Pitzer Senate Passes Amendment Boycotting Select Israeli Products

Any Pitzer College clubs who were planning on buying Sabra hummus for their next event will have to rethink their plans.

That’s because the Pitzer Student Senate passed an amendment to their Budget Committee Bylaws April 16 requiring clubs to boycott Sabra, along with a number of other companies targeted by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign due to their connections to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“Student Activities Funds shall not be used to make a payment on goods or services from any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories. Products include those products from corporations and organizations as delineated in the boycott list maintained by bdsmovement.net/get-involved/what-to-boycott,” the amendment reads.

It passed 22-0, with four abstentions.

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine hailed the amendment in a press release as “an important first step in reducing our complicity with a country that maintains an illegal military occupation and regularly commits war crimes against an indigenous population.”

In response, the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance and Alpha Epsilon Pi, the 5C Jewish fraternity, released a petition criticizing the timing of the amendment, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover.

“Students opposed to BDS, many of whom were participating in Christian and Jewish religious holidays this weekend, were not given time to present their side of the issue," they wrote. "Excluding religious students from debate on the issue is undemocratic and antithetical to Pitzer’s values as an institution, particularly the value of ‘student engagement’ which guarantees that students are active members of Pitzer’s governance."

Claire Wengrod PZ ’19, the communications secretary of Pitzer Senate and a member of CPIA, echoed this sentiment.

“I think the timing was horrible and unfair to students who wanted to be a part of this discussion but couldn't be because they were celebrating Passover and Easter. In my opinion, it's very insensitive,” she wrote in an email to TSL.

However, Simone Bishara PZ ’18, the author of the resolution, said that the timing was merely an unfortunate coincidence.

The bylaws "got introduced so that we could time Pitzer's budget hearings and the 5C budget hearings coincidentally," she said.

She noted that the timing made it difficult for her to go home to celebrate Easter.

"I struggle with [CPIA’s] argument, because I had to pull myself away from home and I would never, in a million years, ask anyone else to do that, and never in a million years would intentionally target something around somebody's faith. ... I can't even conceive of a world in which I would be okay if I knew somebody was doing that on purpose," she said.

The CPIA/AEPi petition also noted that only 25 of Pitzer’s 39 Senators were present at the meeting, but Bishara said that this level of attendance was relatively normal. Pitzer Senate has a quorum of 20 members.

The petition also criticized the fact that the amendment was not announced before the meeting, describing this omission as “a deliberate attempt to silence opposing voices in this debate.”

Bishara did not include the amendment in the first draft of the budgetary bylaws presented on April 9. She said that she left it out so it would not be overlooked.

"It was very intentionally a decision to make sure that if that provision went into the bylaws, it would be heard on the floor, and that there would be a very intentional discussion about it," she said.

Because it was an amendment, Bishara was not required to announce the measure on the agenda.

"It's just not procedurally how Senate does things," she said.

However, she did reach out to a number of Senators and SJP, which sent members to the meeting to speak.

Bishara said she did not alert CPIA that she was presenting the amendment “because my intention was to have it pass. I have had enough intellectual conversation about why people disagree with me.”

She said her views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are influenced by her Egyptian family.

“My opinions are less rooted in academic knowledge or political belief and more in this identity-based concern,” she said. “It's emotionally gutting for me to sit here and have to explain why I think these things are the right things to do. ... It's just emotional labor that no one ever should have to do.”

There were no provisions for enforcement included in the budgetary bylaws. Bishara said that if a club was discovered violating the boycott, "I'm not 100 percent sure what would happen, but it definitely is going to be addressed."

Wengrod told TSL that she disapproves of the budget bylaws as a forum for endorsing BDS.

“Introducing a change like this in the budget bylaws doesn't include faculty and staff in the conversation at all. Additionally, this amendment is more symbolic than anything and will only prevent students from buying Sabra with student activities fees,” she wrote.

CPIA and AEPi criticized the BDS movement itself.

“Not only does BDS directly harm the economic development of the Palestinian people, but also it has failed to gain the support of Palestinian leadership, who see BDS as an obstacle to sovereignty. In reality, BDS is a well organized, thinly veiled smear campaign against the existence of the state of Israel,” they wrote in their petition.

However, Bishara defended BDS’s goals.

"This is one of the most gross violations of human rights across the globe, and it is some of the most gleaned over and normalized violence in the world," she said. "We're shifting into an era where we're definitely choosing sides of history, and it's about what side we want to be on in that regard."

Editors’ Note: Bishara is an Opinions columnist for TSL.