Unfortunately, on March 21, 2019, Brown University students voted to support a discriminatory divestment referendum against Israel. As a proud member of Brown Students for Israel (BSI) and a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, I stood with my community against this deeply harmful campaign.
Introduced by Brown Divest, the vote was conducted over a two-day period during which we mobilized and educated our peers about the issues and why they should vote “no.”
The referendum asked students if the university should “divest all stocks, funds, endowment and other monetary instruments” from a number of companies that do business in Israel, claiming they are, “complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine.” It also called for financial transparency and student oversight of the university’s investments.
To go to a vote, the referendum had to be approved by the Undergraduate Council of Students (UCS). At a UCS meeting in early March, BSI argued against adding it to the upcoming UCS and Undergraduate Finance Board elections.
BSI President Tess Geri explained that divestment is divisive, misleading and counterproductive, and its passing would stifle debate and isolate different groups. Others stated that reducing this complex, two-sided issue to a “yes” or “no” checkbox was an attempt to force Brown students to take a binary political stance that does not reflect the reality on the ground. Moreover, this would not be a legitimate measure of opinion at Brown, as the referendum language was biased and clearly pushed students to vote yes. I argued that it would deepen divisions among Brown students, legitimize a campaign which has fueled incidents of hate at many other universities and make pro-Israel students at Brown feel unwelcome, uncomfortable and unsafe.
Unfortunately, UCS approved the referendum and that is exactly what ensued. The vote polarized the student body and induced incidents of hate through online forums.
Though a majority voted in favor, Brown President Christina Paxson immediately issued a letter to the Brown community, opposing this anti-Israel campaign. She recognized that “Brown’s endowment is not a political instrument to be used to express views on complex social and political issues, especially those over which thoughtful and intelligent people vehemently disagree. As a university, Brown’s mission is to advance knowledge and understanding through research, analysis and debate. Its role is not to take sides on contested geopolitical issues.”
This is not the first time Paxson has opposed Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) efforts at Brown, pointing out that “doing so would inhibit the open scholarly exchange that is critical for the advancement of knowledge.” My community and I are deeply grateful for her moral stand on this issue.
This was a hollow victory for anti-Israel activists. In fact, BSI made it clear in Facebook posts that “this referendum is a defeat for all students who believe there is a better way to pursue peace between Israelis and Palestinians, who seek intellectually honest discourse about Israel and the conflict, and who prioritize a safe and inclusive community at Brown. Divestment is an empty promise and does nothing to improve the situation in Israel and Palestine.”
We will continue our activism and thank all those who stood with us. I feel more motivated than ever to stand with Israel and to continue our efforts to create a campus climate where peace is possible.
JESSE RAVIV is a sophomore at Brown University and the 2019-20 StandWithUs Emerson Fellow.