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USG passes resolution calling for BDS

Pro-Palestinian students gathered around the Undergraduate Student Government Senate council meeting on Thursday, April 18. The Senate announced Stony Brook University’s divestments from Israel. CHRISTOPHER YANG/THE STATESMAN

The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate passed a resolution to call on Stony Brook University to completely divest from Israel and companies affiliated with the country on Thursday, April 18.

The resolution was sponsored by sophomore Samuel Iskhakov, co-sponsored by incoming Vice President of University Affairs Sarah Elbaroudy and President of Students for Justice in Palestine Namal Fiaz, who presented the document in front of the Senate.

Before the three spoke, Executive Vice President Nistha Boghra laid several ground rules to inform those in attendance of expectations, such as limiting the speaking time to one minute for each individual.

Before reading through the resolution, Fiaz brought to the Senate’s attention a “vandalism” case that occurred hours before the start of the Senate meeting. Someone had edited the legislation and added a pro-Israel message to it.

“ISRAEL WILL WIN THE WAR,” the message stated. “THE ISRAELIS ARE NOT COMMITTING GENOCIDE, THEY ARE SIMPLY DEFENDING THEIR NATION. HAMAS HIDES BEHIND CIVILIANS, WHICH IS A WAR CRIME; THEY WANT PALESTINIANS TO SUFFER IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THEIR OWN INTERESTS. WE SUPPORT ISRAEL AND THE DEFENSE OF THE JEWISH HOMELAND. SAY NO TO [BOYCOTT, DIVEST, SANCTION] (BDS)! FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEAT, BEIT HA’AM.”

Fiaz emphasized to the Senate that they kept the message in the document for “full transparency.”

“We were really upset to see this,” Fiaz said. “We’re here to build bridges and create a space for open dialogue, so to have this on our resolution was extremely upsetting.”

After the sponsors read the entire legislation, junior Ely Soumikh began discussion of the resolution. He asked where Fiaz got the idea to claim that the “opposing side” vandalized the document.

“With the whole vandalizing thing, isn’t it just [SB]4Palestine Board members who have access to the document?” Soumikh said. “Where are you getting this claim that someone else did it out of hate?”

Fiaz clarified that the resolution was open to the public and had been heavily advertised. At-large Senator Alex Herz then asked if they had gone through the edit history of the document.

Fiaz confirmed upon checking the edit history of the document that it was done by someone anonymously.

During this discussion, an anonymous person present through the Zoom meeting began drawing a penis on the screen using the annotation tool, though USG President Devin Lobosco quickly stopped them and disabled access to the Zoom chat.

In an interview, Lobosco explained that it was indeed possible for anyone to have joined the meeting, as outlined by New York State’s Open Meeting law.

“I don’t believe it was a Stony Brook student, but we don’t have any way to verify through Zoom,” Lobosco said. “It taught us that we need to have a better platform that has a little bit more control over access.”

After the USG Executive Council fixed the issue, Herz continued his questioning.

“How do you guys think USG plays a role into this?” Herz said. “Our mission is to create great programs and services for the benefit of all members of the University community. If we allow these students to come in here and talk about political issues and kind of get away from what USG is here to do, which is to talk about clubs and provide services for students. Sarah, the question is for you as the incoming VP of University Affairs, how can students trust that you can maintain the integrity of USG?”

Elbaroudy clarified that the resolution did not intend for USG to become a political body, but for the organization to call upon the University to divest from Israel and Israeli companies.

She also said that 956 undergraduate students and 14 clubs and organizations pushed for this resolution to be passed as such; one of them being the Commuter Student Association.

“I believe that, as incoming Vice President of University Affairs, it’s my due diligence to use my discretion as to what is a University affair,” Elbaroudy said. “I feel that this is a wide concern of the student body [so] it is upon me to bring this to you as an Undergraduate Student Government and for you as student leaders to call on the University to promote financial transparency and to divest from academic institutions and corporations [to be in] solidarity with Palestinian human rights.”

At the end of Elbaroudy’s response, an image of a Nazi Swastika flag appeared at the top of the Zoom meeting.

Vice President of Student Life Isaiah Daniel moved to resolve this issue by minimizing all profile pictures in the Zoom meeting. Lobosco apologized to the people present for what had happened.

