Wesleyan University brokers deal to end anti-Israel encampment, conceding to key demands

Wesleyan agreed to ‘review’ the possibility of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, disclose its investments in what SJP called the ‘military industrial complex’ and Israeli companies.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, has agreed on terms for ending a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on campus that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had lived in for nearly a month, the school’s president, Michael Roth, announced.

According to details of the agreement shared by SJP, no one will be punished for violating school rules to hold the protest, a condition on which the group insisted in its original list of demands.

Wesleyan has also agreed to create scholarships for “displaced” Palestinian students, form a working group comprising anti-Zionists which will “review” the possibility of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, disclose its investments in what SJP called the “military industrial complex” and Israeli companies — a provision of the deal the school has already satisfied —and consider investment recommendations by an anti-Zionist group of students and faculty.

“Later this month, representatives from the pro-Palestinian protest will meet members of the Investment Committee,” Roth said in a statement issued on Friday.

“In the fall, the Committee for Investor Responsibility (CIR) — a standing representative body of students, faculty, alumni, and staff — will be able to propose changes to the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework for investment/divestment for consideration by the board at its fall meeting.”

SJP openly disputed Roth’s account of the agreement on Tuesday, denying that it stipulated their abstaining from staging protests at the school’s upcoming commencement ceremonies.

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Roth said, “The protesters agreed not to disrupt reunion and commencement events. Individuals who refuse to comply will be suspended and face legal action,” to which SJP responded by accusing him of communicating threats.

“Wesleyan President Michael Roth wrote that we agreed to not [sic] disrupt reunion and commencement,” SJP wrote on social media. “This is a lie. There is no language in our agreement preventing protesting this weekend, and we would never compromise our right to protest Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.”

The end of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Wesleyan came several weeks after Roth chastised the protesters for vandalizing school property and threatened the perpetrators with “suspension, expulsion, and legal charges.”

He did not, in Friday’s statement, disclose the status of the university’s investigations into those acts.

Wesleyan is not the first school to accede to key demands put forward by anti-Zionist protesters. Indeed, campus antisemitism expert and founder of antisemitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that the role of faculty in forcing similar outcomes at other colleges needs to be scrutinized.

“These developments are not organic,” Rossman-Benjamin explained, noting that a highly esteemed Wesleyan professor — J. Kēhaulani Kauanui — is an active proponent of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

In 2013, Kauanui was the “architect” of an American Studies Association resolution to adopt BDS, which ultimately passed, and she is the principal founder of Wesleyan University’s Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP) chapter.

“In fact, she was teaching a course this semester on Anarchy in America and ‘shared her expertise’ with the encampment students a couple of weeks ago,” Rossman-Benjamin continued.

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“In addition, two Wesleyan faculty leaders — chair of Wesleyan’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC) Joseph Weiss and committee member Margot Weiss — are also founding members of the school’s FJP chapter, which has committed itself to endorsing and promoting academic BDS. Not surprisingly, according to the agreement with student protesters, the EPC gets to nominate three faculty to a working group which will determine the fate of Wesleyan’s study abroad programs in Israel.”

Rossman-Benjamin warned that these professors proclaim their anti-Zionist views in the classroom, radicalizing students while introducing them to antisemitic ideologies and others which trample academic freedom.

“It undoubtedly took lots of faculty clout to ‘convince’ Roth — who has been a vocal opponent of academic BDS, calling it a ‘repugnant attack on academic freedom’ — to cave to student demands, demands that directly harm and violate the rights of Jewish students, not Israeli students or Israeli faculty, but US students,” she said.

“Not only is this faculty behavior wholly and shamefully unprofessional and antithetical to the educational and scholarly mission of the university, it is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. These same faculty who cry free speech and academic freedom every chance they get have dedicated themselves to shutting down the free speech and academic freedom of their students and colleagues who want to study in or about Israel, or who identify with the Jewish state. This abuse must be exposed and stopped.”

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Earlier this month, Northwestern University in Illinois agreed to establish a new scholarship for Palestinian undergraduates, contact potential employers of students who caused recent campus disruptions to insist on their being hired, and create a segregated dormitory hall that will be occupied exclusively by Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) and Muslim students.

It also agreed to form a new investment committee in which anti-Zionists students and faculty may wield an outsized voice.

Days later, Brown University in Rhode Island announced that it will hold a vote on divesting from companies linked to Israel in exchange for the students disassembling their encampment and abstaining from holding more protests until the school’s commencement on May 26, according to the Brown Daily Herald.

The student newspaper added, however, that the university will not “at this time” drop criminal charges filed against 41 students who illegally occupied an administrative building in December.

At least one school president, Mike Lee of Sonoma State University, has been disciplined for agreeing to boycott and divest from Israel.

After announcing his committing to subject “all” the university’s financial endeavors to SJP’s scrutiny, implement a full academic boycott of Israel — including shutting down study abroad programs in the Jewish state — create a “Palestinian” curriculum within the department of ethnic studies, and issue a statement calling for a “permanent cease-fire in Gaza,” the California State University (CSU) system, of which Sonoma State University is a member, said the next day that Lee was placed on administrative leave.

CSU chancellor Mildred García described his actions as “insubordination.”