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Monday, May 27, 2024
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BREAKING: President Burwell condemns Undergraduate Senate resolution calling for University divestment from Israel

Resolution calls for University to “cut all ties with … ongoing genocide in occupied Palestine”

The American University Student Government passed a resolution Sunday calling for the University to divest support from Israel given its actions in the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, prompting University President Sylvia Burwell to respond in an email that the University would not comply with the “non-binding resolution.” 

Resolution-018 advised the University to divest from giving or receiving money involving or connected to the Israeli government. The Resolution said that the University has “ties to the Israeli occupation including but not limited to their investments, receiving donations, study abroad programs to Israel, and the Center for Israel Studies.” The Senate voted 21-2, with two abstaining votes, to pass the resolution via a secret ballot voting. 

Burwell cited in the statement the University’s “longstanding position to oppose boycotts, divestment from Israel, and other related actions known as [Boycott Divest Sanction].”

“Such actions threaten academic freedom, the respectful free expression of ideas and views, and the values of inclusion and belonging that are central to our community,” Burwell wrote. 

Burwell referred to a statement released on December 26, 2013 titled “ASA Resolution to Boycott Academic Institutions,” in which former University President Cornelius M. Kerwin and former provost Scott Bass wrote, “American University joins other universities and colleges opposing the American Studies Association (ASA) Resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.” 

AU’s chapter of Hillel released a statement on Instagram following the passing of Resolution-018. 

“We are deeply disappointed that AU’s Undergraduate Senate earlier today passed a biased resolution urging the university to boycott and divest from Israel,” they wrote in the statement. “Resolutions of this kind are not about shaping university policy — they are about demonizing Israel, normalizing hateful rhetoric, and further dividing the campus community.” 

In attendance at the Senate vote Sunday were members of AU Students for Justice in Palestine, some of whom spoke in favor of the resolution. SJP was also named as a co-sponsor of the resolution. A representative of SJP urged senators to vote yes on the resolution: “As students, we don’t even want to take a chance on contributing to genocide.” 

SJP thanked its divestment campaign partners, including AU Dissenters, AU Jewish Voice for Peace and the Palestine Solidarity Coalition in a statement posted to Instagram. The Eagle reached out to SJP for further comment. 

“Now we must pressure the AU administration at all levels to achieve actual divestment,” they wrote. “The longer they wait, the more deaths of Palestinians they are complicit in.”

SJP wrote in a statement to The Eagle that passing the resolution is a “huge win” for their movement. 

“This is not the end of our fight on campus,” the statement said. “It's now time to pressure the University to materially divest from the Israeli occupation in order to ethically source our funds, in addition to them being fully transparent about AU's finances."

Other sponsors include Senator-at-Large Kaden Ouimet, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, and Senator for the School of Communication Shaazma Akbar, a junior in the School of Communication. 

Ouimet urged his fellow senators to vote in favor of this resolution following a previous resolution, passed on April 14. Resolution-017 urged the University to acknowledge the events in the Gaza Strip as a “genocide of the people of Gaza” and condemned the University placing SJP on disciplinary probation.  

“AUSG condemns American University’s probation of AU SJP and believes it to be a deliberate attempt to suppress awareness of Arab and Muslim struggles on campus and internationally,” the resolution read. 

Ouimet added, “The time for advocacy is over, and the time for action is now.”   

Akbar echoed Ouimet’s sentiments, noting that AU students have a history of activism, and said that encouraging the University to divest is something that students will continue to advocate for. 

“It does not go unrecognized how politically active American University students are,” Akbar said. “It is up to us to tell AU that these companies do not have a place on our campus.”

Representative from Students Supporting Israel and senior in the School of International Service Anoushka Naik also spoke during the opportunity for public comment at the Senate meeting. She spoke against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement.

During the senate meeting, SIS Senator Michael Bruk opposed the resolution and said a referendum would better represent the student body. 

“Our role as a Senate is campus advocacy and not political affairs,” Bruk said. “This doesn’t protect student speech … it supports Palestine … If every single student was in favor of this, then we could pass it.”  

“While I agree with the sentiments, I don’t think this is the place for them,” Bruk added.

According to the Elections Policy Book, referendums can be held at the next scheduled election, or in a special election, to be voted on by the student body. 

“Referendums are questions to be placed on the ballot and may be called on any issue by a vote of the Undergraduate Senate or petition of five percent of the student body. A referendum shall be held at the next scheduled election,” the policy says. “Special elections may occur as provided by the Senate or for an Executive officer as described in the Constitution.” 

Senator-At-Large Hanna Hajdu disagreed with Bruk. 

“This does become about advocacy when Palestinian students feel oppressed on campus,” Hajdu said. “And that is why I advise my fellow Senators to vote yes on this resolution.”

SPA Senator and incoming SG Secretary Aidan Palmer concluded the debate period with words of support. 

“I personally don’t want to be paying $60,000 a year to fund a genocide,” Palmer said.

After the vote, SSI wrote in a statement to The Eagle that they are disappointed by the passing of this resolution. 

“It’s also truly horrifying that those who brought this up purposely tried to keep Jewish student groups from knowing about this resolution,” Naik wrote. “We have been accused time and time again of weaponizing antisemitism, but this is blatant antisemitism, not weaponization.”

"This is a huge win for our movement on campus, and we are so grateful to all of the supportive students, staff, faculty, and alumni who came out to support us,” SJP told The Eagle. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described when referendums can be introduced and misinterpreted Senator Michael Bruk’s stance on the resolution. The article has been updated to say referendums can be introduced during special elections and reflect Bruk’s stance on the resolution. 

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Zoe Bell, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks. 

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