Widespread Backlash to Student Gov’t Israel Boycott, Anti-Discrimination Petition Reaches 500 Signat

Last week, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) passed a resolution divesting from companies operating in Israel as listed by the United Nations. The decision prompted outrage among many prominent Jewish groups and on social media nationwide. A petition circulated by Pomona students that called for Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr to “condemn this resolution and protect the Jewish student body” received around 500 signatures in five days. The resolution has also met criticism from a number of prominent publications, such as The Fire (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), and on social media.

ASPC’s resolution has been controversial on campus. Shortly after it was announced, a group of Pomona students started an online petition “asking President Starr to reaffirm her statement from earlier this year that addresses the antisemitic incidents at Pomona and to condemn this resolution and protect the Jewish student body.” This petition currently has about 500 signatures, a number that is continuing to increase. The petition calls on President Starr and other administrators to “[r]eject anti-Israel discrimination at Pomona College.” 

In response to the resolution, Starr sent out an email urging ASPC to reverse its decision to begin a boycott. According to Starr, Pomona, acknowledging “the extraordinary strain in which we are living, the ways in which the politics of the Middle East are so deeply connected to religious identities and that this vote came at a time when students are away from campus amid a global pandemic…urge[s] ASPC to discuss this in greater depth, allowing for opposing voices to make their cases, so that our student governance can be inclusive and representative of all members of the community. We believe this vote works against the dialogue that is critical for constructive engagement of diverse voices on our campus.”

The students’ petition cited the International Holocaust Rembrance Alliance’s working defintion of Antisemitism Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS). The students claimed that, according to the Working Definition of Antisemitism established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and adopted by the US Department of Education, BDS campaigns are antisemitic and do not serve as legitimate criticisms of Israel because they deny “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Some signatories of the petition left comments condemning ASPC for its actions. One of the supporters said that “[t]his is antijewish racism, plain and simple. Targeted harassment. Erasing us and telling us what it means to be Jewish. My daughter was admitted to Scripps, another Claremont, for next year. I think this warrants a hard pass.” Another supporter of the petition asked if there were any BDS campaigns “against China, Cuba, Venezuela, half of Africa, Russia, Iran, Syria etc., etc or only Israel?”

On Twitter, the American Jewish Committee shared a tweet stating that “[d]efunding Jewish student groups while blaming them for a conflict on the other side of the world is textbook antisemitism. The @ASPCSenate should rescind this repulsive vote immediately.” The American Jewish Committee is “the leading global Jewish advocacy organization.” It focuses on “fighting antisemitism and all forms of hate, strengthening Israel’s place in the world.”

ASPC’s resolution has also had an effect on students at the Claremont Consortium’s other member institutions. One student at Claremont McKenna College, Wolfgang Hutton, stated that “ASPC’s decision to suspend funding for Jewish on-campus organizations like Hillel and Chabad should come as a huge red flag – to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike. A quick Google Maps search will reveal that there is not a single kosher supermarket anywhere in the Claremont area. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a kosher restaurant anywhere in the whole Inland Empire. For all the 5C students engaging with our Chabad, it is still one of the smallest university-affiliated Chabads in all of Greater Los Angeles.” As of now, it remains unclear whether ASPC will actually suspend funding to organizations like Hillel and Chabad.

The student also remarked upon the Claremont Consortium’s “relative lack of institutions to support Jewish religious observance. As such, I think the decision to halt funding for one of the only Jewish resources we have sends a very clear message: that ASPC feels it ought to be able to restrict Jewish students’ observance as a punishment for supporting the State of Israel. And this isn’t an isolated case in the 5Cs. We’ve seen similar ideas circulated at Pitzer back when their senate boycotted Israeli goods and aimed to cancel the University of Haifa study abroad program.” As noted above, it remains unclear whether ASPC will actually suspend its funding to these organizations.

Remarking upon the resolution’s potential threat to religious freedom, the student said that “[i]f student body organizations get the green light from our administrators to curtail other students’ religious practice, then there’s no telling which religious minorities could eventually find themselves targeted. When freedom of religion and freedom of conscience become subordinated to the bodies that represent the majority, we all suffer.”

Another 5C Jewish Student who requested to remain anonymous stated that “[t]o endorse BDS, on the premise of being pro-palestenian, is anti-semitic.” The student added that “[i]n the event that President Starr does nothing, I have a hard time imagining she will do nothing… if she does nothing it will be devastating to Jews at Pomona.”

The resolution has also drawn attention from Jewish students at colleges across the country. When a Jewish student who attends Wesleyan University and was aware of the situation was asked about the implications of the decision for Jewish students nationwide, he said that “[i]t shows that we aren’t welcome on campus.” When asked why Jewish students feel this way: “Antizionism among Jews is reserved for those privileged enough to have never needed to flee persecution in a foreign land. Antizionism among non-Jews is hatred of the Jewish people. Stuff like this is why Israel exists.”

ASPC’s decision has drawn attention from several widely-read media outlets, with responses from organizations like The Fire, Jewish Journal,  and the Jerusalem Post. Another organization, StandWithUs, “an international and non-partisan Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation and fights antisemitism,” released a letter concerning this resolution. This letter commends Pomona’s President Starr for her prompt response in sharing her concerns with ASPC’s resolution. This letter also outlines potential violations of this resolution in regard to ASPC Senate bylaws and Pomona’s principles of Nondiscrimination.

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