CAMERA Fellow Fay Yanofsky

The University Student Senate (USS) is a representative body of over 20 campuses under the umbrella of the City University of New York (CUNY). The CUNY website states, “the organization is charged with protecting the rights of the student body, furthering the cause of public higher education, and promoting the general welfare of its student constituents and the University.” While USS claims to represent CUNY students, they have failed to listen, and many USS delegates have shown to represent themselves and their own interests over the interests of their constituents. On Sunday, April 15, 2018, USS planned to push through a resolution to divest from Israel without the proper channels or procedures. Knowledge about the existence of the resolution became available Friday evening, during the Jewish Sabbath. In response to the resolution, Ben Davidov, The Baruch Hillel President said,

“It was a bad, sudden shock for all of us because usually after Shabbat you go on your phone, you barely receive any calls or messages because everyone is also keeping Shabbat. We were in a sudden shock that some party wanted to sneak this in through USS, and the way in which they did it was very sneaky. They can’t just talk about this out of nowhere. There should be language drafted or a meeting held about it before a vote is put into effect.”

In line with the anti-Jewish ideology of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, The Resolution Demanding CUNY to Adopt a Socially Responsible Investment Policy, is misleading based on citing the precedent for divestment three times. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important discussion and it should not be dealt with in a hasty, opaque manner like it currently is. Therefore, I wanted to amplify the voices of students that were silenced.
Community organizers and students part of the CUNY community organized a protest titled, “We will NOT be silenced,” on Facebook and a petition against the resolution has already garnered 1,496 signatures.
Most egregiously, USS did not create a forum for the opportunity to learn the opinions of all students.

A petition against the resolution has already garnered 1,496 signatures

Rather than working with every CUNY school to understand the various student opinions, USS deliberately silenced pro-Israel and Jewish voices. In light of this blatant disregard of student opinions, students gathered together and called their USS representatives on Saturday evening as concerned constituents and student leaders.
From the beginning, there has been a lack of transparency in the procedure. There has not been an easily accessible agenda, nor have there been minutes from many meetings. The students had no idea what work was being done on their behalf and had no idea what exactly was taking place. A select few of USS assumed the thoughts and beliefs of the student body without allowing for dialogue and conversation. In an attempt to save their credibility, a Civic Affairs Committee meeting was held two weeks later. However, due to the meeting being on Friday afternoon, and due to its timing, Sabbath observers were once again silenced and marginalized. At what point will my community have our voices heard?

Elijah Romano, a student attending the hearing said,

“The big issue for me is that information about the hearing on April 15, was released on Shabbat. Most of us did not have a clue until the last minute. Again, the next meeting took place on Friday, April 27, a few hours before Shabbat begins. There was no consideration of our religious practices. Also, USS needs to govern by the rules, which they have failed to do.”

USS should know that students view this piece of legislation as harmful and should take the fears of students into consideration. Instead of promoting dialogue and understanding, the resolution isolates and polarizes students. Such a resolution only fans the flames of conflict by perpetuating a divisive narrative that is the main cause of strife between Israelis and Palestinians in the first place.

Instead of promoting dialogue and understanding, the resolution isolates and polarizes students.

Chani Scott, Vice President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi at Queens College, who is worried about how this resolution may impact the inclusive climate on CUNY campuses said,

“BDS has no place on CUNY campuses. We are an all-inclusive school and should not allow for a group that advocates for hurting another country. We wouldn’t do it for those affected by DACA, we shouldn’t do it to those living in another country that we don’t even get affected by.”

BDS resolutions only hurt the Palestinian working class, as Palestinians are paid several times higher working in Israel. Furthermore, the BDS campaign against the State of Israel is classified as unjust discrimination based on national origin. This resolution cites the precedent for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions and calls for divestment but does not have legal standing in the State of New York and the CUNY community.

BDS resolutions only hurt the Palestinian working class, as Palestinians are paid several times higher working in Israel

Yet another student whose opinion was not considered, Rebecca Fleigelman from Hunter College’s Israel Culture Club, Ahava, said,

“While the Investment Policy claims to stand for all human rights, the only country that is targeted also happens to be the only Jewish country in the world, making it biased. If this wishes to be seen as policy for human rights and not about anti-Israel sentiment, organizers must not singularly attack Israel. And if organizers wish solely to address the plight of Palestinians, they must also acknowledge human rights violations committed against Palestinians by Hamas, an institutionalized terrorist organization, who pocket donations meant to aid the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority, and UNRWA. However, these organizations also encourage children to commit violence. Palestinian leaders refuse to compromise on a Two State Solution, a state for two people’s, a possibility for peace that Israel desperately wants and that the Palestinian people definitely deserve.”

If we as CUNY students want to help the Palestinian people and bring peace to both Israelis and Palestinians, there are more meaningful ways. For example, USS should hold a college summit for pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students to build relationships, learn about the issues, and engage in dialogue. Nothing about the legislation will unify CUNY. Our campuses should not be torn apart by a piece of USS legislation when there are other avenues that could bring us together as a community.

USS is choosing a side in a complex conflict as opposed to amplifying the voices of moderation and peace

USS should heal the wounds of conflict without ostracizing one population of students to amplify the voices of another. They should include both voices and bring students together. Our elected delegates should use their platform to allow students to learn about organizations on the ground in the region making a difference through bridge building and dialogue. Instead, USS is choosing a side in a complex conflict as opposed to amplifying the voices of moderation and peace. A representative body that claims to represent CUNY students proposed a divisive and polarizing bill. We call on USS to take steps that bring people together instead of isolating and delegitimizing a democratic, albeit imperfect, country that clearly means so much to the CUNY community.

This article was originally published in CUNY campus paper Night Call News.

Contributed by CUNY CAMERA Fellow Fay Yanofsky.

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