San Francisco State University’s Associated Students approved a resolution on Wednesday that calls for the university to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel by pulling out of investments in companies that do business in Israeli settlements.
A majority voted to pass the resolution. Seventeen student government representatives voted yes, one voted no and two abstained.
The vote came after a lengthy and contentious public comment period before the vote, where nearly two dozen members of the public offered testimonies on both sides of the resolution.
All of the speakers who identified themselves as members of student organizations, including the Black Student Union, League of Filipino Students and the International Business Society, spoke in favor of the resolution, as did a handful of student government representatives.
“I think this document is very reflective of the culture that we should be striving for at San Francisco State, in terms of supporting our students,” said student representative Ja’Corey Bowens.
The resolution’s passage drew condemnations from multiple Jewish groups and individuals.
“We are disappointed that this Divestment resolution passed,” said Jewish Community Relations Council spokesperson Jeremy Russell in a statement. “It will further exacerbate tensions at SF State, and we call upon the university leaders to ensure Jewish students are welcomed and protected. At JCRC we support coexistence advancement, including mutual cooperation to promote the economic and social welfare of the region and a two-state solution to end the conflict.”
“We regret the introduction of BDS to our campus, the ugly discourse it elevated, and the outcome of this vote,” S.F. Hillel executive director Rachel Nilson Ralston said in a statement. “This resolution has, sadly, had a real and negative impact on our students’ wellness and experience of their campus. But BDS’s real danger is that it seeks to influence the open hearts and minds of tomorrow’s leaders from a one-sided, deeply biased narrative against Israel.”
Ralston also suggested that the student representatives faced “extreme pressure and bullying tactics from activists from across the country” pressing them to vote yes on the resolution.
Nicole Garay, a congregant at Kol Shofar in Tiburon, said in an email that while she’s “certain” the resolution won’t have a large impact on Israel, it will “increase divisiveness among students, alienate Jewish students, and could potentially lead to the targeting of Jewish students. At a time where antisemitic hate crimes are rising across the United States, I fear for the safety and well-being of Jewish and Israeli students on the SFSU campus.”
The resolution does not name specific companies for S.F. State to divest from, but instead refers to a national list of more than 100 companies that conduct business within the Palestinian territories. They include American corporations such as Airbnb, General Mills and Expedia, as well as some foreign companies. The list was created by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in February.
At an Oct. 28 meeting, student government representative James Aguilar said he had reviewed S.F. State’s investments and didn’t find university ties to any corporation on the U.N. list. Other representatives during that meeting suggested adding language to the BDS resolution that would prevent future investments. The amended language was approved as part of Wednesday’s vote.
The resolution was spearheaded by the university’s General Union of Palestine Students, a student-led organization dedicated to “increasing awareness of the Palestinian struggle,” according to its Facebook page.
GUPS did not respond to requests for comment.
Investments are handled by the university’s endowment, the S.F. State Foundation, which has a 26-member board of directors. The group divested from fossil fuel investments in 2014.
S.F. State spokesperson Kent Bravo did not respond in time for this article.
The passage of the BDS resolution is likely to increase tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students on campus, who have already seen one major dust-up this semester.
In September, the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program invited Palestinian militant Leila Khaled, who hijacked two commercial airlines in 1969 and 1970, to a virtual on-campus event. After outcry from pro-Israel groups, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube all determined that Khaled’s participation violated their company policies and would not allow their platforms to be used to host the event.
One of the pro-Israel groups, the Lawfare Project, sent a letter on Oct. 1 to the Department of Education claiming that S.F. State had violated federal law. The DOE responded a week later, saying that it had referred the allegations of wrongdoing for possible sanction to multiple federal agencies.