ONE VOTE decided Cornell’s Israeli divestment resolution
Cornell University’s Student Assembly rejected an anti-Israel Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) resolution on Thursday by a vote count of 15-14 with one abstention.
The vote count included “two votes allocated to community members that were awarded against the resolution,” reported The Cornell Daily Sun.
William A. Jacobson, a Cornell law professor and founder of conservative news outlet Legal Insurrection, told Campus Reform that “the ‘community vote’ takes place where undergraduate students in attendance in the audience get to vote on a resolution.”
“The outcome of the community vote,” Jacobson continued, “awards two votes on the Student Assembly for or against the resolution (the community vote cannot be split). So here, the community vote was against the resolution [to divest].”
Student Assembly President Varun Devatha told the Cornell Daily Sun that the vote was conducted by secret ballot. Representatives, including freshman Indigo Pavlov and sophomore Nick Matolka, cited media inquiries from journalists representing a “D.C. think tank,” as well as threats to their personal well-being when explaining why the vote was done in such a fashion.
The Student Assembly did not respond to emailed requests for comment from Campus Reform.
The resolution “urg[ed] Cornell to divest from companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine and human rights violation [sic].”
Jewish leaders on campus hailed the failed BDS resolution as a victory.
Cornellians for Israel (CFI) President Jay Sirot told Campus Reform that CFI is “happy that this one-sided and myopic BDS resolution failed.”
“The pro-Israel community,” Sirot added, “is committed to good-faith dialogue on how we can help advance the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. We challenge our opposition on this resolution to join us in that mission.”
Pro-Israel organization StandWithUs also issued a statement that “applauds Hillel and students at Cornell for their dedication and courage in standing up for their community.”
Some were concerned about the close vote count, however.
Sirot told Campus Reform that the one-vote margin “is a sign that Cornellians for Israel must continue to educate [its] campus on Israel’s importance in the world and how BDS fails to better the lives of Palestinians.”
The president of Cornell Hillel, Jillian Shapiro, disagreed and remarked to Campus Reform that “the fact that it came down to the community votes to determine the outcome really allowed the student body's voice to be heard. It became really evident that the student body did not want this resolution to pass.”
Jacobson concurred, saying in a post on Legal Insurrection that “BDS has very little support outside the far-left student and faculty activists on campus,” but that “they can exert disproportionate influence over institutions like the Student Assembly.”
He elaborated to Campus Reform that “the Student Assembly may be elected, but it doesn't necessarily reflect the political leanings of the student body on any particular issue.”
Despite the resolution’s failure to pass, Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) declared a “victory” in a Facebook post.
“When we last brought divestment before the Student Assembly five years ago,” Cornell SJP said, “the resolution died within minutes of it being introduced because the SA didn’t even consider it worthy of debate. Today, we saw a majority of SA members vote for divestment, with the resolution only being defeated by a quirk of parliamentary procedure,” referring to the two community votes.
“Our campaign accomplished everything we could have hoped for and more,” the group continued. “Throughout this process, we stood unapologetically against oppression. We believe that our university’s investments and financial operations have no place in occupation, apartheid, and colonization.”
Jacobson wrote in his Legal Insurrection post that “the SJP strategy also had a putrid racial overtone, with SJP repeatedly emphasizing that all of the non-white student identity groups endorsed the resolution.”
“The resolution,” he added, “thus was presented as students of color backing ‘Palestine’ against the white Jews supporting Israel. This is the toxic byproduct of how intersectionality theory dominates on campuses, with Jews and Israel being the center of the supposed intersecting systems of oppression.”
Cornell SJP failed to respond to a request for comment in time for press.
Jacobson also told Campus Reform that it is “not surprising” that SJP declared victory “even though they lost the vote because they achieved their purpose, which was putting Israel on trial and building a coalition against Israel.”
“The point of BDS on campuses,” he concluded, “is not actually the boycott, divestment or sanction itself. BDS is just a tactic to dominate campus life and energy in the cause of demonizing Israel."
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