouge announced the passage on the first day of Jewish American Heritage Month, in the week between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel Independence Day,” and this was the final straw “after over a year of being bullied, both myself and my club, by these organizations.”

The Jewish community on campus is very small, with Hillel International estimating 350 Jewish students out of around 26,000 undergraduates. Neal said that a group chat for Chabad at LSU has 35 members and the Hillel chat has 62, but “not many are politically active on campus” and fewer want to speak up about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In January, Tigers for Israel and LSU Hillel co-hosted a program with Charlotte Korchak, senior educator and director of international student programs at StandWithUs.

The Tigers for Israel statement about the “disgusting bill” said “It does not go unnoticed that the student government has elected to exclude the minute Jewish population from its radar… As one of the smallest minorities on campus, the Student Government neglects us, as we are never included in their push for ‘diversity and cultural inclusivity.’ This bill makes it worse.”

Neal asked why the student body, especially the Jewish community, was not made aware that this was being discussed.

In an email to the student government, Neal said the resolution perpetuates “a false narrative and simplification of a complex geo-political conflict,” and “singles out and condemns anything with ties to Israel, ignoring the fact that most Jews support the existence of the State of Israel.”

The coalition supporting the bill touted its diversity, including Jewish support, in the form of the New Orleans chapter of the fringe anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace. “The tokenization of Jews that support their beliefs, especially those that neither live in Baton Rouge nor go to LSU, does not go unnoticed to the Jewish students on campus,” Neal said.

Arnie Fielkow, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, said everyone in Louisiana should support human rights, but BDS “is a failed tactic which has proven to be unsuccessful throughout the country” and has been condemned by the Louisiana Legislature and the governor.

“We continue to hope that a Two-State solution can be found to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the BDS strategy does nothing to further advance that goal,” he added. The Abraham Accords show peace possibilities between Israel and the Arab world are very much alive, and our focus and attention should be directed towards the new economic, cultural and peace prospects throughout the Middle East.”

On May 5, Governor John Bel Edwards hosted an Israel Independence Day celebration at the Governor’s Mansion, attended by representatives from Jewish communities across the state, and Israeli Consul General Livia Link-Raviv from the Consulate in Houston.

Link-Raviv also met with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Senator Bill Cassidy, Reps. Troy A. Carter and Steve Scalise, Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, and Tulane President Michael A. Fitts. She also visited the U.S.-Israel Energy Center at Tulane.

In May 2018, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order forbidding state agencies from doing business with companies that participate in boycotts of Israel. The next year, the Louisiana Legislature codified the anti-BDS move into law, passing a bill unanimously.

The 2019 bill noted “The state of Louisiana unequivocally rejects the BDS campaign and stands firmly with Israel.”

When issuing his executive order, Edwards said “The United States, and by affiliation Louisiana, have benefited in innumerable ways from our deep friendship with Israel. Any effort to boycott Israel is an affront to this longstanding relationship.”

Edwards was part of an October 2018 Louisiana trade mission to Israel, and this summer there is a statewide Israel mission with three different industry tracks.

Litany of Accusations

Cooperation Rouge considers Israel to be a white supremacist nation, and promotes a bi-national Israeli and Palestinian state that “enfranchises both groups of people.” Given how the Palestinian leadership insists there will be no Jewish presence in a future Palestinian state, Israel advocates say calls for a bi-national state are delusional and will lead to the elimination of Jewish self-determination, with either subjugation or ethnic cleansing being the result.

The bill states that “Occupied Palestine is defined as the area of historic Palestine occupied by the state of Israel in June 1967,” which is still vague as to if it refers to areas conquered by Israel in the defensive war that took place that month, or if it includes all of Israel up to the armistice lines before the 1967 war, as Palestinian groups advocate for “liberation” from “the river to the sea,” the entire region from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, and consider places like Haifa and Tel Aviv to be “occupied.”

The bill was submitted by Senators Lyric Mandell, Harris Quadir and Cooper Ferguson.

Mandell is a doctoral student in media and public affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication. She researches the effect of mass media representations of marginalized groups and the influences those portrayals have on audiences, including “antisemitic and stereotypical images in television and news coverage,” according to her website.

Her Master’s thesis at the University of Houston was “Oy Vey! Has Jewish television depiction really come a long way?”

The resolution accuses Israel of “massacres of Palestinians in Gaza,” asserts “institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in Israeli universities” and refers to “illegal settlements” in the territories. It also refers to Israel as having an apartheid system, citing Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations, all of which have demonstrated long-standing hostility to Israel and whose recent apartheid reports have been debunked.

The resolution also takes aim at LSU’s involvement in the U.S. Israel Energy Center, mentioning involvement with Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, the Israel Institute of Technology and the Geological Survey of Israel (See sidebar, below).

The resolution states that Tel Aviv University developed Israel’s “Dayhiya (sic) Doctrine,” which it says “encompasses the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of countries deemed hostile,” and that it violates the Geneva Convention’s prohibition of collective punishment for innocent civilians.

The Dahiya Doctrine is named for a neighborhood in Beirut where Israel bombed large apartment buildings in the 2006 Lebanon war, as they were also being used as command centers for Hezbollah, and Hezbollah bunkers were built underneath the buildings. The doctrine calls for “disproportionate force” against such installations to send a message to terrorist groups that turn civilian areas into military targets.

