Multiple student groups spoke in support and opposition of Undergraduate Student Government Tempe Senate President Katherine Hostal's decision to remove a resolution centered upon University Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel from the agenda of Tuesday's USGT Senate meeting.
SR-09 was created by Students for Justice in Palestine at ASU (SJP) with the goal of achieving a formal condemnation by the University of the Israeli government and the human rights crimes committed by the state.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, known as BDS, is a Palestinian-led movement that encourages individuals, organizations and countries to withdraw their support from Israel until the Israeli government recognizes and protects the rights of Palestinians and ends its occupation of land captured in 1967.
Opponents of BDS argue that the movement is anti-Semitic and aims to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. Many Israelis and American Jews argue that BDS delegitimizes Israel, applies a double standard and demonizes the nation.
Over 20 audience members, including on-campus organization members, alumni and University donors, spoke during the last USGT Senate meeting of the 2020-21 school year to give their thoughts on SR-09 and its potential exclusion.
Hostal said the piece of legislation was taken off the agenda because it was outside of USG’s jurisdiction as a "non-partisan governing body that respects individual's personal political beliefs."
According to the USGT 2020-21 bylaws, "proposing matters which directly advance a political party’s platform or ideology or an individual’s self-serving interests is not within USG’s jurisdiction."
Hostal said she was first notified of the resolution about two weeks prior to the April 13 meeting. She also requested that the legislation be moved from a meeting during the week of USG elections in order to allow for the legislative process to take place at a later date.
She said the week before Tuesday's meeting she had about three meetings with the resolution's sponsor and SJP to discuss concerns she had about the resolution relating to jurisdiction.
Hostal added she wanted to make sure she was being thorough with that process and asked the sponsors if there was any sort of service, resource or program that could be offered to support Palestinian students and dispel anti-Arab sentiment on campus, thus falling within USG’s jurisdiction as an alternate resolution.
Hostal said this offer was denied.
“I also offered to find a contact for the sponsors so that they could continue their advocacy, even if it wasn't with USG as the explicit route,” she said in the meeting. “Ultimately, after being given the opportunity to actually review the legislation, it still remained outside of the USG jurisdiction, which is why it was left off the agenda.”
Several senators boycotted the meeting to protest the removal of SR-09 from the agenda. This prevented the Senate from reaching a quorum, or two-thirds majority, which is required in order to conduct official business.
Hostal and Senator Cameron Decker, chair of the government operations committee, confirmed that hearing feedback from students would not be considered official business, allowing conversation on the removal of the resolution.
During the call to the audience, Armando Leon, a member of SJP, voiced his disappointment in the resolution's removal from the agenda.
“The student community at ASU is disappointed, since a lot of work was put into this resolution by many student clubs for almost two years, and Hostal decided to ignore the voices and hard work of ASU students, showing her failure as senate president,” Leon said.
Leon and other members of SJP said Hostal has known about SR-09 since it was written two months ago. SJP wrote the resolution with Senators Konya Saidu, Alexia Isais and Daniel Lopez in order to ensure it would be well received by the senate.
Nora, the vice president of SJP who asked that her last name be omitted because she was harassed on social media, called senate members "cowards" for “not speaking up about apartheid and one of the biggest human rights violations that is going on in our time,” and recalled an instance where she felt unsafe when Israel Defense Forces soldiers were invited to campus in Nov. 2019.
“As USG oversees funding to organizations, I don't think that funding should be given to organizations that invite apartheid forces that make me feel unsafe,” she said. “I'm disappointed in you and you are elected officials ... BDS is not going away.”
Among those who spoke against the resolution were members of ASU’s chapter of the international Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and Israeli ASU students.
ASU Alpha Epsilon Pi President Eli Shenker said the resolution would create a division within the ASU community.
“What I really think is important to point out is that it is not USG’s place to create barriers, rather it’s to create bridges and I believe that this resolution, SR-09, creates barriers, and I want to be a part of a solution to create bridges, as we all should be,” Shenker said.
Many students were frustrated with the senators who boycotted the meeting. Koral Zaarur, an Israeli student at ASU, said she was “shocked and in pure disgust that these senators chose to ignore the issue at hand.”
“The Jewish community gathered here today to open a dialogue and explain both sides of the conflict, and we are now deprived of a two-sided conversation that accurately represents both of these sides,” she said.
Other audience members urged the Senate to reconsider the decision.
John Idalis, an ASU alum and former SJP president, said that talk of a resolution is useless if no action is taken.
“People say, ‘We need to have a dialogue, we need to have a discussion,’ at this point we’ve been having this dialogue for two years,” Idalis said. “You either support Palestinians or not.”
Hostal encouraged anyone who wishes to speak on the subject, but did not during the meeting, to do so during USG’s office hours.
As Tuesday's meeting was the last of the 2020-21 school year, students will likely have to wait until the fall for any additional formal discussion of SR-09 or any similar resolution.
SJP plans to continue advocating for a BDS resolution in USG to encourage the University to stop supporting Israel. Right now, they're trying to regroup.
"I am tired of constantly feeling like I have to defend my existence," said Reem, a Palestinian student who asked that her last name be omitted to avoid being targeted by the Canary Mission, which compiles blacklists of Palestinian rights activists. "But I'm never going to stop. I'm never going to stop until Palestinian voices are heard, until BDS has passed, until Palestine is free."
Continue supporting student journalism and donate to The State Press today.
Reagan Priest is a managing editor, overseeing and working with the six digital desks at The State Press. She previously worked as a social justice reporter for Cronkite News and as a digital production intern at The Arizona Republic.