Cal State Long Beach Divestment from Israel Debate Heats Up

Cal State Long Beach’s student government is one step closer to passing a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution against companies profiting off the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Associated Students Inc. (ASI) approved a second reading on Wednesday, but not before an extended, passionate public debate took place in the Senate’s packed quarters. The campus is in a roil over the resolution with the university president arguing against it while Muslims students accuse the administration of ignoring a death threat against them last month.

Before this week’s vote, Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley weighed in on the BDS resolution with an April 26 letter to student senators. “The adoption of such resolutions has often been accompanied by increases in anti-Jewish graffiti, vandalism and physical attacks,” Conoley wrote. The university president paid fealty to the students’ passion for free expression and justice around the globe before adding another caution. “A careful study of the BDS movement illustrates to me that this movement is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel.”

Conoley asked why the ASI should single out Israel in a world full of oppression from Russia’s attacks on the LGBT community to North Korea’s despotic regime.

The comments earned a sharp rebuke from Palestinian Legal in support of Pro-BDS students. The civil rights group wrote Conoley on Wednesday urging her to retract the letter she wrote and reassure Muslim students that they are protected on campus. “Your statement conflating criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Jewish hate undermines efforts to combat bigotry,” Palestine Legal Staff Attorney Liz Jackson wrote. “Despite your professed concern about addressing hate, your office has been silent in response to an explicit death threat targeting the campus Muslim community.”

Jackson hammered Conoley’s anti-BDS assertions as lacking evidence while accusing her of lifting a page from the “Israeli advocacy playbook on suppression.” As for the death threat? An Islamophobe scrawled “We will kill all Muslims on Friday” on a restroom wall last month. According to Jackson’s letter, Muslim students learned of the incident by way of a write up in the school’s Daily 49er newspaper a week later.

Conoley followed up with a campus-wide email in late April alerting readers to white supremacist vandalism that particularly targeted Jews but said nothing of the anti-Muslim death threat. She refused to meet with the Muslim Students Association (MSA), telling them over email that university police looked into the graffiti and deemed it not to be a credible threat.

All the back-and-forth barbs set the stage for next week when the third and final reading of the BDS resolution is set for a vote on Wednesday.

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