Pro-Israel Group Rejected by Augsburg College

Group accused of being ‘unjust’ with a ‘stigma’

• October 2, 2014 11:35 am


A well-known pro-Israel group at Augsburg College in Minneapolis has been denied formal recognition by the school’s student government on grounds that it is "unjust" and a "stigma," a controversial decision that school administrators say they fully support.

Augsburg’s student government last month voted to deny a charter to the local chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a nationwide pro-Israel organization that seeks to foster "a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on college campuses," according to minutes of the student government’s meeting.

The decision to reject SSI means that the pro-Israel group will not be eligible to receive funding from the school, be permitted to hold fundraisers on campus, purchase materials under the college’s tax-exempt status, or participate in student fairs.

Augsburg officials have stood by the decision to reject the pro-Israel organization even though there are questions as to whether the denial violates the college’s own nondiscrimination policies.

"Day Student Government has the right to approve or decline any student organization’s charter as long as the decision does not violate the college’s nondiscrimination policy," the school said in the statement.

However, that policy explicitly states that discrimination based on "national or ethnic origin" is not permitted.

Augsburg College spokesperson Stephanie Weiss told the Washington Free Beacon that the college is unsure if the student government violated that policy.

"I think that is something that at this point is a good question and it is not something that I am prepared to answer because there are some discussions going on to figure those things out right now," Weiss said.

The school is said to be investigating the decision and will arrive at a decision on Friday.

Members of the student government argued at a Sept. 17 meeting that the pro-Israel group is "unjust" and that its acceptance would constitute a violation of human rights.

"How can you suggest supporting such an unjust cause?" one student government member asked pro-Israel students pushing to get SSI a charter, according to a readout of the meeting.

"Because this is a diverse campus, a group should have the right to be," the pro-Israel advocate responded.

Other opponents of the pro-Israel group expressed concern about "going against human rights."

"By supporting this group, aren’t we going against human rights?" wondered one student government member.

Other campus opponents claimed that SSI was not peaceful.

"A student group coming with support of one side in a conflict is not seeking peace. Their constitution says they support the government and its actions," said one student government representative. "The government has been involved in massive destruction."

Another accused the pro-Israel camp of "imposing" a "stigma" on themselves.

"Are you aware of the stigma you would be imposing on your group and members?" said another student government member. "By not going against the oppression, one is supporting oppression."

While pro-Israel groups appear to be an issue for Augsburg, anti-Israel groups have been granted approval.

The college, for instance, currently has a Muslim Student Association, chapters of which advocate boycotts of Israel and other measures that critics deem anti-Israel.

SSI’s backers on campus say that their rights are being violated.

"This is about students being denied their right to assemble, a flagrant violation of our rights as students at Augsburg College," SSI’s supporters wrote in an editorial published in the Echo, the school’s student newspaper.

"This is about a college whose mission is to create critical thinkers and thoughtful leaders, yet won’t permit a group of passionate students on campus who would encourage critical thinking and leadership in a way that could enrich the experience of many students," they wrote.

Ilan Sinelnikov, SSI’s founder, said he supports the students and is waiting to hear a final decision from the school on Friday.

"I fully support the pro-Israel students at Augsburg college," Sinelnikov said via email. "This is not a matter of Israel or not. This is a matter of freedom of assembly and speech on college campuses. Freedoms that were taken from the pro-Israel group by the student government."

Published under: First Amendment, Israel