Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

BDS resolution battle continues at USF


USF students express their disagreement with the Student Government's vote for BDS on campus by wearing statements on their t-shirts and taping their mouths shut because they were not allowed to express their opinions.

The University of South Florida (USF) Student Government (SG) Senate voted on Jan. 19 to approve a joint resolution, titled "In Support of Student Voices," calling for the university to divest from companies it deems "complicit in human rights violations."

Authors of the resolution, senators Muhammad Imam and Rema Hamoui, specify the companies to divest from support tobacco products, fossil fuel use and the Israeli army in anti-Palestinian issues.

The vote passed 32-12 with four abstentions.

"I would have never thought that I would feel as exhausted, betrayed, and silenced as I did during last night's USF Student Senate meeting," said Hannah V., USF Class of 2016. "My eyes were opened to the terrifying reality that anti-Semitism still exists, when the Senate passed a bill calling on the University to divest from Israel. It was claimed by the sponsors of the resolution that it is not anti-Semitic. How can this be the case when the only country mentioned in the resolution as the sole violator of human rights in the world is Israel?"

According to Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director and campus rabbi of the Suncoast Hillels, the SG submitted the resolution over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

"There was little time to prepare," Rosenthal said, "but many students were able to rally and more than 50 students who support Israel attended the meeting wearing t-shirts that read 'B.igotry, D.ouble S.tandards,' 'BDS=Anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is not a USF Value,' and a quote by Dr. Martin Luther Kind, Jr.: "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, You're talking Anti-Semitism.'"

Students who opposed the resolution were at a disadvantage. Those in the gallery were not allowed to speak to the resolution, and there weren't enough pro-Israel senators to fight the onslaught from those in favor.

"It took a great amount of will power and control to not scream and point out the lies that were being spewed," Hannah stated.

"Our voices were not heard at the Student Government meetings. Not only were our voices not heard, they were silenced," said Lauren S., USF Class of 2017. "We were not allowed to speak; to defend Israel. Instead, we were failed by the very institution that was put in place to protect the students and our rights."

Rosenthal explained that for the past four years, USF students have had to deal with anti-Semitism and hate spewed forth by haters of Israel on campus. Students for Justice in Palestine had a controlling number of seats in the USF Senate, and after collecting more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for BDS in the spring of 2014, they were able to pass the resolution.

Senators in opposition expressed concern about the possible illegality of the resolution because of the current resolution condemning BDS that was just introduced in the Florida Legislature (see the Jan. 15 Heritage issue, "Florida is fifth state to introduce resolution condemning BDS). Both the student body president, Andy Rodriquez, and student body vice president, Michael Malanga, vetoed the resolution. In an executive memorandum, they wrote: "As the elected representatives of over 41,000 students attending the University of South Florida, we believe that the message being sent does not reflect an aggregate student voice, and we are not comfortable with the precedent this resolution sets...

"We believe that bringing a topic as polarized and politically driven as this into the realm of Student Government serves only to divide the Student Body and to disparage students with opposing viewpoints, instead of uniting our students. ..."

Rosenthal shared his concern that anti-Semitism will rise on campus and his concern is not farfetched. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of Jewish student advocacy group the AMCHA Initiative, said there is a "clear relationship" between anti-Israel BDS activism and anti-Semitic acts against Jewish students on campuses across the United States.

"The more BDS activity there is, the more likely it is we're going to find Jewish students and Jewish events suppressed or shut down," she stated.

Rossman-Benjamin also said that the Birthright program is under attack.

In the past year alone, according to Rossman-Benjamin, there have been 302 acts of anti-Semitism at 109 college campuses in 28 states.

Stanley G. Tate, chairman of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN) Board of Directors, is calling on USF's Board of Trustee's to veto the student government's recent passage of the resolution.

"This BDS effort seeks to do one thing, intimidate Jewish and Christian Zionist students across the state. That is morally reprehensible and completely unacceptable," he stated.

In response to one concerned parent's letter, Cindy Visot, Ed.D, chief of staff/assistant corporate secretary, wrote: "The measure that was voted upon this week is a non-binding resolution of the Student Senate, which means it does not compel any action by the USF Foundation nor the university administration. As with Student Senate resolutions on any issue, it is up to the elected representatives in the totality of Student Government to evaluate if the resolution genuinely reflects the views of USF's large and diverse student body, is consistent with the organization's procedures, and is within its jurisdiction. At this time, the resolution is a reflection of one branch of Student Government. A similar resolution was presented to the USF Foundation Board last year, and the Board voted unanimously to reject the resolution and not revisit the topic. 

"USF is a public institution where free speech and the collegial exchange of ideas and opinions may be expressed in civil dialogue. The rights of individuals and groups to share their views on topics-including social, environmental and political issues-are respected, both as part of this exchange of ideas and as part of the academic process. USF is committed to preserving a campus environment that reflects the values of inclu sion and acceptance, and our first priority is creating a safe and secure environment in which our students can learn. This includes learning about ongoing global conflicts and their roles in finding productive solutions." 

USF students Hannah and Lauren spoke of their shared concerns.

"We were not fully prepared with the knowledge necessary to sway the votes of the undecided. Education plays such a fundamental role in defeating anti-Semitism, and we are not educated in a way to defeat the ignorance held by SJP and their constituents... We need courage to stand up to what has proven to be so blatantly wrong," said Lauren.

Hannah expressed, "Yes, my eyes were opened to the terrifying reality that anti-Semitism still exists. And it exists on my campus."


Reader Comments(2)

HBH writes:

The fact that only one country was specified speaks volumes about the 2 senetors that wrote the resolution. What about China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, not to mention a half dozen or more countries in Africa. What is concerning is that a student body government fails to see the risks of such a resolution. Add USF to the list of places your children can get a 'higher' education, not higher education.

USFAlum writes:

Why has this publication failed to provide any perspective from students in SJP? This analysis is incredibly one-sided and, frankly, comes off as nothing more than a smear/hatchet job. You're doing your readers a disservice.


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