Anti-Israel activists at the City University of New York (CUNY) have launched a stealth campaign to pass a student government measure boycotting Israel during a meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening during the Jewish Sabbath, when observant Jews could not attend, according to sources aware of the situation.
Pro-Israel student activists and others accuse CUNY’s Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) of intentionally trying to silence opposition to the measure by holding the vote at a day and time not amenable to many who would speak out against the divestment resolution.
The vote was quietly publicized earlier this week only among its supporters, spurring accusations that the DSC is attempting to ram through the divestment measure without input from pro-Israel voices, according to sources who were only made aware of the situation after an internal DSC email about the vote was leaked.
The DSC, a student body group that claims to represent popular opinion, first informed its members of the upcoming vote last Friday, Sept. 5, according to a copy of the email message obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Dominique Nisperos, the DSC’s co-chair for communications, informed members that no materials about the resolution would be handed out, a decision that has raised concerns among critics.
"In the interest of being environmentally friendly, we will not provide printed copies of the attached documents at the meeting," the email said, urging members to "solicit input" from other students about the resolution. "Please arrange to have electronic or paper copies of these materials for your reference at the meeting."
This is the second time that the DSC will put forth a divestment resolution, which is part of a larger campaign by anti-Israel activists on campus to further the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to wage an economic and cultural war on the Jewish state. DSC attempted to pass such a resolution in May.
The DSC resolution seeks to enact a boycott of Israeli universities and companies, according to a copy of the measure obtained by the Free Beacon. Critics call the move an insult to free speech and an attempt to discriminate against Israel.
"They have not been particularly forthcoming about it," said one student who requested anonymity due to the heightened tensions surrounding such votes on campus. "They haven’t made much of an effort to tell the students what they’re doing."
The date and time of the vote also "suggests they’re basically hijacking a false mandate that they claim to have of representing the students, and unfortunately there’s nobody countering it," the student said. "The fact it’s going to be this Friday night, and so little time to give people warning of this meeting, makes it difficult for many to come, particularly because of Shabbat. Friday night is not a popular time for being on campus."
The DSC only became transparent about its efforts after pro-Israel activists lodged complaints with the university, according to one insider familiar with the timeline.
"Since complaints have been lodged with the CUNY administration, all of a sudden we see the DSC trying to create an air of transparency," the insider explained. "It’s only because they were under pressure that they were changing their tune."
Opponents of the measure say the DSC is going about this in a wrongheaded fashion.
"The fact they’re limiting public info about it seems typical of the way they do business," said the student. "They don’t seem concerned about what the students actually think."
Another student who requested anonymity also expressed concerns about the timing of the meeting.
"I would like to be there and voice my opinion but I’m precluded from doing so," said the student, who observes the Sabbath. "I didn’t know it was taking place until I saw an email a week before."
BDS advocates at other universities have employed similar tactics.
At Cornell, for instance, a divestment vote was scheduled in the run up to the Passover holiday, when observant Jews would have issues attending.
"It is a routine tactic of [the pro-BDS group Students for Justice in Palestine, which is behind the resolution] to hold votes on or near Jewish holidays so that Jewish voices can’t be heard," said Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition. "When people learn the facts BDS loses."
"Essentially SJP is afraid of the facts and don’t want to engage in debate which is why they planned this vote in secret on a Jewish holiday," Baime said. "Even if this passes, CUNY will maintain its robust partnerships with Israeli institutions. Passing this resolution would have one effect: Dividing the campus."
Asked to address the timing of the vote, CUNY director of media relations, Tanya Domi, told the Free Beacon, "the Doctoral Student Council routinely meets and votes on Friday afternoons commencing at 6 p.m."
CUNY professors have also lined up against the DSC’s support for the BDS movement.
"Academic boycotts really strike at the core goal of the academy which is free and open discussion and intellectual freedom," said Professor Samuel Heilman. "It simply strikes at the core at what we stand for. And in addition, the reasons for the academic campaign against Israel are unjust, … discriminatory, and oppressive, and there’s no place for it in the academy."
The real goal of such boycotts is not the pursuit of equality, but to "annihilate [Israel] and replace it with a Palestinian state or Arab state," Heilman said, explaining that such tactics only make those on opposing sides of the issue more extreme. "The real goal of the BDS movement is the dismantling of Israel."
The professor also took issue with the secretive tactics employed by BDS backers.
"It’s in the nature of these kinds of movements that the people who are behind it tend to sort of stand in the shadows and be pushed by people even behind them, while those who oppose it are forced to put their names out there on the line," said Heilman, who has signed onto public letters opposing the divestment measure.
"Certainly, symbolically, it says something that they’ve chosen to do" this on a Friday evening, he added.
An email sent to a DSC representative was not returned by press time.