Building Relationships on Campus: The University Administration

“Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities….Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.”
— Harvard president Larry Summers

While a few student governments around the country have entertained divestment resolutions, no university ever has. We must ensure that all university administrators voice their disapproval of BDS, which will not only prevent divestment, but could deter some potential BDS faculty and student supporters. Keep in mind that American Jewish organizations, Jewish donors, and friendly faculty may be more effective at shaping university policy than students.

Bring up BDS to the administration before they do

  • Encourage local Jewish community leaders to mention BDS preemptively to college trustees. Good people to speak to include the Hillel Director, the Jewish Studies Director, Jewish donors, pro-Israel professors, and local synagogue or federation leaders. By raising the issue before it becomes an issue, you can help formulate policy and get commitments that will be helpful if these trustees later feel pressure to divest. If successful, you can ensure that BDS will not be any real threat to Israel’s economy, although it can still be a threat to Israel’s reputation.
  • Encourage your college to consider the California model for divestment, which based itself on declarations of the US Government.

“In 2005, the Regents stated that a policy of divestment from a foreign government shall be adopted by the University only when the United States government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide.  It was also noted at the time that divestment is a serious decision that should be rarely pursued.”

Talking Points to the University Administration

  • Note that it is important for administrators to speak out against BDS because it is the right thing to do. It is also in the interest of the institution.
  • Talk about civility on campus and the importance of fostering a safe campus culture. The BDS Movement is considered anti-Semitic by several standards including the Sharansky Test (Does it Delegitimize, Demonize, and set Double-Standards?) and the EU Definition of Anti-Semitism. Demonizing Israel has cause an increase in anti-Semitic vandalism and violence across Europe and North America and should not be spread to this campus.
  • BDS makes Jewish student and parents uncomfortable; it will cause the university to develop a reputation as a politicized campus hostile to Jews, which will affect applications. Not only will students be disenfranchised, but so will Jewish donors, Jewish alumni, and the Jewish parents of prospective students. It may be wise to contact the ADL for advice.
  • Focus on real economic costs of divestment. Colleges that divest will be hurting themselves financially more than they will be hurting Israel. Most universities who hold investments or do business with GE, Caterpillar, or Motorola will lose a great deal of money by divesting. Ask them if they really want to lose that kind of money on a symbolic, one-sided gesture that is more likely to prolong a conflict than end it.

Cornell President: My Experiences in Israel and Thoughts on Academic Boycott

Engaging Faculty

  • Contact Israeli or Jewish professors if you hear BDS is coming to see if they can encourage the administrators to speak out against it. A public letter from a group of professors against BDS may be useful as well. Encourage faculty to contact SPME (Scholars for Peace in the Middle East) if they are not already familiar with the organization.
  • Target the whole BDS Movement, but stress opposition to the Academic Boycott in particular, as it is antithetical to the university’s mission. Stress the importance of academic freedom, including both the right to free speech and “the right to listen.”
  • We make a mistake when we approach faculty members on political grounds – and during a crisis. We need to approach them on educational grounds – and proactively. On each campus, we should identify sympathetic scholars. We should initially approach them on a safe, educational issue – such as encouraging recruitment to MASA, or hosting exchanges/talks with Israeli scholars. These “safe” approaches can help develop an infrastructure of support for when emergencies do arise.
  • We have to be sensitive to the university culture. Universities are hostile to outside influences – or at least overt outside influences.
  • Faculty members should be encouraged to take issues to the administration – and it is better to be proactive than reactive here. For example, Jewish professors can be approached before a conflagration and asked to run interference if Jews are starting to feel uncomfortable. As one professor puts it, “I interceded when the Pro-Palestinian group on campus planted 1400+ flags on the main campus to symbolize the Palestinians killed in the Gaza conflict. But, I did not argue on Israeli-Palestinian grounds. I argued for a neutral public space – which is what (our campus) traditionally has been – seeking to avoid the politicization of the main campus areas.”

Look at the Role of Faculty section for more information on the important ways that faculty can help students.