“We’ve never had issues like this in my three years in USG before,” Lobosco said in an interview after the Senate meeting. “[It’s] really disappointing that that’s how people chose to handle this forum. We do Zooms on Senate that are open to everybody in the world, every single week, and it’s never happened before.”

“We figured it out eventually,” Lobosco added. “It was not an elegant solution, but it was kind of the only way to prevent stuff like that.”

At-large Senator Daniel Canavin asked if the sponsors of the resolution had reached out to the Jewish community on campus for their support of the resolution.

Fiaz responded that SB4Palestine did not reach out to specific clubs or people but noted that several Jewish students did sign the SUNY-wide petition calling for the SUNY system to divest.

At-large Senator Camryn Zezelic asked how SB4Palestine reached out to these clubs.

“We connected with clubs that we’ve worked with in the past as well as clubs that they recommended, so that’s how we built our list,” Fiaz responded.

At-large Senator Leon Verkhovsky questioned how the sponsors were sure that the 956 signatures were from the undergraduate community.

“Could there have been a possibility that it was signed by outside organizations?” Verkhovsky asked. “Was it opened to outside organizations to be signed as well?”

Fiaz said that the sponsors had no way to verify the information, though he argued that the chances of that happening were unlikely because the petition was only related to Stony Brook University.

Elbaroudy said that they trusted students who did sign the petition to properly indicate their campus.

“The reason that we do not have authentication on this Google form [is] because this is a SUNY-wide BDS petition, so students will then declare their campus on the petition when they sign,” Elbaroudy said. “We trust that they have the integrity to put their associated campus on this petition when they sign it.”

Jewish student leaders then came up to the front of the Senate and began to give their perspectives on the issue.

Zezelic said in her speech that she personally knows many people who are affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict and that the Jewish community is small to begin with.

“The only crime is being Jewish and living in Israel,” Zezelic said. “BDS is a biased movement that claims to advocate for peace. But, at its core, the BDS movement seeks to erase the ancestral connection to our homeland.”

Zezelic then said that the Jewish community is indigenous to Israel and to remove them from their homeland is “cruel.” She said that from her perspective, the BDS movement has hurt the Jewish student community and is only bringing more division to the Stony Brook campus.

“I’m pleading with you to address this antisemitic movement that aligns itself with Hamas and supports the massacre, to not turn the student government into a biased body, and to stand up for the very small Jewish community on this campus,” Zezelic said. “This isn’t about Israel v. Palestine, this is about alienating the Jewish community on our campus.”

“We should only spread love, unity, peace and understanding, not the [BDS] movement,” Zezelic continued. “We are a student government here to unite students, not divide them. We are a student government to protect our students, not alienate them, and that includes our Jewish community.”

Jewish students present in SAC 302 clapped at the end of Zezelic’s speech.

Soumikh started off his speech by stating, “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. The definition [of] Zionism is the right of Jews to have a state in their ancestral homeland. Nothing more.”

He then went on to say in this speech that “opposing the right of Jews to self-determination in [our] own homeland is antisemitic.”

“I feel fearful to walk around campus,” Soumikh said. “I feel scared to tell my professors, my classmates and peers that I am Jewish. That should not happen on campus, where diversity and togetherness is what our goal is. By allowing BDS to pass, you are damping the already overshadowed Jewish community but also imbuing fear into students.”

Soumikh ended his speech with the following: “Again, one last time before I end, I want to reiterate that anti-Zionism is antisemitic.”

Iskhakov responded to the Jewish speakers by starting his speech with the claim that Zionists do not care about Jewish people who are not aligned with this view. He further went on to cite the “Soap Myth,” a rumor that Nazis turned Jewish people into soap.

“[Zionists] do not care about the most fundamental set of principles in Judaism, the 10 commandments…” Iskhakov said.

Boghra cut off Iskhakov from talking anymore due to the speaking time limit imposed.

Verkhovsky responded to Iskhakov’s speech, stating that he’ll “gladly” respond to remarks made about the Holocaust.

