More universities refuse to adopt boycott movement against Israel

Purdue University stated its commitment to ‘institutional neutrality,’ a policy which forswears weighing in on contentious political issues.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

A growing number of US colleges and universities have stated their opposition to the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which pro-Hamas protesters pressured administrators to adopt during an explosion of riotous demonstrations in which they occupied school property and refused to leave unless their demands were met.

Formally launched in 2005, the BDS campaign opposes Zionism — a movement supporting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination — and rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation-state.

It seeks to isolate the country comprehensively with economic, political, and cultural boycotts as the first step towards its eventual elimination.

Official guidelines issued for the campaign’s academic boycott state that “projects with all Israeli academic institutions should come to an end,” and delineate specific restrictions that adherents should abide by — for instance, denying letters of recommendation to students who seek to study in Israel.

Others propose divesting university endowments of companies linked to Israel, a demand for which protesters have clamored recently as a way of undermining Israel’s prosecution of its war against Hamas, a terrorist organization which murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others during its Oct. 7 onslaught across southern Israeli communities.

The campaign has been widely condemned by Jewish leaders worldwide, including major American Jewish organizations, for rejecting Jewish rights and trafficking in antisemitic tropes, while it has been advanced by anti-Zionist activists purportedly as a vehicle for advancing Palestinian statehood.

“We do not espouse a foreign policy,” outgoing Cornell University president Martha Pollack said in a statement issued at the end of May, explaining why she decided not to recommend a divestment proposal put forth by anti-Zionist students.

“Cornell’s endowment consists of gifts to the university that are invested to generate money that supports the university’s work in perpetuity, funding mission-directed priorities including financial aid and other student support, faculty salaries and stipends, facilities maintenance and upgrades, academic programs, and research activities.”

Pollack, who will leave office to retire from working in higher education at the end of this month, added, “I am also troubled by the fact that this referendum singles out companies for providing arms to Israel when there have not been calls for divestment or sanctions from a host of other countries involved in similar conflicts. Finally, the divestment called for risk, being in violation of New York state’s executive order 157, which prohibits investment activity intended to penalize Israel.”

The statement followed Pollack’s receiving a deluge of criticism by academics and activists, who lambasted her alleged fostering of left-wing extremism while commenting on her retirement announcement.

“Martha Pollack was the architect of Cornell’s disastrous race-focused [diversity, equity, and inclusion] initiative that balkanized the campus and inevitably led to targeting of Jewish and pro-Israel students,” Legal Insurrection writer and Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson tweeted.

“While I wish her well in her personal life, it is time for the Cornell Trustees to turn the ship around, to eliminate DEI programming as is taking place elsewhere, and to refocus the campus on the inherent dignity of each individual without regard to group identity.”

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Pollack further antagonized her critics just over a week later by issuing an open letter which portrayed the detractors of pro-Hamas protests as bigots.

In the missive, she launched a volley of seemingly underhanded comments at Jews and pro-Israel activists, saying, “The participants in the encampment shared that members of our Jewish community who have criticized Israel have been targeted with the slur ‘kapo,’ which not only is deeply offensive but also trivializes the memory of the Holocaust.”

She continued, “Other students involved in the encampment shared experiences of being called ‘terrorists’’over the past few months in an expression of anti-Arab discrimination and hatred. No matter one’s political beliefs, using such rhetoric, which questions the basis of someone’s religious, cultural, ancestral, or any form of identity is unacceptable, and I implore everyone in our community to think carefully about their words.”

This month, Purdue University stated its commitment to “institutional neutrality,” a policy which forswears weighing in on contentious political issues.

In a statement, Purdue cited its embrace of the 1967 University of Chicago Kalven Committee Report, which proclaimed that the university best fulfills its mission when it is distanced from politics and the capricious “political fashions, passions, and pressures” of the times.

“Purdue University fully subscribes to this view,” the school said in a statement. “Of course, recognizing Purdue University’s commitment to freedom of expression and its role as ‘the home and sponsor of critics,’ individual members of the campus community will always be free to express their views on a particular policy proposal or in a debate over a particular political or social issue, provided that such views or concerns are expressed in a personal capacity and do not purport to be official statements of Purdue University.”

On Monday, the Board of Trustees of Occidental College in Los Angeles rejected a divestment proposal it was sent as part of a deal to end a pro-Hamas encampment that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) erected on campus.

“The board declined, however, to take divestment actions based on the proposal because taking a position on a complex geopolitical situation would potentially chill the expression of diverse opinions, under the expression of pluralism, and alienate members of our community,” it said in a statement.

“The diversity of community members’ opinions was a compelling reason to refrain from acting on the proposal, as the board believes a decision in favor of the proposal would be divisive and damaging to the college community.”

StandWithUs, a Jewish civil rights organization greeted the development with enthusiasm but expressed misgivings about the events which led up to the board’s vote, specifically its agreeing to hold one at all.

“While Occidental College should not have capitulated to the demands of the anti-Israel protesters in the first place, we are pleased with the rejection of divestment,” StandWithUs chief executive officer Roz Rothstein said in a statement shared with The Algemeiner.

“Campus divestment campaigns are driven by BDS, a global campaign of hatred and misinformation, which described the genocidal atrocities Hamas committed on October 7 as ‘a powerful armed action.’”

She added, “Rejecting divestment is important, but administrations and boards of trustees must go much further to push back against systemic antisemitism in academia.”