We’ll keep fighting for the Palestinian people

December 19, 2018

Ethan Ackelsberg and Austin Kremer report on a vote on a BDS resolution at Ohio State and the challenges campus activists face in their fight to win divestment from Israel.

AFTER MORE than five hours of heated debate, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at Ohio State University (OSU) voted against a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution on December 5. The final vote was 7 for and 30 against, with 3 abstentions.

The resolution, spearheaded by the newly formed OSU Coalition for BDS and supported by 13 student and community organizations, called on OSU to divest from Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and G4S; boycott these companies, as well as Sabra Dipping Company; and sever all ties with Israeli academic institutions.

Rather than introducing the resolution through a USG senator, organizers chose to bring forward the resolution through a petition process, collecting nearly 150 signatures in just two days to build broader student support and raise the issue of Palestine to a wider audience on campus.

The resolution was officially introduced by Ahmad Abusharkh, a member of the OSU Coalition for BDS and the International Socialist Organization.

Demonstrating for Palestinian rights in Columbus, Ohio
Demonstrating for Palestinian rights in Columbus, Ohio (Students for Justice in Palestine at The Ohio State University)

In the weeks leading up to the resolution, the coalition held biweekly teach-ins and organizing meetings to bring in more organizers and educate more students on the continued practices of ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid carried out by the Israeli state against the Indigenous Palestinian population.

On the day of the meeting, organizers held a rally on campus for the resolution. About 30 people rallied for roughly an hour before marching through campus to the location of the USG meeting.

At the meeting, more supporters joined, bringing the numbers to about 50. The meeting hosted a public forum over the resolution, where 21 people spoke out in support of the resolution. But the Zionist opposition at the meeting was intense, with 43 students speaking against the bill.

OPPOSITION TO BDS on campus wasn’t limited to the Senate hearing. The Zionist organization SJP Uncovered launched a smear campaign against Ahmad by sharing tweets from when he was 15 in an attempt to discredit the talk he gave at the meeting.

This did nothing more than prove their lack of an actual fact-based platform and show us that we are a threat to their cause. The Columbus branch of the ISO and the OSU Coalition for BDS responded promptly to these attacks, issuing statements through Facebook. Ahmad issued his own statement several days later.

This was not the Zionists’ first attempt to discredit the campaign. The anti-BDS group SJP Leaks had previously leaked audio from the public launch meeting at the beginning of the semester, trying to frame BDS as an anti-Semitic movement by quoting members out of context.

Additionally, at an organizing meeting on December 3, Zionists attended and attempted to bait organizers at the end of the meeting with anti-Semitic tropes. The next day, two members of Buckeyes for Israel pretended to be interested in the BDS movement at an ISO tabling in an attempt to disrupt it.

On December 5, the USG president and vice president published a statement in opposition to the resolution prior to hearing any testimony from organizers.

This was also the same day that a dangerously dishonest resolution condemning the BDS movement as anti-Semitic passed the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 89 to 2.

The only two votes against the resolution were from staunch far-right Republicans who changed their vote after a line was added to condemn the rise of white nationalism and neo-fascism.

The BDS resolution wasn’t expected to pass, and its failure does not mark the end of the BDS movement on campus.

Even if the resolution had passed, there would still be more work to be done in order to get the university to abide by its students’ demands. A resolution passed last year by USG calling for fossil-fuel divestment and a successful ballot initiative for a $15 an hour minimum wage on campus have both been rejected by the university administration.

A mass movement of students and workers at Ohio State is needed to hold the administration accountable to student demands.

The BDS resolution was a step in this larger movement to bring the Palestinian struggle to light on Ohio State’s campus. The coalition plans to continue building a BDS movement through spring semester, holding more teach-ins and rallies to build support for a student ballot initiative.

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