ASUC Senate postpones decision on Israeli academic boycott bill

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Ariel Hayat/Staff

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An ASUC Senate bill addressing academic relations with Israeli institutions was postponed indefinitely after an impassioned discussion from community members at a committee meeting Monday night.

More than 100 students, professors, UC alumni and other community members gathered in Anna Head Alumnae Hall to voice their opinions on Senate Bill 11, titled “A Bill in Support of the Free Flow of Ideas and International Academic Collaboration,” which was sponsored by Student Action Senator Ori Herschmann.

The bill called for the ASUC to endorse “academic freedom” and to support academic exchanges such as those between UC Berkeley and Israeli academic institutions.

In particular, the bill called for the ASUC to reject academic boycotts against Israeli academic institutions, such as those by the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies. The American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions on the grounds that these institutions are subject to state policies that allegedly violate human rights.

The bill also called for the ASUC to denounce a student-organized event scheduled for next week that, among other points, advocates an academic boycott of Israel. The International Day of Action on College Campuses for Palestine, scheduled for Tuesday, calls for no “academic complicity” with the Israeli government, according to the event’s Facebook page — including no study abroad programs in Israel and no joint research or conferences with Israeli institutions.

Such academic boycotts, the bill asserts, are violations of academic freedom.

When the committee floor opened for public comment, many opponents of the bill brought up the institutional academic roadblocks for Palestinian students under Israeli law.

Viveka Jagadeesan, a campus junior and member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley, opposed the bill, saying its language was problematic. She said it failed to clarify that the academic boycott applies only to Israeli institutions with “discriminatory policies,” not to individual Israeli academics.

Additionally, she said the contents of the bill contradicted its claim to support free speech.

“When I read the bill, I was quite struck that the bill claimed to support the free flow of ideas when one of its calls to action was to condemn a student-organized event on campus,” Jagadeesan said.

Supporters of the bill stood before the committee in silence, holding books wrapped in caution tape to symbolize their belief that academic boycotts restricted academic freedom.

Herschmann said the bill’s intent was to address the “limiting of speech and academia” for Israeli students on campus, not the “geopolitics of the Middle East.” He said the bill was misread and taken out of context.

SQUELCH! Senator Madison Gordon, who strongly encouraged the committee to postpone the bill indefinitely, agreed that the intent of the bill was different from the impact it created. She said to accomplish future goals and address advocacy issues, the senate class will have to work as a collective unit.

“The senators really tried to come to some sort of compromise by not taking it to a vote, as voting would have inevitably alienated some students,” Gordon said.

CalSERVE Senator Haley Broder said she is eager to move past this divisive issue.

“This will not be the defining issue of our senate class,” Broder said.

Michelle Pitcher covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @michellepitcher.