Vassar Trustees threaten $900K over BDS

CREDIT: Wikipedia

CREDIT: Wikipedia

The Vassar Student Association (VSA) Executive Board was informed last week that if it were to pass a BDS amendment, the college’s Board of Trustees would “remove” student control of college funds for student activities, amounting to around $900,000.

The resolution, authored by Vassar’s Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, “encourages the reconsideration of Vassar College’s economic contributions to human rights violations worldwide.” It also included an amendment to the VSA’s bylaws prohibiting VSA from using funds to purchase items from Sabra, Tribe, Ben & Jerry’s, Hewlett-Packard Company, Ahava, General Electric, Eden Springs, Motorola, Caterpillar, G4S, and Elbit Systems.

In a meeting with the administration last week, the VSA was told that Vassar’s “commitment to free speech” only allowed for an endorsement of BDS and that prohibiting the purchase of certain items would not only lead to the VSA’s defunding, but could also have legal ramifications.

“The Supreme Court has made it crystal clear that boycotts to promote social, political and economic change -- like BDS campaigns -- are protected speech activity,” said Radhika Sainath, staff attorney at Palestine Legal. “To say that endorsing BDS is free speech, but implementing a boycott is somehow different, has no basis in logic or law.”

The resolution endorsing BDS passed yesterday, 15-7. The proposed amendment, which required a two-third majority, failed by a vote of 12 in favor, and 10 against.

“I think that the timing [of the administration and the trustees’ pressure] is definitely a coercive tactic and I am unsatisfied with the time we have been given to work through this,” said VSA President Ramy Abbady.

Boycotts have long played a significant role in U.S. history, and the Supreme Court has held that political and human rights boycotts are protected speech, assembly, association and petition activities under the First Amendment.

Rather than engaging fairly in the democratic process, Israel advocates and big donors are increasingly pressuring universities to suppress student speech supporting Palestinian rights. Palestine Legal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of people in the U.S. who speak out for Palestinian freedom, responded to 240 incidents in 2015, 80% of which targeted students or scholars.