Students divided over whether ISS should have a stance on boycotts or movements

By Charlotte Collins

If approved in a subcommittee, the Illinois Student Senate will vote Wednesday on a resolution calling for the body to remain unaligned concerning any boycotts or movements on campus in an effort not to alienate any group or individual based on race, religion, nationality or sexuality. 

However, an involved public comment session at the Nov. 12 meeting showed the neutrality would not be universally accepted if the bill were to pass. To Muhammad Yousuf, sophomore in LAS and member of the Registered Student Organization Students for Justice in Palestine, the resolution’s call for an unaligned senate can mean the opposite of neutrality regarding certain issues. 

“The language in the resolution talks about boycotting and divestment in general, rather than in a specific case, but you can see that there is some strong intent behind the bill to block an anti-Zionist or any anti-Israeli rhetoric on campus, and that’s mainly our goal, which is to spread awareness on the Palestinian side of the issue.”

Student Body President Mitch Dickey believes there is still a lot of discussion to be had, and he plans to host meetings with SJP and Illini PAC, a pro-Israeli RSO. 

Zach Bass, ISS senator and senior in Business, said the resolution was prompted by a constituents concern over boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movements. 

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Sarah Safe, SJP vice president and sophomore in LAS, also opposes the proposed resolution. She said if it passes, it may shut off the possibility for future discussion. 

“We want to make sure that we are inclusive in the sense that if there are things that go against human rights, we don’t want our university investing money in such institutions,” Safe said. “We want to be able to keep the door open.”

The student senate has previously passed a resolution encouraging the divestment from all coal industry-related companies, promoting Safe to question why the resolution comes now. 

Safe said her opposition goes beyond SJP’s specific goals as an RSO, and fears if the University chooses to do business with an oppositional organization, the resolution shuts down open conversation. 

Yousuf said if the resolution were to be passed, it may actually alienate certain groups on campus, such as SPJ.

Noah Feingold, a member of Illini Students Supporting Israel and junior in LAS, attended the meeting last week as a proponent of the resolution, which he believes could alleviate tension for any side of an issue. 

“I don’t believe that this resolution shuts down any kind of dialogue,” said Feingold. “It’s actually the opposite — about preempting measures that would shut down dialogue. This resolution has nothing to do with what the campus community does, this is just about the Student Senate taking positions on divisive issues.”

Alana Rosenbaum, freshman in LAS, doesn’t oppose the proposed resolution, but is skeptical of some of the language used. Rosenbaum is a co-chair of J Street U, an organization seeking a negotiation for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian geopolitical conflict. 

“This could spark some of the tensions that were present over the Salaita case,” Rosenbaum said. “I think that it could be seen as silencing their voice and especially in light of the Salaita incident; I don’t think silencing anyone’s voice is a good thing.”

Charlotte can be reached at cjcolli2