On the morning of June 16, the Pitzer College Board of Trustees announced that it nullified a recent budget amendment passed by the college’s Student Senate, which had endorsed the Palestinian-led “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)” movement against Israel and designated that mandatory student fees could not be spent on Israeli products.
In an email sent to Pitzer students via Pitzer’s Office of Communications, the Board of Trustees stated their decision to rescind an anti-Israel clause in the budget amendment:
“In April 2017, the Pitzer College Student Senate amended its Budget Committee Bylaws to include new Paragraph VI within Article III (Student Activities Funds), Section 2 (Restrictions). Paragraph VI, as last amended on April 30, 2017 through the passage of Bill 53-B-20, prohibits the use of Student Activities Funds for
… payments on goods or services from the following corporations and organizations associated with the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, as first delineated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement:
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories
After careful consideration, the Board has determined to rescind Paragraph VI and declare it to be of no effect.”
“We note that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is among the most complex, emotional and divisive issues of our time, and is one on which the College has not taken a position. Students and other members of the Pitzer community, from all faiths and backgrounds, represent the full spectrum of viewpoints on this challenging issue,” the statement continued.
The Board of Trustees also gave an explanation as to why it nullified the Student Senate’s BDS-endorsing budget amendment:
“The Board has based its decision on the following considerations.
Student Activities Funds are derived from mandatory fees the College levies upon all students. Consequently, the Board expects the Student Senate to remain neutral in determining the organizations it recognizes and funds, the amount of funding allocated to each organization, and any restrictions imposed on such funds (emphasis original).
Paragraph VI, however, applies a particular point of view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in restricting the use of Student Activities Funds by all Student Senate-approved student groups. In so doing, Paragraph VI inappropriately curtails the funds usage rights of all such groups, including those that may have a different perspective.
In Pitzer’s 54-year history, the Board has constantly supported Student Senate autonomy over the funds allocated to it by the College. However, the Board will not permit College assets to be restricted in order to endorse a point of view that is not the College’s and that, in the Boards opinion, does not align with Pitzer’s commitment to inclusion and respect for diverse viewpoints.”
According to its website, the BDS movement “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law” by means of boycotting Israel, refusing to invest in those who support Israel, and calling for international sanction against the Jewish state.
The original budget amendment passed by the student senate included the following clause:
“Student Activities Funds shall not be used to make a payment on goods or services from any corporation associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories. Products include those products from corporations and organizations as delineated in the boycott list maintained by bdsmovement.net/get-involved/-what-toboycott”.
Just one week after the amendment’s original passage, however, the amendment was altered to state the following clause referred in the Board of Trustee’s statement:
“Student Activities Funds shall not be used to make payments on goods or services from the following corporations and organizations associated with the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, as first delineated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement:
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories
Sabra (emphasis added)”
No explanation of the change from “unethical” to “illegal” is publicly available, despite the difference being a highly contentious point of debate on the topic.
The Budget Committee Bylaws of Pitzer’s Student Senate supporting BDS can be viewed here and have not yet been updated to reflect the decision of the Board of Trustees.
As the Independent noted (in addition to such sources as The Daily Wire and The Algemeiner), at the time of the amendment’s original passage, 17 of the total 43 student senators were absent from the meeting at which the amendment was passed, likely because it coincided with Easter Sunday and the Jewish holiday of Passover. At the time, the Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) labeled the vote “an important victory at Pitzer College.” Student members as well as faculty advisors to SJP have refused to comment upon request in the time since the Trustees’ statement.
Pitzer College Professor of English and Creative Studies Albert Wachtel, however, told the Independent that “Pitzer College’s Board of Trustees has wisely negated the misinformed effort of some members of the college’s Student senate to abide by suggestions of the BDS program. Wachtel further congratulated the Board “for maintaining the college’s neutrality on this complex international issue.”
Having criticized the BDS amendment as “hateful” and “misguided,” the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance, a student group at the Claremont Colleges, said in a statement that it “applauds today’s decision … to rescind a Student Senate bylaw that sought to unfairly punish certain businesses that did business within the West Bank. The Trustees’ statement noted that the hastily approved student legislation endorsed a view that is not shared by the College and, ‘does not align with Pitzer’s commitment to inclusion and respect for diverse viewpoints.’”
No Pitzer Student Senate Executive Board member, including longtime Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) employee and Student Senate President-elect Hajar Hammado, has responded to requests for comment.