Building Relationships on Campus: Student Government

Student governments work very differently at different colleges and universities. While some student governments do not pass resolutions regarding controversial political affairs, many do, and these schools have become targets of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS). Whether you suspect that your student government will be targeted by the BDS Movement or not, it is always wise to forge strong bonds between the government and the pro-Israel and/or Jewish student community. Here are some suggestions:

1. Encourage pro-Israel students to run in student government elections

One way to ensure that BDS fails is to have supportive students in the government. Encourage friends or allies to run, or even run yourself. While supportive students might not make up a majority, at least this will ensure that their voices are heard when they are needed most.

2. Ask candidates about their views on BDS or about their role as student officials

When BDS comes, you won’t be able to change representatives, so be sure to have BDS in mind when you actually have a chance to affect who makes up the student government. Feel free to ask the candidates about their views on Israel or about their views of the Israel boycott movement in particular. If you don’t feel comfortable asking specifically about Israel or are concerned that asking publicly could make an issue out of something that otherwise would not be, you can ask more general questions such as “Do you believe student government should play be concerned with controversial political and international issues?” or “Do you believe student government should allow itself to be distracted by international affairs or focus exclusively on student issues?” If you feel that it is likely that a given candidate would support BDS, don’t be afraid to let other students know through a pro-Israel list-serve if appropriate.

If you can get a candidate to take a clear stance on an issue or make a recorded promise to your community, try to do so (such as a promise to veto BDS). Young leaders prefer to keep their promises, and such a vow may come in handy in the future.

3. Create (or publicize) a national letter campaign

Soon after Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was forced to limit his speaking appearance at UC-Irvine due to anti-Israel protesters, a national letter campaign began. The letter in support of Ambassador Oren and the right to free speech was signed by over 60 student government presidents from universities around the country, and is still in circulation.

A new letter writing campaign could be started against BDS, and one that is written in general liberal terms would likely have the most success, especially if the letter is seen as applying to more than just one country. Such a letter, to be signed by student government leaders, could vow “not to isolate one race or nationality for political reasons.” It could also specifically target academic and cultural boycott which are most relevant to the college setting and oppose basic liberal ideals. Such a letter could be based around the ‘freedom to listen’ that is threatened by the boycott of Israeli scholars, students, speakers, and study abroad opportunities

Signing on to any pro-Israel letter is useful, even if it does not mention BDS, as it creates a connection between a student government official and Israel that cannot be easily set aside.

4. Demand Transparency

When a speaker or event comes to campus, students have a right to know where the funding came from. Encourage your student government to require public disclosure of all funds used to put on any campus events.