A SUPER campaign for BDS

October 4, 2016

Smear tactics and bureaucratic maneuvers have delayed a student government resolution on BDS at Portland State, but we're still winning, explains John Monroe.

STUDENTS AT Oregon's Portland State University (PSU) are pressing ahead with a campaign to get their student government to pass a resolution calling on the university to divest from Israeli apartheid.

The resolution, which would prohibit investment in four specific corporations complicit in the oppression of Palestinians, has provoked fierce opposition from defenders of Israel's colonial regime.

The Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) most recently discussed the resolution on September 26, but this was the third meeting at which it was debated because pro-Israel groups have been successful at using all sorts of maneuvers and manipulations to thwart the ASPSU's democratic process.

Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) first submitted the resolution, which calls for a screening of all PSU investments, to the student government last spring. This screening would prohibit university investment in four companies--Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions, G4S and Caterpillar--because each of these companies directly profits by providing services to Israel for the maintenance of the apartheid system.

Students at Portland State University demonstrate for Palestinian human rights
Students at Portland State University demonstrate for Palestinian human rights (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER))

"These four companies aren't only responsible for human rights violations in Palestine, but all over the world," according to SUPER. "They are also involved in the U.S. prison system, immigration and human rights violations all around the globe."

ASPSU's procedure for passage of a resolution requires two "readings," with a vote held after the second reading. The resolution passed with minor edits during a first reading at ASPSU's September 26 meeting, but bureaucratic maneuvers to deflect and delay began immediately afterward.

For example, a member of the ASPSU Judicial Review Board is now attempting to kill the resolution on dubious procedural grounds, attempting to use precedent from the Oregon state legislature, which has no bearing on the student senate. As a result, the resolution was scheduled for another first reading on October 10--a final vote, if it happens, could be postponed until the end of October or later.

SUPER and proponents of the resolution are preparing to fight against these dishonest moves. What is clear is that in resorting to such tactics, the pro-Israel faction has exposed its fear that the same methods effective in challenging apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the American South will be successful in challenging the illegal and unethical occupation of Palestine.

THE USE of such bureaucratic measures to halt SUPER's resolution this fall follows cruder methods used by opponents of Palestinians rights last spring. Back on May 9 when the resolution was introduced for the first time, pro-Palestine groups and individuals made a very strong showing, greatly outnumbering the pro-Israel side.

The opponents of Palestinian rights resorted to typical smears of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement when they spoke, variously arguing that there should be "dialogue from both sides" and asserting that the BDS campaign, if successful, would "spread anti-Semitism." And representatives from the Jewish Student Union claimed that SUPER was merely "tokenizing" Jews who stood against the occupation of Palestine.

These arguments were soundly refuted. There were several Palestinians, descendants of those displaced in 1948, who spoke out bravely against the history of occupation and for the need for international solidarity with the Palestinian people. Representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) spoke in support of the resolution, undermining the "tokenizing" accusation by pointing out that their organization is the fastest-growing peace organization in the country and that anti-apartheid sentiment among Jewish youth is rising sharply.

Israeli-born Jews spoke of how they came to realize the scale and injustice of Israel's occupation and the need to stand against it. Representatives from the PSU Student Union pointed out the connection between the arming of campus security here in Portland and the tactics used by the Israel Defense Force against Palestinians.

Failing to win over the Senate, the Zionists resorted to bureaucratic maneuvers. The pro-Israel contingent charged that the International Affairs Committee (IAC), which had worked on SUPER's resolution prior to passing it onto the Senate, carried out a "biased" process.

Though the Zionists failed in an attempt to remove the IAC members who sponsored the resolution, they did manage to return it to a first reading. So the pro-Palestine activists had to begin again at the next meeting to fight for the BDS resolution.

At the second first reading, we returned with our arguments and personal stories of oppression, with history and with facts. And the other side, having exhausted their few flimsy arguments in support of the Israeli occupation, resorted to racial slurs, emotional manipulation and blatant lies. Due to low levels of support for apartheid at PSU, many of these speakers were students from the University of Oregon in Eugene, which is a two-hour drive away.

