An Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) bill that was recently passed is receiving mixed feedback in relation to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The “Freedom of Speech and Anti-Discrimination” bylaws amendment does not allow ASI to engage in discriminatory practices related to a number of protected categories, including race, religion and national origin or ancestry.
The ASI bill was designed to “help institutionalize diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on Cal Poly’s campus,” according to sociology senior and co-author of the bill Noah Krigel.
ASI Board of Directors President and environmental management junior Mark Borges said the bill was drafted because the authors are passionate about representing traditionally underrepresented students. Borges said the language in the bill is already within CSU policy for student-body organizations.
“The bill itself is really more of a symbolic gesture saying we stand with our marginalized communities and we want to protect all social identities from any kind of discrimination,” Borges said. “By putting it into our bylaws, we’re saying we’re committed to those values.”
Shortly after the bill’s release, Mustang News published a student’s letter to the editor that included interviews from Krigel and ASI board member and anthropology and geography senior Aliza Herzberg. The letter praises the bill for its potential to halt the BDS movement from coming to Cal Poly’s campus. The BDS movement began in 2005 as a form of non-violent pressure against Israel lead by Palestinian supporters, according to the BDS National Committee.
In the letter, Krigel and Herzberg explain that BDS, “would be categorized as a form of discrimination [they] are intending to protect against with this bill.”
Krigel attempted to clarify the bill in a follow-up letter to the editor.
“This is an all encompassing anti-discrimination bill,” Krigel wrote. “It is not an anti-BDS bill, nor is it a pro-Zionist endorsement (though I proudly identify as Zionist and do not support the BDS movement).”
However, in an interview with Mustang News, Borges did not confirm or deny whether the bill can be used to halt BDS from Cal Poly’s campus.
“I don’t think that any one person can technically answer that question,” Borges said. “It’s not necessarily a yes or no question.”
Borges said he alone or any one person cannot determine whether BDS is a form of discrimination under the new bill because of the many conversations and dialogue that go into such a decision.
Opponents of BDS claim the movement is anti-semitic because it focuses solely on Israel’s alleged abuse while ignoring countless other abuses, placing the Jewish state in a unique standard. Opponents also claim the movement calls for an end to the Jewish state by including in its goals the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they lived in prior to Israel’s establishment.
Proponents of BDS staunchly deny the claim of anti-semitism and argue their movement is focused on getting Israel to comply with international law. They said Israel’s policies and actions, not identity, are the reasons for protest. Proponents also point out the movement’s Jewish supporters as evidence that it is not rooted in anti-semitism.
One such supporter, Ethan Stan, will be attending Cal Poly next fall as a graduate student. Stan, who identifies as Jewish and pro-BDS, used to live in Israel.
“It’s tough to talk about BDS because … all the stuff that you hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all of the discussion and the arguing, so much of that for me was crystallized into a different perspective once I started visiting Israel myself,” Stan said. “Just to be there, it’s almost like you have to relearn everything you thought you knew.”
As someone who has experienced “passing through one-too-many checkpoints” in Palestine, Stan said he thinks the anger toward Israel is justified.
“To imply that BDS is some racist, anti-semitic plot to create hate against Jewish students, to me, is patently false because I know countless people who are pro-BDS or BDS activists that I don’t feel hated [around] for being a Jew,” Stan said. “I think what the Israeli government is doing to Palestinian people is atrocious and is worthy of sanctions and boycotts and divestment.”
Stan said he would still like to get involved with the Jewish community at Cal Poly and in San Luis Obispo. However, he said he hopes they will be accepting despite their beliefs about BDS and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“I am Jewish, I am going to be a Cal Poly student and I certainly do not feel represented by any attempts to squash BDS from Cal Poly’s campus,” Stan said.
Borges said if BDS ever comes to Cal Poly’s campus, the conversation would start with a written resolution to either endorse or condemn the movement. ASI would then have to decide whether the resolution fits within its current bylaws.
Several student governments across the United States have already began this conversation. For example, the student governments of New York University (NYU) and the University of Oregon (UO) have passed resolutions endorsing the BDS movement. Columbia University and Cornell University, however, recently denied BDS resolutions.
Recent data shows a nearly even divide when it comes to the passing of divestment resolutions by student governments of U.S. campuses. Since 2015, more than 48 percent of proposed divestment resolutions have been passed by student governments while 51 percent have failed, according to the AMCHA Initiative.
Long Beach State, San Jose State and Cal State East Bay are the only California State Universities (CSU) whose student governments voted on the issue in the last four years. All passed divestment resolutions. Out of the five student governments across Universities of California (UC) to make a vote on divestment resolutions, three passed and two failed.
According to Borges, the conversation of the bill’s potential impact on BDS never once came up in debate, workshops or board meetings. Borges said the student’s editorial represented the bill in a very different light than how it was passed on the board.
“I would say it’s definitely something that we need to work on as a student government on campus, making sure that we’re communicating the work we’re doing,” Borges said. “We need to do everything we possibly can to be viewed as that area of positive change on campus.”