San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney in her office. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)
San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney in her office. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

S.F. State president opposes student government’s BDS resolution

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UPDATED Nov. 25, 8:30 a.m.

San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney said she will not support a boycott, divestment and sanctions resolution against Israel that was recently passed by the school’s student government.

In a lengthy email sent to S.F. State’s Associated Students board of directors on Monday, Mahoney said the resolution “flattens an incredibly complex historical and current geopolitical issue into misleading binaries.”

She wrote: “Some would have us believe that you are either Pro-Palestinian or Pro-Israel; that you are either an antisemite if you oppose Zionism or a racist if you support it. You can only be for or against. These binaries do not do this issue justice nor do they do justice to us as a University.”

She encouraged students to “open the door to a rich conversation filled with the complex thinking that I know this University is capable of holding.”

Mahoney also said she supported the student government’s “commitment to human rights” and would continue to support students’ rights to criticize Israel “just as they would any other country.” But she said the university would draw the line at “a divestment position with no global context or acceptance of the complexities at hand.”

Her email communicated a firm stance on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a university leader who has been trying to walk a fine line in recent months. Earlier this semester, when Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled was invited to speak on a virtual panel, Mahoney condemned terrorism while also defending the university’s commitment to academic freedom.

The student government approved the BDS resolution by a 17-1 vote with two abstentions on Nov. 18. Drafted by the activist group General Union of Palestine Students, or GUPS, it calls for the university to divest from any companies doing business in the Palestinian territories.

In a press release posted to the organization’s Facebook page a day after the vote, GUPS applauded the student government’s majority support for the resolution. “Our movements are growing stronger for justice for all,” the press release stated. “The tide is turning across this country.”

GUPS did not respond to a request for comment from J.

The student resolution referenced a list, created by the United Nations Human Rights Office in February, of more than 100 corporations. The university currently does not hold investments with any of those corporations, according to student government representative James Aguilar; the resolution was later amended to prevent future investments.

Student resolutions do not set university policy. Investment decisions are made centrally at the Chancellor’s Office. It appears unlikely that the office will adopt the resolution, since virtually no U.S. university administrations have adopted BDS resolutions on their campuses, and many have condemned them.

After the vote, multiple Jewish organizations, including S.F. Hillel and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, denounced the resolution’s passage. Before the vote, S.F. Hillel had drafted a petition “in solidarity with Jewish students” that condemned BDS. As of Monday, Ralston said, the petition had garnered 550 signatories.

Hen Mazzig, an Israeli activist and writer, criticized the resolution in a conversation with J., saying it “sends a clear message that [Jewish students] shouldn’t feel safe on campus.”

He added: “I think the BDS resolutions are not about Israel. While they are on record targeting Israel, it’s just about creating division.”

A day after the resolution passed, members of the student government received threatening messages from the public, according to Ralston.

In response, S.F. Hillel posted on Facebook: “While we are disappointed by the outcome of the BDS resolution, we strongly condemn the use of intimidation and violence to threaten students. That behavior violates San Francisco Hillel’s values.”

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.