Stanford student senate rejects Israel divestment bill

Student senates at three California campuses considered Israel divestment bills this week: Stanford University rejected theirs, U.C. Riverside’s measure passed by an 11-5 vote, and the third bill is still being debated at U.C. San Diego.

Stanford’s student senate rejected a proposed bill March 5 following weeks of debate over the measure, which would have had the senate press university trustees to divest from certain corporations doing business with Israel.

“The mood was incredibly tense,” said Israeli-born Alon Elhanan, a public policy major who attended the meeting and spoke out against the bill. “There was a large amount of pro-Israel students present, perhaps 50-50, which is unheard of most of the time. It was a long, tense fight, and we know it will probably happen again.”

Elhanan said the battle against the bill was led by students, with campus groups such as the Jewish Student Union and the Stanford Israel Alliance lobbying senators and speaking at earlier senate meetings.

Students affiliated with Hillel also lobbied against the measure. Hillel’s Israel Fellow, Roey Yamin, worked with students and outside organizations to increase awareness of the bill and its potential impact.

In a show of unity, even the Stanford chapter of J Street U worked to defeat the bill. The group is an affiliate of J Street, which comes under fire from some in the Jewish community as being too critical of Israel.

Said J Street U member Gideon Weiler, “While we may have a slightly different perspective than some of those opposing the bill, we were united in fighting what we deemed a counterproductive strategy to resolve the conflict and bring peace. More personally, I was troubled by how the bill only singled out Israel, ignoring Palestinian agency in the conflict. It was ironic that those who claimed to be advocating for justice did not even think to research divesting from the equally culpable Palestinian side. That seems unjust.”

Beyond the student body, a Feb. 28 open letter sent to the student senate and signed by more than 750 Stanford alumni urged senators to “resist attempts by the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] special interest group to hijack the Senate’s agenda.”

At the March 5 meeting, the senate did pass a bill urging the university to review all investments to make sure none are with companies that may cause “substantial social injury.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.