Measure voted down, 23-11; likely wouldn’t have affected investment
By Ben Tinsley
AUSTIN — A letter from several Dallas-area University of Texas alumni is credited with helping convince members of UT’s Student Government Assembly to vote down a divisive, anti-Israel resolution drafted by followers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
This resolution would have asked the UT System Investment Management Company to pull investments from the companies Alstom, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble and United Technologies, who it alleges facilitated the “oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”
The measure was defeated by a 23-11 vote with 1 abstention April 21, said Rabbi Daniel A. Septimus, executive director of Texas Hillel.
But even had it passed, Bruce Zimmerman, CEO and CIO of UTIMCO, has stated publicly the resolution would never have been taken into consideration. The company makes its investment decisions only on the financial interest of the university, he stated.
Universitywide representative Kallen Dimitroff, 21, of Houston — a government/history major with a focus in Middle Eastern Studies —said her research arrived at the same conclusion.
“Additionally, it would have alienated our Jewish population to which I have always had a lot of personal connection,” she said.
The BDS international movement is very well funded and has been developing since 2005 — but in this particular matter didn’t really seem to be that well thought out, Rabbi Septimus said.
“My understanding is if you try to divest from a certain fund and the UT system, then the matter would go for consideration to the board of regents and the UTIMCO system and cease to be a UT Austin issue,” he said.
Elan Kogutt, a junior majoring in leadership in business and society through the humanities honors program, agreed.
“Rather than focusing on international politics, student government should be focused on issues that directly affect students,” he said.
The opposition credited with helping convince student government to vote the measure down includes Texas Hillel, Texans for Israel, and the other campus groups, programs and volunteers who formed the political campaign “Unify Texas.”
Former members speak out
Dallas residents Danielle Rugoff, Trevor Pearlman, Rodney Schlosser, and Frankie Shulkin, all former student body officials, topped the list of 17 signatories on the aforementioned letter to student government.
Thor Lund of McKinney was also on that list, which was signed by both Jewish and non-Jewish leaders, officials said.
Danielle Rugoff said it’s a huge testament to the Dallas Jewish community that many of the students on the ground and the alumni leading the effort to defeat BDS hailed from Dallas.
“Frankie Shulkin and I were honored to work with Ethan Prescott and Elan Kogutt, two unparalleled student leaders on the ground who kept us informed and connected to what was happening on the 40 Acres,” Rugoff said. “We also had the honor of working with former UT Student Body President Rodney Schlosser and former UT Student Body Vice President Trevor Pearlman to get former student leaders — Jewish and not-Jewish — to stand up against BDS.”
The sponsors of the resolution, the UTDivest coalition, was formed by the Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Members could not be reached for comment. But in a column circulated on social media, Mukund Rathi, computer science senior and co-author of the resolution, characterized the issue as a freedom fight for the Palestinians.
“We should honestly consider the statements on Palestine by South African anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela, who stated that ‘we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,’” Rathi wrote. “Do not forget that Mandela was considered to be a terrorist by the United States for decades. Justice is justice even if it goes against the will of power, and all peoples deserve it, including the Palestinians.”
However, according to the Anti-Defamation League, in recent academic years, student groups that are well-known for their opposition to Israeli policy have advocated for a variety of BDS-related initiatives in an effort to isolate and delegitimize Israel.
The most prevalent BDS initiative on campus involves the introduction and debate of divestment resolutions by the campus’ student government. BDS has been the most prevalent tactic available to dismantle what has been described as “the apartheid state of Israel.”
Ignoring complexities of issue
But that is not true, Israel defenders say.
Roberta S. Clark. Regional Director of the North Texas/Oklahoma Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said divestment campaigns really ignore the complexity of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“They unfairly place the responsibility for the conflict on Israel alone,” she said. “When bombs are being thrown into Israel from Gaza with no provocation, how can you say, ‘It’s all Israel’s fault and Israel has to fix it’? It demonizes Israel and doesn’t do anything to fix the situation. BDS campaigns really don’t make anything better. They place blame and that’s not how you effect positive change.”
Singling out Israel without mutual dialogue is ineffective and counter-productive, Clark said.
