For the second year in a row, Undergraduate Student Government General Assembly debated for more than five hours on a resolution calling for the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on Wednesday, which was ultimately rejected in a secret vote.
The controversial resolution called for Ohio State to cut ties from any Israeli products and institutional support in an effort to stand against the Israeli government that continues to oppress Palestinian people.
The resolution failed 30 to 7, with three abstaining.
If passed, the university would have been asked to stop all investments or contracts with G4S, Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Sabra Dipping Company, as well as cease academic support of Israeli educational institutions that provide study abroad opportunities. The resolution stated that the support of these companies and institutions promote complicity with Israel’s violations of international law.
“We have a chance to level the playing field, respect the agency and humanity of Palestinian people and fight against all forms of oppression and I think this resolution does that,” Ahmad Abusharkh, sponsor of the resolution, said.
In January, USG approved a divestment resolution voted on in a secret ballot, which would have allowed the student government to create a committee of senators to investigate Ohio State’s investments into companies that might be linked to domestic human rights violations.
The committee was not formed.
This was not addressed during the debate and many of the senators were not aware of the content in the previous resolution passed in January.
USG President Shamina Merchant and Vice President Shawn Semmler released a statement on their social media accounts prior to the meeting stating their opposition to the resolution.
“We believe the implications of this resolution would negatively impact students on our campus and their opportunities for scholarships, research and field experiences,” the statement read. “It stands against the core principle of academic freedom, and we are concerned about the exclusionary language used to address our educators on campus.”
Their opposition was supported by 43 of the 64 speakers of the public who opposed the resolution, many of which expressed concerns that BDS promotes anti-Semitic ideas. Several USG members held the same concerns and cited other college campuses, such as University of Michigan, that passed similar resolutions in support of BDS and saw a rise of anti-Semitic acts as a result.
When Sophie Ruttenberg, a first-year in public management, leadership and policy, who was acting as an alternate senator, asked if Abusharkh could guarantee that the resolution would not have a similar increase in anti-Semitic acts, he said he could not guarantee that but that he and other supporters of BDS would fight the hate crimes with them if that were to occur.
Isaac Bensingor, USG senator, asked Abusharkh if he was aware that this would put students of all backgrounds at a disadvantage of being able to afford going to Ohio State, noting that divestment from these companies would lose Ohio State an estimated $650 million of endowment over the next 10 years causing a decrease in all academic scholarships and grants.
“If you’re saying that we will have to pay more money because we’re taking a stand for Palestinian human rights, I’m going to choose to stand with the Palestinian human rights because it’s what’s needed to change the conditions and have lasting peace,” Abusharkh said.
Cade Santha, USG senator and second-year in informations system, said that he didn’t feel that he could get behind the resolution because he felt that it was taking away the rights of one population and not creating an even playing field, citing the limiting effect on students’ academic freedom.
“Taking away the opportunities of students is not fair and something that I cannot stand behind no matter who’s the population its affecting or what the resolution is; I will never stand for something that is limiting one population,” Santha said.
Several USG senators stated that they felt uneducated on the matter that they deemed as one of the most complex international issues and didn’t feel comfortable voting on the resolution. Will Sullivan, a third-year public management, leadership and policy major, encouraged the members to vote by pointing out that it is their duty to represent the student body.
“The fact is we are senators that have vowed to serve other students and I believe that when a resolution is introduced to the General Assembly that infringes on the deserving rights regarding the safety and pursuit of excellence at the university they call home we should take a position, we should vote one way or another,” Sullivan said.
In response to those concerns expressed by USG members, Abusharkh said that he had explained several times that the resolution was not and would not create anti-Semitic ideas.
Prior to voting, a couple of USG members encouraged Abusharkh to explore other paths for their movement stating they understood the issue but didn’t feel it was USG’s place to take part in.
Correction, 12/7 at 12:18 p.m. : this article has been updated to correct the vote count.