Not long ago, I wrote about the sad 2017 that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has been having on our campuses. Not only had boycott activists notched only a couple of significant wins, but those wins were secured only by holding votes on or around the Passover holiday. I said that “boycott activists lose more than they gain when they win by showing disrespect for the Jewish holidays and fear of debate.”

Last Wednesday night, BDS secured another Pyrrhic victory, this one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the end of March, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Council voted narrowly to postpone indefinitely a resolution that included a long section on Israel. The general thrust of that section can be gathered from its citation of a report that had been adopted by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which was so distorted it was withdrawn at the urging of UN Secretary General António Guterres.

Naturally, this was not the end of it because the pro-boycott activists had not yet shown, as is now de rigueur, disrespect for the Jewish holidays. So a resolution concerning “investment transparency and human rights” was placed on the agenda for April 12th, the second day of Passover. Ariela Rivkin, reportedly the only voting Jewish member of ASM Council, had alerted the chair of the holiday and requested that issues related to divestment be left out of the April 12 meeting. She objected on the grounds that a “community which is deeply affected by these issues will not be able to attend or participate in the meeting due to religious observance.”

The Council not only went ahead but also voted to suspend the rules with a view to moving the resolution along more quickly than those rules allow. Later, the council member who moved to suspend the rules publicly expressed her disgust with those who complained about the Passover meeting. After all, no university policy requires ASM to observe holidays; which is to say that no university policy requires ASM to show a modicum of respect for UW-Madison’s Jewish community.

It turns out that state law does forbid religious discrimination. Rivkin and others have petitioned the ASM Student Judiciary requesting the invalidation of the resolution and the sanctioning of the chair and council member in question. Since the chair and council member both happen to be black women, Rivkin and her co-petitioners have been accused or racism.

The Judiciary issued an injunction against the resolution pending a hearing in early May. But on Wednesday, the Council considered another resolution, innocuously labeled a “proposal for divestment from Private Prisons, Fossil Fuel Corporations, Border Walls, and Arms Manufacturers.” Since this new resolution did not specifically target Israel, Badgers United Against Hate, which had helped defeat the original anti-Israel resolution, initially supported this new one. But at the meeting itself, the Council reversed course and added amendments that members had prepared, specifically targeting Israel.

When Rivkin mildly raised the objection that the Council was, in effect, restoring the resolution it had voted to postpone indefinitely, she was ridiculed; the ASM vice chair responded (start at 2:51 of this video), “F*ck white supremacy.” Good one.

Ultimately Rivkin and one other council member walked out of the meeting, and the amended resolution passed without a single negative vote.

It is perhaps not surprising that, in a blistering statement, University of Wisconsin Hillel denounced the unfairness of the resolution, the duplicity of its proponents, and the targeting of Rivkin. What is more striking is how the administration—it is hard to get academic administrations this excited—responded.

Like every administration presented with a divestment resolution has done, UW disassociated itself from the Council’s action. It also reminded the Council “of its obligation to follow the bylaws of their organization to ensure its integrity and to uphold the trust placed in them by those who elected them. The administration further noted that President Rebecca Blank would be meeting with the ASM leaders elected to serve next academic year to “emphasize the need to act with integrity.”

Moreover, the administration indicated that it had “heard clearly from the Jewish community how targeted they feel by the actions of the last month.” Strangers to university life may be unaware of how rare it is for an administration to issue a statement so strongly questioning the integrity of some of its own students. But boycott activists will drive even the staidest of sorts to such extremes.

“Concerned Members of the 23d Session of ASM Council” and a few other student groups are calling for President Blank’s resignation. If I were Blank, I’d be glad to have such enemies.

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