April 26, 2019

BDS Resolution Fails at Swarthmore

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution went down at Swarthmore College’s student government by a margin of 20-7 on Feb. 10.

Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization (SGO) had reportedly been in contact with their Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter two weeks earlier about the resolution and pledged to have a final vote done on Feb. 10. They also told SJP they were not allowed into the meeting to prevent outside influence from affecting the vote.

During the SGO meeting, Swarthmore Students for Israel (SSFI) member Matthew Stein spoke out against the resolution, arguing that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is highly complex and all parties to the conflict have played, and currently play, the roles of both oppressor and victim.”

“Passing a BDS resolution in SGO would be extremely harmful for students who hold Israel as part of their identities, most of whom are Jews, but certainly not all,” Stein added.

Stein told the Journal in an email that he had found out at the “last minute” about the BDS vote so he decided to go and speak out against it.

“I made it a point to stress that the anti-Israel, often antisemitic, environment at Swarthmore already makes it a difficult place to be proudly Jewish and that I personally know several admitted students who declined to attend Swarthmore due to that environment,” Stein said. “I challenged the SGO members to avoid reinforcing an atmosphere that chills the free exchange of ideas that is meant to occur on a campus and discourages students who care about Israel from attending the college by supporting a hateful and intellectually destitute resolution such as BDS.”

SGO let him speak because they realized they hadn’t been having the same extensive dialogue with pro-Israel students as they had with SJP, SGO vice president Kat Capossela told Swarthmore’s student-run Voices publication.

“We went in telling SJP that we were going to come out with a vote and we were thrown an obstacle of a student saying, ‘hey, you’re not listening to us’ and we’re going to take that very seriously,” Capossela said.

Caposella also told The Phoenix, an independent student-run Swarthmore publication, that the SGO probably should have delayed the vote in hindsight given how close to the vote Stein’s remarks were.

But we also promised SJP that we would come to a conclusion at that meeting so we were kind of at a tough spot,” Caposella said.

SGO members were divided on whether or not the body should remain apolitical on the matter; ultimately a majority voted down the resolution.

The SGO plans to address the BDS issue in an apolitical manner.

We recognize that saying nothing/having voted against endorsing SJP’s statement is itself a political issue; remaining silent is an inherently political statement,” SGO senator Margaret Cohen told Voices. “Therefore, by crafting our own document, we hope to neither stay silent nor directly endorse SJP’s BDS campaign.”

Swarthmore’s SJP started their BDS campaign in October; at the time, the university administration said they would not heed any calls to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The investment guidelines of the Board of Managers clearly state that endowment investment decisions are made without regard to social issues,” Swarthmore Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown told The Phoenix.