- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

Supporters of Israel at U.S. universities spend a lot of time playing defense against the boycott and divestment movement, but the result is that their skills may be improving.

Just this week, students at two higher education institutions—Bowdoin College in Maine and the California Community Colleges system—voted against anti-Israel measures, the latest activity in a year marked by a flurry of student activism pushed by pro-Palestinian groups on campus.

The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, led by Students for Justice in Palestine, notched victories in February at Stanford University and the University of California system, where their student governments voted to support divesting from companies that do business with Israel.

At the same time, at least 10 universities, including Princeton, San Diego State University and the University of Texas at Austin, have defeated proposals in support of Israeli divestment since January, either through the student government or campus referendum votes.

Max Samarov, a senior researcher at the pro-Israel group Stand With Us, says there are simply more student-led boycott and divestment drives cropping up this year on college campuses, a testament to the strength of the BDS movement, which means there also are more opportunities to squelch such efforts.

“What we’re seeing now is there are more total efforts to get these divestment campaigns going, to introduce divestment resolutions and referendums and such, so there have been more attempts,” Mr. Samarov said. “But there have also been a lot more defeats.”

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This week, students at Bowdoin College rejected a campus-wide referendum calling for a cultural and economic boycott of Israel, with 71 percent of students voting against the SJP-sponsored measure and 14 percent voting in favor, according to election results released Thursday.

A few days earlier, the CCC General Assembly of the Student Senate voted against a resolution to urge the college system to divest from companies that do business with Israel, with 25 in favor, 44 opposed and six abstentions.

Organizers of the Bowdoin SJP chapter released a statement saying they were “dismayed” by the results, but added that “the referendum initiated one of the most intense discussions on campus regarding Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and for a moment shattered the merciless silence that lies at the heart of Zionism’s power in the United States.”

Bowdoin merely saw the beginning to the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that will help bring about the end of apartheid and ethnic cleansing in Israel,” said the Facebook statement.

University boards are generally reluctant to sign onto divestment proposals, whether aimed at Israel or fossil fuels, which means the action tends to take place almost entirely at the student level.

Turnout at the Bowdoin election was high—85 percent—but Bowdoin President Barry Mills said in a statement afterward that, “There was never any question about Bowdoin College joining this movement.”

“That said, it is gratifying to see this resounding and unambiguous statement by our students who clearly understand the vital importance of open discourse between scholars and educational institutions and the free exchange of ideas and knowledge,” Mr. Mills said.

The CCC system is the largest in the nation with 2.1 million students. The failed resolution described Israel’s presence in the West Bank a “brutal occupation” with “characteristics of colonialism and apartheid,” according to J Weekly in San Francisco.

“Most divestment campaigns in the United States have been defeated historically. The majority,” said Mr. Samarov. “But these things aren’t that hard to introduce into student government. It’s not hard to get them to go to a vote in terms of procedure, but it is difficult to overcome a really strong unified pro-Israel community that’s committed to fighting against these.”

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