Tigers for Israel, in its statement, said “The LSU Student Government needs to do its research before passing an ignorant bill such as this one,” which was passed without seeking student input and counterarguments.  The group said the BDS movement “will hide behind the mask of supporting human rights, but BDS in and of itself puts the state of Israel and its inhabitants at risk.”

SJP, the statement noted, “continuously bullies Zionist and Jewish students, as well as perpetuates antisemitic conspiracies and double standards.”

Neal said she finds it “very interesting that the very people promoting this bill and the passing of the legislation are the ones that have bullied me and other Jews ever since we stood up for ourselves in May of last year,” when an on-campus March for Palestine was organized.

On May 14, 2021, SJP, the Black Student Union and Cooperation Rouge organized the march, and the student government placed a statement on its web page that “we aim to represent all students and therefore cannot amplify domestic issues while ignoring struggles that our international students may face.”

The Reveille reported that a student government associate justice, Rehm Maham, said at the time that the government post violated guidelines about the president speaking on behalf of the council, and that it was “dangerous” for student government to be supporting a “radical” group like Cooperation Rouge, which retweeted posts celebrating Hamas bombings of Israeli civilians.

The student government post was removed a few hours later after over 400 comments, most of which were critical of the protest, the newspaper said.

Among the signs at the rally was one stating Israel is “the murderers of humanity.”

Recent online posts by SJP at LSU include “in blood and spirit we will redeem you oh martyr — down with Israel,” “Zionists are racists, xenophobic fascists,” “Israel is a settler colonial fascist state. Stop trying to romanticize or justify Israel’s realization of Jewish statehood. For as long as it is at the cost of Palestinian lives and sovereignty it is void of any legitimacy or morality.”

A booklet, “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free in our lifetime, Palestinian Solidarity at LSU” details activity of the “Zionist lobby” at LSU, such as a presentation on antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League, or the presence of Black students who attended the AIPAC Policy Conference, who the author says were “recruited” and “indoctrinated” so they could “escape the struggling masses by leaping into the arms of oppressors.”

The booklet accuses Zionists of “weaponizing” Jewish identity to silence critics, and directly compares Zionism to Nazi Germany, saying the methods are different but both are concerned with a “final solution” to an “unwanted human element.”

Recent studies have shown a correlation between a rise in antisemitic harassment on campus with the presence of an active SJP chapter.

Misbegotten Resolution

In January 2018, the New Orleans City Council waded into the BDS controversy by passing a resolution, sponsored by a coalition of left-wing groups led by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, calling for a review of city investments to make sure the “welcoming city” does not invest in companies “whose practices consistently violate human rights, civil rights or labor rights, or corporations whose practices egregiously contradict efforts to create a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable society.” It did not specifically reference Israel.

After the vote, the resolution, which was introduced in a stealth move at the end of a lengthy meeting under a vote to suspend the rules, was immediately touted by anti-Israel groups as a major victory for BDS, much to the expressed surprise of the city council. Council members said they had understood the resolution to be humanitarian and not aimed at any particular country, and at the next meeting, there was a lengthy, passionate discussion before the council rescinded the measure.

During the second meeting, anti-Israel groups chanted over and tried to drown out those who spoke out against BDS, while there was silence during the anti-Israel speakers’ presentations, including when a New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee spokesperson accused the Anti-Defamation League of murdering Muslims and Blacks in the United States, called all opponents of the resolution Islamophobes, and said that politicians opposed to “human rights” are doing so because of campaign contributions from “the Zionist lobby” and its “scorched-earth policy.”

After the meeting was adjourned, Palestinian activists continued to chant in the hallways and lobbies for another 20 minutes.

Requests for comment about the LSU Student Senate resolution have not been answered by the LSU student government and administration, Governor edwards’ office or LSU Hillel.


Sidebar: What is the U.S.-Israel Energy Center at LSU?

The U.S.-Israel Energy Center was established in 2020, one of three centers in the U.S. The Louisiana center focuses on improving the safety, efficiency and sustainability of offshore natural gas production.

A 2020 announcement stated that the consortium, called GoMed and led by Tulane University, includes researchers from LSU, the University of Louisiana system, Argonne National Laboratory, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, the Israel Institute of Technology, the Geological Survey of Israel, and Delek Drilling.

The Louisiana initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy and Israel’s Ministry of Energy partners with industry and develop and deploy new and critical technologies for the fossil energy, energy storage, and energy-water nexus sectors.

“The U.S.-Israel Energy Center was a brainchild, in part, of former Sen. Mary Landrieu and carried forward by Rep. Steve Scalise and Sen. Bill Cassidy,” LSU Petroleum Engineering faculty member Karsten Thompson said. “Louisiana universities worked together early on, with Tulane as the lead, to prepare a competitive proposal targeting the fossil energy side of the broader energy efforts,” and while it focuses on Eastern Mediterranean offshore gas production, the initiative have the potential to also strengthen Louisiana’s energy infrastructure.

In 2011, Landrieu organized the first oil and gas trade mission to Israel, with a followup trip the following year. In 2014 she introduced the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Enhancement Bill, to further the collaboration between the U.S. and Israel on energy development, and spoke at the inaugural U.S.-Israel Energy Summit in New Orleans in August 2014.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Israel’s Ministry of Energy signed an implementation agreement on June 25, 2018., establishing the Center. In February 2019, the DOE announced the Israel – U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation as the Center’s operating agent.