Divestment resolution tabled indefinitely: at Cornell any critique of Israel will not be tolerated

On April 10, Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine introduced a resolution to the Cornell University Student Assembly. Our demands, set out inResolution 72, called for University trustees to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as other forms of militarized repression. Corporations such as G4S and Raytheon specialize in stunting and destroying human lives. For this reason, we believe they have no place among the University’s financial investments. By introducing this resolution, we intended to prompt a campus-wide discussion about the Israeli occupation, and propose specific means by which Cornell University could end its complicity with it.

Through unfortunate and censorious parliamentary procedures, the Student Assembly ensured that such a debate did not occur. Normally, resolutions are introduced as “new business,” and there is a purely informational discussion. The following week, after the representatives have been able to familiarize themselves with the topic and have an informed public debate, there is a vote. We thought that such an interval was more than sufficient to allow our student representatives, even those not deeply familiar with the issue at hand, to think it through, and to vote their consciences.

That did not happen. Instead, the Student Assembly voted by a small majority to table (that is, postpone debating) the resolution indefinitely. This meant that student questions and concerns about the resolution were not heard.

Clearly, 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. Such voices are worried that the debate is beginning to shift from a discussion about the facts of Israeli occupation to a discussion about how (not if) to pressure Israel to end it. With intolerance of the Israeli destruction of Palestine clearly rising, including at Cornell, those opposed to the resolution – namely J Street and the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee – switched gears, opting to censor any discussion.

Indeed, given their extensive efforts to lobby individual Assembly members, we cannot consider this as anything but a deliberate effort to intimidate student representatives and prevent them from voting with their consciences. Furthermore, CIPAC has publicly stated that they would prefer to proceed “through dialogue, rather than public debate.” So even as they flaunt their commitment to “dialogue,” we cannot but wonder what kind of dialogue they envision when they insist on dictating its outline, and ensuring that pressure is off the table.

As part of this attempt to suppress debate on the occupation, a Cornell law professor, William A. Jacobson, in what appears to be a willfully dishonest attack, claimed that the resolution was timed as a “sneak attack” to coincide with the Passover holiday. Soon enough, students opposed to the resolution repeated the rumor.

But if scheduling really was the concern, the debate could have been postponed for several weeks. Yet the idea to reschedule was never formally suggested. That fact makes it clear that the “Passover rumor” was propaganda, an attempt to link criticism of Israeli occupation with antipathy towards Jews. And the smear is as common as it is baseless. Indeed, many Jewish people strongly condemn Israeli policy, including professors like Judith Butler, and on our campus, Eric Cheyfitz. So do Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace – which has an Ithaca chapter – Jews Against the Occupation, and the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network.

The attempt to cast this resolution as an attack on Jewish people is merely an attempt to bully student assembly members. It is tragic but expected that such smears continue into their odd afterlife even as the Open Hillel movement, which calls for the separation of Hillel from 100 percent support for Israeli occupation, grows in strength. We expect that many Jewish students at Cornell are increasingly outraged at this attempt to suggest that all Jews support the Israeli occupation and the destruction of Palestine, and we will doubtless hear their voices with increasing volume in the months and years ahead.

Some also insist on calling us divisive. Indeed: we call for a division between those who oppose military occupation and those who support it, those who oppose illegal settlement building and those who support it, those who oppose human rights for all and those who support them, those who support justice and those who oppose it, those who support freedom and democracy and those who oppose them. Is this division unpleasant? Not as much as the physical barriers and military control that divides the lands of Palestinians.

For we must not forget the simple core of the issue. As these matters are far from abstract. Every day that the occupation continues is another day of home raids and demolition, illegal imprisonment, arbitrary detention, shootings at checkpoints, children murdered, protesters gassed, and people with treatable medical conditions dying at border crossings. It is a very real and urgent question about the decisions we take as residents of the most powerful country in the world, and whether we use that power to destroy Palestine. We are committed to work towards peace, but we insist that there is no peace without justice.

And it is not a question of pushing an uninterested Student Assembly into involvement. For as Cornell students, we are already involved. The debate we urge is to consider, and if necessary, change the nature of that involvement.

That is the separation we support: between those who stand behind action to end the occupation, and those who do not.

If that is divisive, so be it.


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