Members of Tufts University’s Jewish community told The Algemeiner on Monday they were “hurt and angry,” after the school’s student senate passed a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution in a landslide vote on Sunday night, just ahead of Passover.
Keren Hendel — affiliated with Tufts American Israel Alliance (TAIA) and Tufts Students for Two States, both part of the campus’s Zionist coalition, which also includes Tufts Friends of Israel (FOI) and J Street U — said it was surprisingly emotionally taxing to sit in the room for five hours as the Tufts Community Union (TCU) student senate discussed and ultimately passed the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)-drafted resolution by a vote of 17 to 6, with 8 abstentions.
“I’m more upset by the process than the outcome [of the vote],” Hendel noted. “I felt silenced, as there was no real debate taking place about the complicated issues, with our side denied the opportunity to fully respond to the talking points being made by SJP. It was frustrating.”
The resolution referred to the widely-denounced United Nations report published last month — which called Israel an “apartheid regime” — and stated, “Tufts should not financially support corporations that profit off the occupation of Palestine and the continued spread of settlements declared illegal under international law.” It specifically targeted four companies for divestment, including Israel’s Elbit Systems, Britain’s G4S and American’s Northrop Grumman and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Chad Kramer — who sits on the leadership board of FOI and serves as a Jewish National Fund campus fellow — told The Algemeiner he “felt betrayed by many friends and acquaintances” last night and has had “a difficult time processing my senators’ insensitivity to us Jewish students,” who comprise some 25 percent of the undergraduate population.
“I have never been so ashamed to be part of this university,” Kramer said, pointing out that nearly 100 students “who could not make the hearing had emailed the senate with their thoughts, many pleading that the resolution be tabled due to its insensitive timing.”
Melissa Landa — who leads the Tufts chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), a national network engaged in combating antisemitism and anti-Israel bias on campuses — said SJP acted “without integrity by launching an ambush resolution right before Passover.”
Landa also criticized the “stealth methods” behind the TCU senate’s choice to livestream the BDS discussion with only audio, and no video.
“Students need to learn that if they want to enter grown-up discussions, they need to behave like adults,” she said. “Activists don’t hide, they show their faces and put their names to their views.”
Hendel — one of the student leaders behind the failed attempt to get the resolution tabled for consideration at a later date — said it was “humbling to see how many students, Jewish and non-Jewish have come together over this [incident].”
“As bad as this vote was, I’ll be glad if it motivates us to build a more focused and organized pro-Israel movement,” she added. “Hopefully, this will unite us in building a stronger Jewish community going forward.”
Noah Cohen, a senior affiliated with TAIA, said part of the Tufts Israel coalition’s future strategy would be working on strengthening ties with student government, an area he encouraged the on-campus Zionist movement to focus on improving nationwide.
“We were at a disadvantage coming up against SJP, who had been working on getting close to the senate for years,” he explained.
A spokesperson for the Tufts chapter of SJP — Jewish student Molly Tunis — told The Algemeiner that her group had been working on drafting the resolution for a “long time” and called the scheduling of the vote for right before Passover “unintentional and unfortunate, but necessary, as this was the last senate meeting of the year.”
Tunis added she believed sufficient time elapsed from when SJP introduced the resolution to the night of the vote to “educate the senate about the issues, because you don’t need to fully understand Israel-Palestine to vote on divestment.”
“The resolution wasn’t about Israel,” she continued. “It was about these four companies.”
The motion was titled, “A Resolution Calling for Tufts University to End Investments in The Israeli Occupation.”
The president of the TCU senate did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.
UPDATE: Tufts’ president released a statement Monday saying that the university has “made clear in the past our opposition to calls to boycott Israeli academic institutions,” referring to the school’s rejection of the American Studies Association’s 2013 passage of a BDS motion. The president added he was “concerned that the supporters of this resolution chose to place it on the Senate agenda immediately before Passover, a time when some students interested in this issue were away from campus.”