In addition to reiterating their earlier arguments, the pro-Israel side reverted to outright victim-blaming, some arguing that due to the election of Hamas, the Israeli military occupation was justified, others alluding to the idea that Palestinians are terroristic and violent, and therefore Israeli military action is necessary.

The office manager of the Judaic Studies Department, which voted to oppose the resolution, argued that BDS itself is against free speech and academic principles--despite the worldwide campaign to silence BDS activists, especially on college campuses.

AFTER THIS hearing, it was clear that the Zionist contingent had failed to defeat the resolution through either direct confrontation or backroom maneuvers. At this point, the PSU administration stepped in to smear the BDS campaign.

PSU President Wim Wiewel described the resolution as "divisive and ill-informed" and, echoing a common refrain of defenders of Israel, pondered why the IAC "feels it is appropriate to dictate an opinion about the policies of one nation when there are multiple governments and corporations whose policies and practices we may disagree with."

Perhaps President Wiewel himself is ill informed about the $3.1 billion in aid the U.S. provided the Israeli military just last year. This seems like one of many good reasons that people here in the U.S. should support the BDS movement. It is true that there are countless other crimes carried out around the world, but none receive as many tax dollars from the U.S. as the Israeli occupation.

According to SUPER, "Wim's letter urging student senators to vote against this resolution came as no surprise, as he has made his loyalty to Israel very clear. He went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel and has refused to listen to SUPER's requests numerous times over the years."

Wiewel also accused the BDS campaign of making "members of our community feel unsafe and unwelcome at PSU." But it's hard to take this seriously from the same man who has turned a deaf ear to ongoing protests for the past three years against the arming of campus security--and who until recently enabled the right-wing bigot Michael Strickland to harass SUPER, the ISO and other left groups at PSU.

Only after Strickland became nationally infamous by pulling a gun at a Black Lives Matter protest did Wiewel finally take action against him.

Wiewel's spurious charge of anti-Semitism directed at the BDS movement is yet another case of the faulty logic used to smear the BDS campaign, which targets the racist, violent policies of the Israeli state, not the Jewish people.

Like white supremacists in the U.S. who argue that Black Lives Matter is "anti-white," the defenders of Israeli apartheid will resort to blatant deception to defend a violent and oppressive status quo. But as SUPER has stated:

[SUPER is] an open and welcoming organization and assuming that all Jewish people support Israeli policies is doing a disservice to those brave dissenting voices in our community. This resolution has absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish faith. Rather, it focuses on cutting financial ties to companies that have repeatedly violated human rights. There is nothing divisive about wanting to end human rights violations.

Wiewel's intervention on behalf of the Israeli occupation in the name of "unity" shows the hollowness of the so-called neutrality of the PSU administration. While the Zionists flung racial insults and outright lies on the Senate floor, Wiewel has the nerve to attack the pro-Palestine activists as "anti-Semitic."

While such moves are designed to intimidate the BDS movement, they actually show up the farce that is U.S. "neutrality."

By hiding behind the false equivalency embedded in the phrase the "Israel-Palestine conflict," public officials in the U.S. are able to support an illegal apartheid state while posing as peacemakers. And university administrators like Wiewel seek to use such "disputes" to lay the groundwork for a much broader suppression of student radicalism, which is on the rise after almost a decade of economic recession, racist police brutality, and the obvious corruption of the two-party system.

But the BDS movement won't allow Zionism and its allies to have their cake and eat it, too. Each time university administrators abuse their authority to attack a nonviolent civil society movement dedicated to human rights, it further demonstrates who is on the side of social justice and who is loyal to the Israeli occupation.

If the arguments for the Israeli apartheid state were so sound in and of themselves, then their proponents wouldn't have to resort to dishonest maneuvers, racial slurs and outright intimidation. In the words of SUPER:

Regardless of the way the vote comes out, SUPER is really proud of this resolution. It has created awareness on campus about what is going on in occupied Palestine. Because of this resolution, SUPER and our supporters have been able to educate students on campus and the wider community about what's going in occupied Palestine. So many people have shown interest in learning more about Palestine and SUPER is excited to continue educating PSU students and our community.

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