The anti-Israel rhetoric present throughout Associated Students of Madison (ASM) hearings proved to be a deliberate strategy to isolate and exclude Jewish students by conflating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with domestic and international social justice causes such as race, poverty and immigration – issues that matter to Jewish students, and conversations they want to be a part of. Pro-BDS students portrayed Jews and Zionists as privileged white oppressors, rather than acknowledging the ways Jews experience anti-Semitism.
Initial BDS resolution defeated
As soon as the initial resolution was announced, students worked tirelessly in a period of 24 hours to come together across the political spectrum to develop a strategy for each stage of combatting divestment and activate their diverse networks to stand up for Israel. Students successfully persuaded ASM to permanently table the first resolution calling for UW-Madison to divest from a group of companies that have ties to Israel. The next ASM meeting was scheduled to be held on the second night of Passover. Launching or voting on divestment resolutions during Jewish holidays, especially Passover, is a strategy that isn’t limited to UW-Madison – similar moves occurred at Tufts University and Pitzer College this year. Ariela Rivkin, an ASM representative and Jewish student, emailed then-ASM chair Carmen Gosey and requested that any discussion or voting on legislation involving financial transparency or socially-responsible investments be postponed so Jewish students could fully participate.
Student government meets during Passover to re-introduce BDS
Despite clear requests from Hillel, the campus Jewish community and other members of ASM to postpone the meeting so Jewish students could fully participate, ASM proposed and voted to approve legislation creating a permanent financial transparency and ethics subcommittee with the power to pass divestment legislation in the future without oversight. ASM’s current chair Katrina Morrison claimed that postponing the ASM meeting would be a “hassle.” On April 26, ASM voted 24-0-2 to pass divestment legislation. ASM members introduced amendments that singled out and condemned Israel. During the hearing, both Rivkin and the greater campus Jewish community were verbally attacked. During the open forum, a student claimed Rivkin and her affiliation with the Jewish community was the “elephant in the room.” When Rivkin spoke during ASM’s debate, other ASM members tried to drown her out by pounding their gavels and held signs taunting her directly. After Rivkin explained how ASM’s debate had devolved into an anti-Semitic scene, Rivkin and five other ASM members walked out in protest.
Student judiciary blocks resolution and orders apologies for discriminatory actions
On May 10, Student Judiciary, a branch of ASM, voided the resolution creating a financial transparency committee after a complaint was filed by a group of student representatives, including Rivkin, who cited instances of harassment and religious intolerance throughout the entire divestment saga. In addition to voiding the resolution, Student Judiciary ordered Morrison to send a letter to ASM explaining why her actions were wrong, why Passover is important to the Jewish community and why the non-discrimination clause of the ASM constitution is important. Morrison is also required to apologize to all Jewish student government members. Student Judiciary also suggests Gosey attend religious tolerance training, as well as apologize to the campus Jewish community.
Hillel’s role during and after the resolution
While the divestment saga throughout this semester was challenging, Hillel played a central role in strengthening the campus Jewish community and providing students with the resources they needed to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people. Staff members were available around-the-clock to provide support for students. Through Hillel’s partnership with the Jewish United Fund’s Israel Education Center and Israel Action Network, students had access to expert guidance on addressing the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity they had been subjected to throughout the semester. Together, the campus and Jewish community united to support our students in the face of unfortunate discrimination. Students were supported by the faculty and staff at UW, Chabad, JEM, Hillel International and the Madison and Milwaukee Jewish Federations. Together, we are stronger. In the aftermath of the divestment resolutions and harassment of Jewish students, Hillel is committed to providing educational opportunities and additional training for staff and students on combatting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on campus. Hillel will continue to be a space for Jewish students to safely explore and strengthen their Jewish identity and relationship with Israel, on campus and beyond.