VSA should be depoliticized in wake of BDS vote

If a waiter fails to serve their customers promptly, they are fired. If a doctor fails to care for their patients, they are fired. If a lawyer fails to adequately defend their clients, they are fired. Likewise, if an elected representative fails to defend and fight for their constituents, they too should be fired.

Prior to spring break, the VSA Council passed a resolution endorsing the BDS movement, while failing to pass the amendment. Essentially, the VSA endorses an academic boycott of Israel, but isn’t going to force student organizations stop buying Ben and Jerry’s or Sabra Hummus.

Less than 48 hours before the vote was to take place, the VSA Executive Board put out a state­ment claiming that “were the VSA constitution amendment, by Council vote or referendum, to include a boycott, the administration and Board would still consider the option of no longer allow­ing the VSA control over the Student Activities fee.” The situation is very clear. The administra­tion is interfering with student governance in or­der to prevent a boycott and are presenting a very clear choice: if the amendment passes the VSA gets defunded, if the amendment doesn’t pass the VSA won’t be defunded.

But this is contrasted with the statement re­leased by President Hill and Dean Chris Roellke. According to their statement in The Miscellany News, “The VSA Executive Board asked us what the options might be, were such a proposal to pass … We responded that the options would include vetoing the proposal…or taking away the VSA’s authority over spending the activities fee…as to prevent it from implementing the boycott.” They went on to say, “Since no proposal has passed, the college has not had to make its final decision about how to respond … Were such a proposal to pass, we would work with the VSA on the appro­priate response. Our goal would be to insure that student organizations continued to be funded, but in accord with college policies.”

The statement from the VSA Executive Board suggested that defunding would be a definite option were the amendment to pass. The admin­istration’s statement suggests a much different story. Firstly, it was presented as one of numerous options. Secondly, it would most likely have been used if they feared that the VSA would enforce the boycott regardless of a veto from President Hill. Thirdly, the administration made no decisions regarding their plan, and would have worked on a potential solution with the VSA council. All of this was left out of the VSA’s statement.

While some may pooh-pooh this is an excuse to oppose a movement many alumnae/i don’t like, the legal consequences of approving the BDS amendment could be devastating. In order to re­ceive federal fundings, Vassar College must abide by certain rules. One rule forbids the college from engaging in discrimination on the basis of nation of origin, which BDS might potentially violate.

Were the College found to be in violation of this provision, the institution could lose all federal funding, including Pell Grants. Many students un­able to pay for college without financial aid would have difficulty continuing to attend Vassar. Posse students would likely disappear. The character of Vassar would change drastically for the worse.

Yet, none of this was referenced in the state­ment the VSA Executive Board made. As a result, an already toxic environment became even worse.

Due to this, the meeting in which the resolution was debated devolved into complete chaos. BDS supporters took every opportunity to imply that opposing their brand of activism is racist; while every time antisemitism was mentioned it was met with laughter and mockery. Multiple at-large members were in tears while reading statements on how the debate has affected them, and were met with BDS supporters pointing and laughing. While it was not loud enough to interrupt their statements, it was noticed and commented on by members of the audience.

It is the responsibility of the VSA President to prevent this type of behavior at meetings. Howev­er, he either didn’t notice what was going on or he did and couldn’t be bothered to intervene. Either way, he failed to do the job that he is paid to do.

It’s unfair to blame this all on one person. The complete abdication of the VSA Council’s moral and ethical responsibility towards the student body neither starts nor ends at the meeting. It begins with the council’s decision to become a political organization.

The VSA Council has no right having a polit­ical bias. They are representatives of a student body with diverse political beliefs, using mon­ey that they are given by Vassar College. As one individual declared during last week’s meeting, “Vassar College is not a liberal institution. It is an educational institution.” It is the belief of the VSA council that one cannot ever truly be apolitical. That is not true. One can stand against racism and sexism and antisemitism on campus without fa­voring certain political beliefs over others. Essen­tialism leads to the death of diversity of opinion, and is not conducive to solving the issues facing America or this campus.

