CUNY Graduate Students Vote Down Academic Boycott of Israel

BDS resolution called on NYC colleges to sever links to Israeli universities.

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The council representing graduate and post-graduate students at the City University of New York (CUNY) has failed to endorse a resolution that calls for “the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and the divestment from Israeli companies.” Students who pushed the BDS resolution needed a majority of 39 votes but only 31 members of the council voted in favor of the bid; 25 voted against it and 10 abstained. Had it passed, CUNY’S Doctoral Students Council (DSC), the body that represents approximately 4,700 students, would have been the first student government in the U.S. to endorse an academic boycott against Israel.

Approximately 120 students, professors and supporters of both sides crammed the small room on the fifth floor of the Graduate Center in Midtown Manhattan on Friday. Anti-boycott activists handed out pamphlets that said “A Vote for BDS is a Vote for Hamas and the PLO, two terrorist organizations out to exterminate Israeli Jews.”

During the debate that preceded the vote, the two sides exchanged accusations of trying to stifle their opposition. Boycott opponent Jennifer Ortiz said that supporters of the BDS resolution were hostile and had tried to suppress their opponents. Sean M. Kennedy, the student who proposed the resolution, countered, saying, “We are facing a brutal repression campaign that involves assault on CUNY students from CUNY professors,” he said.

David Topel told the DSC that the Graduate Center’s student paper, The Advocate, had acted as a political advertisement for pro-BDS students. “A group has kidnapped the student government,” he said. The paper’s editor, Gordon Barnes, who recently co-authored an editorial advocating for the boycott said, “Propaganda isn’t necessarily a bad thing because everyone has biases and opinions.”

After the results were made public, Cosim Sayid, who voted against the resolution said that BDS supporters were very close to getting the 39 votes required and that he was certain there would be more attempts to pass the resolution in the future. Erin Mckinney-Prupis said she was happy the resolution didn’t pass but that students opposed to it did not have enough time to express their feelings.

The resolution called for an end to the partnership between CUNY’s Baruch College and Israel’s College of Management Academic Studies, which is located in Rishon Letzion. It also condemned Israeli universities that allegedly declared that they “embrace and support” the efforts of the IDF in this summer’s Gaza war. The text says Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students. It claimed that Israeli professors who speak out against discriminatory or criminal policies against Palestinians are ostracized and ridiculed.

The text was amended from a September meeting to include the number of Palestinian deaths in the last Israeli operation in Gaza. It also came with an FAQ document attached, answering questions including: Does BDS imply an end to the Israeli state? What role do Israeli academic institutions play in the occupation and colonization of Palestine? And why doesn’t the resolution call for the boycott and divestment of academic institutions and companies in other countries that also are charged with violating human rights?