Ohio State Student Government Passes Anti-Israel Boycott Measure

Secret ballot votes rammed through in 11th hour

Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall calling to boycott Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements
Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall calling to boycott Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements / Getty Images
January 27, 2018

The Undergraduate Student Government at Ohio State University has come under sharp criticism for a rushed, irregular secret ballot vote Wednesday night that rammed through a resolution in support of an anti-Israel boycott.

A six-hour long meeting culminated in a half-hour of rapid-fire amendments to the "Resolution to Establish a Committee to Investigate OSU's Investments in Companies Complicit in Human Rights Violations."

As the USG was being expelled from the room at midnight, two secret ballot votes were quickly cast within minutes—the first attempt returned more ballots than senators present—and it was announced that the motion calling for the University Senate to create an ad-hoc committee to review OSU investments in companies complicit in human rights abuses had passed.

USG chair and vice president Sophie Chang refused to state how many senators voted in favor of the motion. (Chang said the official breakdown would be included in the minutes, which will be published on the USG website.)

Max Littman, who served as an alternate senator for an absent representative, called Wednesday's meeting "one of the most confusing USG sessions I've been in."

"I firmly believe many senators voted without knowing exactly what was stricken, and what was left in at the end of the night," said Littman. "There was only a few minutes of discussion about each amendment, and I still don't know what some of them were talking about."

One of the 11th hour amendments struck all explicit references to Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the resolution, a move welcomed by OSU Hillel, the Jewish center on campus.

Yet, an amendment to add an anti-BDS statement was rejected, and references remained to anti-Israel boycott measures passed by student governments at over a dozen other universities. Links to anti-Israel websites favorably covering boycott, divestment, and sanctions campus activity were also retained.

The motion explicitly cited as inspiration a similar measure passed by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in November that sought to push the Michigan Board of Regents to investigate its investments with companies that do business with Israel. (The Regents forcefully rejected that petition.)

During the public forum portion of the meeting, 38 OSU students spoke against the resolution, and only 8 in favor. Littman slammed the senators for ignoring the opposition of so many students.

"They did an absolute disservice to their constituents," he said.

Nick Davis, the only conservative representative on USG, said the resolution should never have been brought for a vote at all, as anti-Israel boycott campaigns failed at OSU in student government in 2016, as well as in a campus-wide referendum last year.

"We have voted on BDS, and they lost," said Davis. "But the co-sponsors of this resolution deceived people on what it was by calling for a committee, rather than directly saying, 'We want to divest from Israel.'"

Like Littman, Davis, who has served in the senate since April, said he had never seen a secret ballot before.

"I spoke up and tried to stop it. It is unfair to our constituents, who have a right to know how we voted," he said. "But it just passed, and we'll never know who voted how."

Davis said he is currently writing a resolution to abolish secret ballots.

Sophie Chang, the USG vice president who chaired the session, defended the secret ballot as "the most stringent method of voting."

Jacob Baime, executive director of the advocacy organization, Israel on Campus Coalition, said in a statement that the meeting had been "plagued by hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric," and slammed the "highly irregular, opaque, and undemocratic process" that ruled the night.

Published under: College Campuses , Israel