Student government at Tufts University in Massachusetts stoked outrage this week by approving an anti-Israel divestment measure on the eve of Passover, spurring accusations that the timing was intended to minimize opposition from the Jewish community.
The resolution urges Tufts to divest from four companies accused of being involved in “human rights violations against Palestinians,” and was approved 17-6-8 following a debate that began late Sunday and finished nearly four hours later after midnight, the first day of the Jewish holiday.
The university fired off a statement criticizing the resolution, saying Tufts “does not adopt institutional positions with respect to specific geopolitical issues,” and admonishing the Tufts Community Union Senate for refusing to reschedule the vote.
“We are 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, and opposed a motion by some members of the Senate to table the resolution in the interest of further understanding of its context and ramifications,” read the Monday statement from the office of Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco.
Critics of the resolution, including some Tufts alumni, also decried the lack of transparency. The live feed on Facebook carried audio but not video, making it difficult to tell how individual senators voted, and filming and photograph were forbidden during the discussion.
“Tufts will not get a dollar more form this alumnus. To hold a vote on Israel on the eve of Passover (so as to exclude Jewish students?) is disgusting,” said Jon Federman on Facebook. “I’m ashamed to be a Jumbo.”
The secrecy stemmed from concerns about safety, said Adam Rapfogel, the senate parliamentarian, who does not have a vote.
“As groups like the Canary Mission have recently posted personal information of students who support BDS or hold other perceived anti-Israel positions, many members of the Executive Board were concerned for the safety of many people in the room,” he said in an email.
Even so, two senators later gave statements praising the outcome in a press release by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine, which sponsored the measure.
“As a TCU Senator, I am so proud that our elected student body government chose tonight to be on the right side of history,” said Parker Breza. “Tonight, the Tufts student body answered the call of the Palestinian people to divest from these four companies that are profiting off of the occupation of Palestine, among a host of other gross violations of human rights.”
Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace, which supported the resolution, called it “unfortunate” that Jewish students traveling home or preparing for the holidays were unable to make the meeting, but not a deal-breaker.
“The assumption that the Jewish students who are traveling the day before Passover and are unable to make it would only care about this one bill — and not the passing of all TCU club budgets for the next fiscal year which is also happening on Sunday night — perpetuates the conflation of Judaism with the State of Israel,” said Tufts JVP in a Thursday statement.
“This conflation plays into the anti-Semitic and hurtful idea that the only way to be Jewish is to support the State of Israel fully and unconditionally,” said the organization.
Tufts SJP leader Molly Tunis told the Electronic Intifada that her group had worked all semester on the resolution, which Mr. Rapfogel said was submitted April 3, the week before the final meeting of the year.
“Since there is currently no mechanism in place to postpone resolutions due to scheduling conflicts and the April 9 meeting was the last of the academic year — meaning if the resolution was not heard on Sunday, it would not be heard until at least September — the resolution had to at the very least be heard at the meeting,” he said.
Was that a coincidence? Ms. Tunis said the resolution “was not intentionally put the day before Passover begins,” but Israel supporters say orchestrating Boycott, Divest and Sanctions [BDS] votes on Jewish holidays has become an increasingly popular campus tactic.
In 2016, Portland State University student government “took up a BDS resolution against Israel at a meeting the day before Yom Kippur and passed it on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret,” according to the Algemeiner.
At Cornell University, a 2014 divestment vote was “managed in such a way as to provide the bare minimum notice and, most important, just before the Jewish holiday of Passover, when many Jewish students travel home,” said Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson.
“I have seen this movie before,” said Mr. Jacobson, who called the Tufts vote “very much a sneak attack by SJP,” in Legal Insurrection.
The senate arranged for those who could not attend to submit comments via Google Form before the meeting and received 83 responses, some of which were read out loud during the meeting, but opponents said that wasn’t enough to provide balance.
“Students and other members of the Tufts community repeatedly asked the TCU Senate to postpone the debate, but their requests were ignored,” said Zach Shartiag, New England campus coordinator of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs.
“As a result, many students who are directly affected by this issue were denied the opportunity to voice their opinions prior to the vote,” Mr. Shartiag said. “The purpose of student government is to represent students, but instead the TCU Senate chose to silence many of them.”
Tufts, located in Medford, Massachusetts, issued a statement in 2013 opposing a resolution of the American Studies Association calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.