“I’m very happy that you brought up the Holocaust because now you all understand that truly the only place where Jewish people can actually feel safe within their Judaism, within their identity, is in fact Israel,” he said. “I second with what my peer said: anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”

At-large Senator Alexander Van Geuns reminded guest members to redirect the conversation and focus on the topic at hand. Additionally, he asked how Zionism tied into the resolution.

“[Iskhakov] just admitted that this was the first step to dismantling the Zionist entity,” Zezelic responded. “This is about literally dismantling Israel. This is very obvious if you look at the BDS movement itself.”

At-large Antonios Manolas, present over Zoom, said that the Senators are there to represent student voices.

“I have received no less than 10 emails from concerned students about this, and normally, I don’t get any,” Manolis said. “This is definitely a thing that the community cares about.”

“The 956 [signatures] can be a random group of students, people, adults, anyone — there’s no way of certifying that,” Verkhovsky responded. “10 emails? Sorry, we serve 17,000 undergraduate students, 10 is not a number that is significant to me … 956 falsified votes and 10 emails, I don’t think that holds the same type of movement that you may think it does.”

Herz joined the conversation once again, reminding people present to focus on the resolution. He further added that he doesn’t understand why USG was debating on the topic.

“I don’t believe that this is what USG exists for,” Herz said. “USG exists for services, and this is a highly contentious political issue, one where it does not fit our sort of ethos.”

The Senate then moved to vote on the resolution. 16 Senators voted to pass the resolution, five dissented and three abstained.

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About the Contributor
Sky Crabtree
Sky Crabtree, Assistant News Editor
Sky Crabtree is an Assistant News Editor for The Statesman and a sophomore studying journalism and political science. He joined the paper in the spring of 2023 as a news reporter and was promoted at the end of the same semester. Outside of The Statesman, he works as a news intern for WSHU Public Radio and hosts "The Political Corner," a segment on the Stony Brook Media Group's news show.
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Comments (5)

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  • H

    Holly DomorApr 27, 2024 at 7:21 pm

    “The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate passed a resolution to call on Stony Brook University to completely divest from Israel and companies affiliated with the country on Thursday, April 18.”

    Asking isn’t getting. SBU will politely – or not – look at the request and wipe their asses with it because they think they can wait this out until things settle down and everyone goes home for the summer. Whether they’d be allowed to get away with such a maneuver has yet to be seen.

    Reply
  • B

    BobbyApr 24, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    The blatant lies and falsified use of our own senators words throughout this article is disgusting and a failure to anyone who considers themselves a journalist. Take Israel’s boot out of your mouth before you decide to write about the student body agreeing to divest from an apartheid state committing genocide. Also take some quotes from the other very vocal supporters of Palestine, not just the Zionist senators who were arguing in bad faith and completely out voted

    Reply
  • A

    Alex HerzApr 24, 2024 at 12:13 am

    To clarify, I believe that USG should support students, not causes. We should take a strong stance on student free speech and fight against administrators arresting students. Because USG has no direct impact on divestment, we should not echo an opinion that the entire student body doesn’t share.

    Reply
  • E

    Ethan EskenaziApr 23, 2024 at 4:39 pm

    When you have that many clowns gathered together, you better expect a circus. The hateful and inappropriate pictures and videos were disturbing to all of us. Vandals displayed Nazi flags, antisemitic cartoons, literal porn videos, and inappropriate drawings. But it was even worse among the people inside the room, as hateful “Pro-Palestine” lunatics spread their stupidity and ignorance to everyone.

    With this resolution, the Stony Brook USG Senate has done irrevocable harm to its reputation. This resolution completely fails to advance constructive solutions for peace in that region, and also fosters an environment of hostility and polarization on campus. The resolution seeks to blame ONLY Israel for the conflict, when in fact the Arab side is deserving of much (I would argue most) of the blame for the continuation of this dispute. Israel plays a central role in Jewish history and culture, and the USG can’t change that. All this resolution does is “virtue signal” and tell Jewish students that their culture will not be fully respected. It’s a shameful time for our campus community.

    Reply
    • L

      LidApr 24, 2024 at 8:55 am

      Where in the resolution does it denounce Jewish Students practicing their faith?

      The document is merely a call foe university acknowledgment of the Isra*li genocide campaign that undergraduate students feels needs to be addressed by large.

      It is very silly to conflate the resolution to being “anti-jewish.”

      Reply