In defense, the VSA Executive Board usually asserts that they have to vote on whatever is pro­posed. But what the VSA didn’t have to do was waste months of everyone’s time for BDS training and discussion after discussion on this pointless affair. They could have just voted on the issue and then been done with it for the year. But they made the decision to spend more time and resources on this issue than any other one.

And I understand that this is an issue that caused significant stress to the representatives, but as we focused on the Israeli-Palestinian sit­uation we failed to properly realize the issues it presents regarding life on campus. Can’t we focus less on the overseas impact and more on the im­pact back home? If they were going to have train­ing, that’s where the focus should have been.

Then, there’s the issue of the confidential vote, which has been very controversial to say the least.

I understand why the VSA council felt it nec­essary to adopt the secret ballot. I imagine that many people on this campus would be uncom­fortable with the possible consequences of voting a certain way. There is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable with the financial or personal re­percussions of a vote; however, if you’re so con­cerned of the consequences of your decision that you couldn’t possibly vote publicly, you shouldn’t serve elected office. Since a secret ballot gives these representatives an ability to lie as to how they voted, the VSA deprives the student body their right to a representative that “openly and proudly” serves their interests.

Both sides of the debate have put their own personal and professional reputations on the line for what they believe in. It is insult to everyone involved for the VSA Council to vote in secret when so many have risked everything to speak in public.

And finally, there is the decision itself. You might be of the belief that a boycott is the best course of action in order to prevent human rights violations in Israel. You have a right to your belief. I don’t think that anyone who personally boycotts Israel is necessarily antisemitic. I do think that there is a great deal of antisemitism embedded in the BDS movement and in Students for Justice in Palestine, but if you don’t feel comfortable buying Sabra Hummus or Ben & Jerry’s, more power to you. If you want to promote this and advocate that this is the best way to combat human rights viola­tions in Israel, that is also your right. If you come to the viewpoint that not only is your course of action the best one, but that it should be recog­nized as the best one by a government body and forced onto people who disagree with you, then you have crossed a very serious line.

One student at the VSA meeting pointed out that their money is used by the VSA Council to­wards things they didn’t want to fund since col­lege money is used to purchase products they believe support human rights violations by the Is­raeli government. This argument could be used as justification to defund practically every student organization on campus. I could use this argu­ment to defund J-Street. I could use this argument to defund SJP. I could use this argument to de­fund JVP. I could use this argument to defund the VCLU. I could use this argument to defund VJU. I could use this argument to defund any student organization I didn’t like. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and considering how deeply the VSA council has failed to handle politicization I do not trust them to draw it. We tried acting political and it failed, it’s time to serve students again.

I formally call for the immediate repeal of the BDS resolution and the depoliticization of the VSA. It is time for us to move past the nonsense and focus on what matters: ending sexual assault, improving accessibility on campus and improving Vassar College to the best of our ability.

7 Comments

  1. 1.
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    “The VSA Council has no right having a polit­ical bias. They are representatives of a student body with diverse political beliefs, using mon­ey that they are given by Vassar College..”

