Saturday 2 March 2024

University of Virginia Students Vote To Divest From Israel, Condemn Its War Against Hamas

 Students at the University of Virginia overwhelmingly voted in favor of their university divesting from the state of Israel in a campus-wide referendum on Wednesday amid accusations of anti-Semitic discrimination against Jewish students at the school.

The referendum, sponsored by seven student groups, passed by a margin of 67 percent to 32 percent, with 30 percent of the student body participating.

The referendum calls for the university’s administration to undergo an audit to determine if endowment funds are used to invest in companies “engaging in or profiting from the State of Israel’s apartheid regime.” It demands the school divest any funds identified.

It also condemns the UVA administration for its failure to attack Israel in its statement that condemned Hamas days after the terror group committed the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. 

“The University released an initial statement on October 11, 2023, recognizing the ‘brutal terrorist attacks on Israel’ and ‘the actions of Hamas and the horrific violence that has taken place against civilians,’” the referendum reads. “This message failed to address the crimes committed by the Israeli government and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”

It added that “entire student populations” felt “unseen and otherized” because the statement did not use the words “Palestine” or “Gaza.”

On October 9, UVA’s Students for Justice in Palestine group — one of the groups behind the referendum — posted a photo on Instagram of a bulldozer destroying the fence between Gaza and Israel during Hamas’ attack, along with the text, “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” In the caption, the group encourages their peers to attend a demonstration where they can learn how to “be in solidarity with Palestinians resisting occupation.”

UVA SJP group Instagram

UVA’s SJP group posted a photo from Hamas’s October 7 attack encouraging peers to learn how to be “in solidarity with Palestinians resisting occupation.”

The other sponsors of the referendum include Asian Students Union, Dissenters at UVA, DivestUVA, Minority Rights Coalition, Muslim Students Association, and Muslims United.

The executive committee at UVA’s Hillel, a Jewish student organization, said the group was “deeply saddened” that the referendum passed, and that it “levels inaccurate and delegitimizing accusations about Israel.”

The Jewish group also attacked the referendum for delegitimizing the only Jewish state in the world by accusing Israel of “apartheid” and “settler colonialism” and stating that Israel has been an occupier for seven decades.

“This erasure of history and denial of self-determination harms many of the Jewish students on Grounds, making them feel unwelcome and ostracized by their peers,” the Hillel board wrote. 

Jewish students met with the UVA administration to allege multiple anti-Semitic incidents have taken place, including being spat on, shoved, and called anti-Semitic slurs, reported NBC 15 News.

“Tragically there’s one kid that has been so intimidated by students in his dorm, for peace of mind he has to move off campus and sleep elsewhere and stop wearing his Yamika,” said lawyer Joel Nied, who accompanied the students during their meeting. 

“Other kids when they walk by these protests, they feel they need to tuck their jewelry, their Jewish stars into their sweaters and shirts so no one sees them.”

“They’re hiding their identity,” he added. 

Nied said classes have also been canceled by professors in support of anti-Israel activism.

In response, the school created a religious diversity task force with two of its 11 members — professors Nichole Flores and Oludamini Ogunnaike — also being signatories on an open faculty letter on October 27, that said they are alarmed by the lack of mention of the “context in which Oct 7 occurred.”

“I don’t know how anybody can try to contextualize what happened on Oct. 7 other than looking at it for what it was,” Nied said. “It was a barbaric horrible attack. There’s no justification.”

UVA is currently under a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for “national origin discrimination involving religion.” A spokesman for UVA told The Daily Wire that it does not take positions on student referenda.

“VA has a tradition of student self-governance, which means students are responsible for running elections like this,” Brian Coy said. “The referendum was an expression of the opinion of the students who voted for it, it is not the University’s position and it is not binding on the University in any way.”

The referendum also states that the school’s November 6th statement mentioning the “terrible toll the ensuing war has taken on both the Palestinian and Israeli people,” was an issue because it failed to “condemn any of Israel’s human rights violations since October 7th.”

“[A]t a minimum, acknowledging Israel as a victim of violence should not be separated from acknowledging Palestine as a victim of settler colonialism and apartheid,” the referendum states.

It also calls for the school to act on its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by “not further ignoring the pain and existence of Palestinian students and community members.”

According to Hillel, the student organizations backing the referendum violated election rules by submitting it under a “UVA Apartheid Divest” coalition that has “no official standing with the University and is in violation of its rules for student-led organization.”

Hillel also accuses the pro-divesting side of violating rules regarding pushing their campaign in classrooms, on UVA listservs, and with the help of employees. The school administration failed to take meaningful actions, according to the statement.

“We are extremely proud of our students and grateful for their leadership,” the statement read. “They ran a passionate, principled, and inspiring campaign encouraging their peers to vote NO on this deeply flawed and biased referendum.”

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