“What it does is get a lot of media attention but does not impact positive change in any way for anyone,” she said. “’Israel wants peace. Israel wants peace Israel wants peace.’ We should all be looking for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That’s the goal for everyone — to live in peace.”
Rabbi Matt Rosenberg of Texas A&M Hillel said student governments are at their best when voting on issues that affect the classroom — not inflammatory political issues.
Opposite reaction at A&M
It was almost the inverse of the UT situation at Texas A&M last week: A Pro-Israel resolution calling for more connections to Israel was unanimously passed by student government with support from Texas A&M Hillel.
Rosenberg said student Dan Rosenfeld is doing a great job as president of Texas A&M Hillel.
“He is also working with the Israel on Campus Coalition, ‘ICC’ for short,” the rabbi said.
Although Texas A&M is “the largest university in the world without a Jewish studies program” it’s one of the most Star of David-friendly educational places around, he said.
“There is no anti-Semitism here,” Rabbi Rosenberg said. “Jews are very much appreciated and loved on campus.”
Rosenberg said this makes A&M the first in Texas in recent memory to pass pro-Israel legislation and the fourth in the United States to do this year.
In Austin, representative Dimitroff said she had major problems with the factual basis of some of the statements on the proposed BDS legislation.
“For example, the authors made allusions to supposedly similar pieces of legislation being passed by other student governments,” she said. “However, when I looked into it the other schools weren’t really passing anything comparable. The scopes were different, the circumstances were different. Additionally the resolution compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to South Africa apartheid — a claim that I believe is a stretch at best.”
Dimitroff said when she attended the committee meeting to review the proposal, the authors wouldn’t accept any amendments though several were proposed.
“Finally, I was particularly concerned about the inclusion of ‘whereas’ clauses which endorsed the BDS movement,” she said. “It hardly took three minutes of investigation to realize the implications and aims of BDS. From my perspective the movement and its leaders seek to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. This was absolutely not something for which I was willing to lend our credibility as an organization, nor does the movement represent the views of a majority of our student body.”
Some professional researchers and former Texans such as Ahuva Batya Scharff — now a director of addiction research of Cliffside Malibu in California — contend there could be deeper motives at play here.
“The sad thing about the BDS movement is that its propaganda uses good-hearted, well-meaning young people to do the work of terror groups like Hamas,” Scharff said.
“If you want to help Palestinians, support organizations like Israel’s Hadassah Hospital. Most students involved with the BDS movement don’t realize that approximately 30 percent of the pediatric patients in that hospital are Palestinians. Instead of denouncing companies like SodaStream, support them. They are providing Palestinians with good-paying, reliable jobs.”
Tracy Frydberg, a UT journalism and Middle Eastern studies major from San Antonio, said when it became evident that this BDS resolution was being targeted at student government, she and other students moved quickly to counteract it.
Movement to end resolution
“We decided we needed to create a grassroots movement to respond to what was coming our way,” she said. “A group of students created Unify Texas with Jewish and non Jewish students as allies and started meeting almost every day.”
Frydberg said members met with alumni networks and with student government members, wrote op-ed pieces and tried to organize a base of students to help defeat the resolution.
“We had a core team of 10 and an accepted community of 50 people underneath us and the day of the actual voting it was 100 or so students,” Frydberg said.
David Horowitz, founder and CEO of the David Horowitz Freedom Center of Sherman Oaks, California, launched a national campaign against anti-Semitism in February.
Titled “Jew Hatred on Campus,” the campaign identified the top 10 most anti-Semitic campuses, and is working to push university administration to take action against the growing dangers for Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Horowitz goes as far as to claim BDS is an economic warfare arm of Hamas, and is designed to serve its goal of obliterating the state of Israel and creating a second Holocaust in the Middle East.
“I’m all for positive developments,” he said. “But the cause of the epidemic of anti-Semitism on college campuses is the propaganda campaigns carried out by two Muslim Brotherhood fronts — Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association.
“Until university support and funding are withdrawn from these groups, campus anti-Semitism will continue to increase and no positive events or PR statements by university officials will have much impact on this.”