BDS movement claims victory at Sanders alma maters UofC & CUNY

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Student activists from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement won victories at both of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ alma maters, the University of Chicago (UofC) and City University New York (CUNY).

The private Chicago school was also where President Barack Obama taught, and on Thursday, the student government voted overwhelmingly to divest from 10 companies that profit from the “apartheid” in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

The Doctoral Students Council at the publicly-funded CUNY followed suit the following night and endorsed the academic boycott of Israel with 42 voting in favor, 19 opposed, and 9 absentee.

Students and their political allies have been targeted by the Israeli government’s $26 million effort to discredit and spy on the multi-religious movement, including left-wing Jewish activists.

The CUNY resolution called for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions “for as long as the Israeli state continues to violate Palestinian rights under international law.”

It also expressed solidarity with the Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at the college that are under attack from the Zionist Organization of America, which claims the group is behind “anti-Semitic” incidents on campus.

Twenty-seven percent of CUNY’s student body is Jewish, according to 2014 figures.

The resolution is not supported by the school as a whole. Chancellor James Milliken tried to minimize the vote when he said, “We are disappointed by this vote from one student group, but it will not change CUNY’s position.”

The resolution referred to Israel’s “military occupation and colonization” of Palestine as “a manifestation of both settler colonialism and structural racism, supported politically, financially and militarily by the US.”

Read more: 'Don't demonize Israel': Canada passes anti-boycott motion

It highlighted Israeli academic institutions’ complicity in the occupation and violence against Palestinians through “developing military hardware, weapons, drones, and surveillance technologies; offering military training courses and posts for high-ranking military officers; declaring, via their leaders and other surrogates, their support for Israeli military offensives; discriminating against Palestinian students, and repressing voices in support of Palestinians and their struggle for self-determination.”

University of Chicago

The divest group at the UofC released a statement saying the resolution would “finally put (the university) on the right side of history, and divest from companies currently complicit in the illegal occupation and apartheid system in Palestine/Israel.”

Barack Obama was a law professor at UofC for 12 years. At a visit to his old workplace last week, Obama said he wanted the students to “stay engaged, get involved, make a difference,” although given his administration’s stance on BDS, particularly provisions in the US-EU trade deal that seek to criminalize the movement, he may have some exceptions to that wish.

Bernie Sanders studied at UofC, where he led what Time magazine called the city’s "first sit-in for civil rights" in protest against segregation in student housing.

Out in the suburbs of the Windy City, Hillary Clinton was supporting far-right Republican Barry Goldwater and told NPR in 1996 that her "political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with."

Speaking on MSNBC in March, Sanders admitted there was an element of anti-Semitism in the BDS movement, but criticized Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, describing him as “a right-wing politician" and "a guy who kind of crashed the United States Congress to give his speech there, ignoring President Obama, not even consulting with him, using it for political purposes back home, a guy who has supported the growth of settlements.”

While stories last year asked questions like "Is Bernie Sanders a Lefty on Everything Except for Israel?", his comments in last week's debate "shattered the American taboo on Israel", according to Vox.

The college council voted 8-4-3 to pass the 'Resolution to Divest University Funds From Apartheid'. However, the administration said it would not divest from companies doing business in Israel.

The resolution called the university out for lagging behind other institutions and “failing to divest from South African Apartheid, Darfur, HEI Hotels and Resorts, and fossil fuels despite widespread student support.”

It also pointed to the “systematic violations of human rights and international law in the occupied Palestinian territories” being recognized by the UN Security Council and General Assembly “in numerous resolutions dating back to 1967.”

READ MORE: Bernie Sanders to skip AIPAC conference

It referred to Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and Operation Protective Edge (2014) as examples Israeli military attacks on Gaza, describing them as “human rights [crises] that constitute collective punishment, in violation of international law.”

Anti-BDS crackdown

The BDS movement, which will be 11 years old this year, has been subjected to covert cyber attacks by the Israeli government, including “flooding the internet” with pro-Israel content and monitoring Muslim activists online.

In the US, pro-Israeli think tanks, lobbyists, and other organizations pressure universities to “censor or punish advocacy in support of Palestinian rights,” Palestine Legal reports.

Tactics recorded by the group include bureaucratic barriers to prevent discussion of the issues or canceling events.

“Universities suspend student groups, deny tenure to faculty, or fire them outright in response to their criticism of Israel,” the report found.

The Israel on Campus Coalition last year said pro-Israel groups are “fighting back” and opposing pro-Palestinian resolutions, defeating divestment referendums and blocking efforts to boycott Israeli products.

Liberty University in Virginia passed the first resolution to oppose BDS in 2015.

"Students Supporting Israel" at the University of Minnesota blocked a vote on a BDS resolution in March by submitting their own, calling for condemnation of anti-Semitism, a common tactic used by Israel to smear those who support Palestinian rights. This led to the Student Association throwing out both resolutions rather than vote on them.

NYU will consider a resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel next week. The resolution calls for the closure of the Tel Aviv campus along with divestment measures.

Legislation across the US has been introduced at local, state, and federal levels targeting the BDS movement with at least 16 resolutions introduced in Congress, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York in 2015.

The BDS movement is somewhat divided with some supporters in favor of boycotting goods and companies that profit from the occupation, but not academic institutions.

Noam Chomsky, a prominent supporter of Palestine, drew comparisons between boycotting Israeli universities and Harvard, pointing out it is “hypocritical to boycott Israel and not the US, which funds Israeli actions.”