The student government at Northeastern University (NU) in Massachusetts overwhelmingly voted on Monday against holding a divestment referendum targeting Israel, which was accused of employing biased language.
The rejected proposal was submitted by the anti-Zionist group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which urged NU to boycott Hewlett-Packard companies over the “central role” their technologies play “in the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” as well as “the mass deportation of immigrants from the US by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
SJP said prior to the vote that it hoped to “start a conversation about Northeastern’s financial ties to the oppression of immigrants in the US, and of Palestinians in Palestine and Israel.”
The Student Government Association (SGA) rejected the measure with a vote of 47 against and seven in favor, with 12 abstaining.
According to the student representatives, SJP’s proposal lacked a “fairness of wording” and did not adhere to university policy.
In a petition circulated before the vote, the Zionist campus group Huskies For Israel argued that SJP’s bid was part of the larger boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israelis, “which is known to deepen divisions between students and lead to antisemitism on campus.”
“HP employs Palestinians and is helping to grow the IT industry in the West Bank,” the petition read. “This is just one example of how this referendum would harm both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The group celebrated on Monday night, saying the “biased BDS referendum” was struck down “in one of the highest margins of victory on any campus.”
“Jewish students can sleep well at night, knowing that Northeastern will not cave to Antisemitism or Anti Zionism,” it wrote on Facebook.
SJP announced on Tuesday that it plans to appeal SGA’s decision, and to continue building “grassroots support for our school to align its business relationships with its stated values.”
Gilad Skolnick, executive director of the Jewish campus group NU Hillel, applauded “members of student government who saw past a stunt that was clearly designed to pit NU student against NU student, and to make Jewish students feel unsafe on their own campus.”
“In the end, the only thing that will bring peace — and justice — to both Israelis and Palestinians is dialogue and mutual respect,” he told The Algemeiner.
Zach Shartiag, a campus director at the advocacy group StandWithUs, noted that it was “the third time in four years that a referendum connected to the global boycott against Israel has been voted down at Northeastern University.”
NU’s SJP organized a protest in November against two former Israeli soldiers — one Jewish and one Muslim — who were invited by NU Hillel to speak about their military service. The demonstration was reportedly co-sponsored by about 20 student and off-campus groups, and attended by nearly 100 people.
In 2014, SJP was temporarily suspended by the NU administration for “multiple violations of university policy,” including distributing mock eviction notices in student dorms as part of a protest against Israel.
A 2016 study by Brandeis University found that “one of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate toward Israel and Jews is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on campus.” Likewise, a 2015 study by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative found that activity related to BDS — which SJP chapters often promote — “is the strongest predictor of anti-Jewish hostility on campus.”
Advocates of the BDS campaign say it is a human rights movement aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with international law. Critics argue that BDS aims to end the country’s continued existence as a Jewish nation-state, a position repeatedly acknowledged by the campaign’s leading supporters.
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