Cornell’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) wanted to spark a debate and eventual vote over the university’s investment in companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Instead, the student government voted to table the resolution, a surefire way to prevent campus-wide debate on Israel.
Last week, the student assembly at Cornell University voted 15-8 to table a resolution calling for the Ivy League school to “end its complicity with the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and divest its holdings” from companies like Raytheon and Hewlett Packard, both of which have contracts with the Israeli military. The resolution also called out G4S, a multi-national private prison contractor that is the target of a number of campaigns over its involvement with prisons domestically and abroad.
In the run-up to the vote, Hillel and J Street chapters on campus voiced opposition to the resolution. In an e-mail to the Cornell Sun’s Sofia Hu and Alisha Foster, two members of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee called for “dialogue,” but not debate. “We aim to engage in a constructive dialogue to foster cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian student groups on campus, and hope that through dialogue, rather than public debate, we can seek outcomes to encourage peace both on campus and in the Middle East,” said Claire Blumenthal and Rachel Medin.
Students in favor of divestment reacted in anger at the decision to table the vote, a tactic also used by the University of Michigan student government before their hand was forced by a student sit-in. William Jacobson, a pro-Israel professor at Cornell, captured the angry reaction on video:
In response to the vote, Cornell SJP issued a statement blasting the “extensive efforts to lobby individual Assembly members” in order to “intimidate student representatives and prevent them from voting with their consciences.” The statement added: “There are forces on campus and outside of it who are greatly concerned about public awareness of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and American support for that occupation, and the broader militarism within which that support is nested.”
The Cornell divestment vote attracted attention in the Jewish press, which uncritically reprinted Jacobson’s claim that the resolution was introduced the week before Passover in order to force a vote the next week when Jewish students weren’t around. Jacobson, a law professor at the school, called the move a “sneak Passover…attack” “reminiscent of the exploitation of the Yom Kippur Jewish holiday in 1973 to launch an attack on Israel.” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jewish Daily Forward (via a JTA report), the Jewish News Service and others took the claim at face value.
But Cornell SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace member Dan Sinyikin told me that accusation had no basis in fact. In an e-mail, he said the group advanced “the resolution when we did because these resolutions can take several weeks to work through the Student Assembly and the Assembly only had four meetings left this semester.” He added that they submitted it last week on the advice of a student government assembly member, who said they had a lot business to take care of in the remaining weeks.
“If anything, Passover is an occasion for Jews — and I speak as one — to remember injustice everywhere, and to work to end it, which is exactly what we hoped to pursue with the resolution,” said Sinykin.