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SA Among First SUNY Student Governments to Support Boycott of Israel

By Shawn Ness | April 8, 2024

Students gathered during Wednesday’s Student Association meeting as Student Association Senate considered the Boycott, Divest, Sanction Resolution.

Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / The ASP

The Student Association passed the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) resolution, which calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, as well as an academic boycott and “End to University Complicity in Genocide.” The consideration drew out many protesters of the bill, but even more supporters of it, easily making it the most crowded meeting of the year.

Many Palestinian and Muslim students, as well as others, showed their support for the bill and encouraged all Senators to vote in favor of it. Many paralleled the struggle in Palestine to struggles with apartheid in South Africa. 

“Public opinion does not fully agree that what is happening in Palestine is a genocide because the people are uneducated on Israeli violence,” one student who supported the bill said. “This makes our movement for divestment from Israel much more complicated.” 

“This should make the significance of public opinion clearer to us and remind us of the importance of educating ourselves and the people around us,” the student continued. “So if you agree with me that we should divest from Israel, have your voice be heard today.”

Another student said that fighting for a ceasefire and the liberation of Palestine is the most important cause of her lifetime. 

“We can describe the Israeli military’s crimes as barbaric and inhumane. But in truth, no words can describe the atrocities that have happened not just since October, but since the Nakba in 1948, homes stolen, destroyed, children starving, women raped,” the student said. “All this has been happening for 75 years on land that was taken by force from its people, still being taken by force from its people.”

The Nakba was the mass displacement of Palestinian people in what is now Israel when they were forcefully expelled from the land during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. 

A few Jewish students who spoke stated that the passage of the BDS resolution would lead to other Jewish students feeling unsafe on campus. 

“The prospect of these resolutions going to a campus-wide referendum will risk intensifying divisions, hostility, and turbulence within our community,” one Jewish student said. “Passing the SUNY BDS act claiming that Israel is an apartheid state would be detrimental to my campus experience as well.” 

“Since Oct. 7, there has been an alarming surge of support for Hamas’ brutality against Jews,” the student continued. “The support for Hamas’ rhetoric has translated to actual violence against Jewish people.”

The student, who declined to be named, also urged Senators to vote against the BDS act, which prompted many other students in the room to shout “shame” at her. Senate Chair Erin McGrath acknowledged that the topics are troubling for many students and said that it is unacceptable to yell at other students when they speak.

Other Jewish students added that they do not feel labeling the war as genocide is justified and that calling it genocide is an “unfortunate misrepresentation” of the war. 

“Innocent Palestinians are not being targeted deliberately due to their ethnicity by Israel. They are being used as a shield and pawns of their own terrorist government: Hamas. Israel is fighting Hamas, not the Palestinians,” the student said.

The student went on to say that residents of Gaza have equal rights under Israeli law. 

While it is true that, on paper, Palestinians have the same rights under the law as Jewish Israelis, many still face discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantages.

Maya, the treasurer of Shabbos House, UAlbany’s Jewish student center, said that peace is still the answer to solving the conflict, but that the BDS act is not peace. 

“[The bill] screams division, not understanding and an alienation of the Jewish students at UAlbany,” she said. “BDS claims to promote peace and justice but in reality, is a plainly anti-semitic movement as seen through its word choice.” 

One student who supported the BDS act said that many of the pro-Israel students were “hypocritical.”

“I find it embarrassing to stand for Israel, a country that is currently being run by a man who said that Hitler was not responsible for the genocide of the Jews, and to claim and compare the genocide to the whole of the Holocaust is so hypocritical and it’s terrifying to me,” the student said. 

UAlbany’s Young Democratic Socialists of America, as well as UAlbany’s Students for Justice in Palestine formally endorsed the bill in a joint statement.

“This resolution was the result of months of tireless organizing by the UAlbany student body and makes the UAlbany Student Association the first SUNY student government to demand that their university and the SUNY system as a whole divest from ‘israel’s’ genocide and apartheid. UAlbany SJP and YDSA are proud to support the passage,” the statement reads. 

After all students who wished to speak were given the opportunity, it was time for the senators themselves to weigh in. 

“This will unmistakably go down as one of, if not the worst genocide that everybody in this room has witnessed in their lifetimes. This genocide did not start, unfortunately, on Oct. 7, it has been going on for 75 years,” Maceo Foster, the committee clerk for Rules and Administration, co-chair of YDSA, and supporter of this bill, said. “They [Israel] are looking to commit another ethnic cleansing to render the land in Gaza ethnically homogenous so that it can be enjoyed for the exclusive benefit of Jewish Israelis.”

Rules and Administration Chair and Jewish Senator Dylan Klein also expressed his support for the bill. 

“...We need a ceasefire immediately and permanently. And we, as young leaders, need to be involved in this fight because it is important. It is the fight of our generation. It was not that long ago that other communities stood up for Jewish individuals during the Holocaust. It's time that other Jewish individuals return that favor,” he said. 

SA President Jalen Rose told the Senators he is expecting them to all vote yes and pass the resolution.

“As your president, and as you are all senators, I’m expecting him to pass this resolution. I’m expecting you to all vote yes. I’m not asking you to vote yes. I’m expecting you to vote yes to this resolution,” Rose said. “A war is fought by two people, two sides that have militaries. There is one side that is a nuclear power. And there is one side that does not have weapons at all. That is not a war. That is a genocide. That is the killing of innocent people. You can claim it to be an accident. But if you shoot at somebody without a weapon, where is the accident?”

The resolution passed with 11 “yes” votes, one “no” vote, and six abstentions. 

Senators Nic Feldman, Sidney Wheeler, Luther Kohout, and Jason Aguayza-Palaguachi, all abstained due to conflicts of interest with government jobs. McGrath also abstained because of her role as Senate Chair.

Senator Trevor Pettit also abstained, but did not provide an explanation to the ASP nor responded to emails asking for an explanation.

Senator Gabe Kitt was the only Senator who voted against the bill, citing a disagreement with the labeling of Israel as an apartheid state.

“I don’t agree with saying it’s a genocide or an apartheid. There are Arabs who live in Israel and are a part of the government,” Kitt told the ASP. “Palestine and Israel are two different countries. So of course there’s going to be a different set of rules, doesn’t mean it’s apartheid. Another thing with this bill is that it couldn’t even call for the release of all Israeli hostages.”

“I voted ‘Nay’ because when I hear or read something that says to boycott Israel, I interpret it as boycotting me and other Jews,” he added.


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