    Jesse Horowitz is back. He wants to depoliticize VSA. Great. Who determines what VSA brings up is a political issue. I can come up with the argument that “sexual assault” is a criminal issue and should not be “politicized” by the VSA.
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    2.
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    ” If you come to the viewpoint that not only is your course of action the best one, but that it should be recog­nized as the best one by a government body and forced onto people who disagree with you,then you have crossed a very serious line”
    .
    Really Jesse ? Then by your metric, VSA should only pass resolutions that have 100 percent approval. Huh ? Is that how our Congress and Senate work. Lets ask AIPAC. Or do you want to replicate a North Korean Politburo model onto the VSA ? I guess when it comes to criticizing Israel, you’re choices are distinct.
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    3.
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    “if you’re so con­cerned of the consequences of your decision that you couldn’t possibly vote publicly, you shouldn’t serve elected office. ”
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    The same could be said to you Jesse. If you’re so concerned about hearing a different view on Israel and its apartheid, you shouldn’t attend Vassar. You can alway attend Liberty University, Oral Roberts, Bob Jones. Are you saying you were kidnapped and forced to attend Vassar. Or are you claiming no one allowed you to present your point of view (the Miscellany may disagree).
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    4
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    “But what the VSA didn’t have to do was waste months of everyone’s time for BDS training and discussion after discussion on this pointless affair”
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    Jesse, are you stating VSA operates like Congress, when they pass plenty of nonsensical resolutions proposed by AIPAC. I’m sure you and the AIPAC crowd have no problem with that. Or is there a list of topics that VSA should restrict itself to. You can always run on that platform ?
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    5
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    “One rule forbids the college from engaging in discrimination on the basis of nation of origin, which BDS might potentially violate.”
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    Fabricate much Jesse ? Plenty of organizations have passed boycott resolutions. Not one, and i repeat, not one has been challenged. Why is it that you engage in endless red herrings ?
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    7.
    ” One can stand against racism and sexism and antisemitism on campus without fa­voring certain political beliefs over others.”
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    And they took a stand on apartheid. You want them to take a stand on antisemitism but not on apartheid. How convenient. But then i guess you want to pick the topics and the results. Great. But your’re not in North Korea.
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    8
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    “BDS supporters took every opportunity to imply that opposing their brand of activism is racist; ”
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    Replace the words BDS/racist with FTI Alumni/anti-semitic. and you get —> “”FTI Alumni supporters took every opportunity to imply that opposing their brand of activism is anti-semitic.; ”
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    Jesse, the pot is calling.

    • Actually, Raj, local legislatures generally don’t insert themselves into issues of international politics, particularly, when their position isn’t supported by anything approaching a majority of the student body. Check the results of the Polisci 207 poll. BDS is supported by maybe 25% of Vassar’s student body, and opposed by close to half of the student body. So the VSA vote did not reflect the will of Vassar students.

      So the time has come for Vassar students to educate themselves about the damage the BDS campaign has caused to Vassar, and what the VSA vote, which doesn’t reflect their beliefs has cost them. So far, this has damaged Vassar’s reputation, cost the school millions of dollars in lost donations, put scholarships for underprivileged students at risk, increased antisemitism at Vassar. This is all for the purpose of passing a resolution on a topic that most VSA members admit they know little about to support an extreme position that doesn’t reflect the will of the student body. And it’s all about an issue that has absolutely zero relevance to the day-to-day lives of Vassar students. And by the way, regardless of what vote the VSA takes, or the outcome of a referendum, no one would argue that SJP has any less right to say what they believe, so long as they comply with College regulations.

      It’s not worth it, Vassar.

  2. Bravo to Jesse Horowitz for illuminating the shamelessness of the members of the VSA for deviating from the by laws to take an anonymous vote on the BDS resolution. If the members of the VSA who voted for BDS and mocked opponents are willing to impose their convictions on an entire college community, why don’t they have the courage to identify themselves? It is incredible that proponents of BDS are willing to impose their political views on an entire college community, but are not willing to face the consequences of their actions.

    And speaking of anonymity, why do the Editors of the Misc require a name to submit comments, yet alllow “Raj” to publish his hatred towards Israel and Jews under a pseudonym and without even noting his connection, if any, to Vassar? Raj must be a super senior; he has been writing his rants for more years than it would take even a self described “lowly pee on” to graduate.

    Megan Tallmer, also known as Megan Tallmer
    Class of 1973

    • Ms Tallmer
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      The VSA constitution allows a 2/3 vote to allow a secret vote. And yet you wish to pretend that they broke the rules. Are we surprised that you continue to peddle smears and falsehoods. Nope. Its business as usual for persons like you to smear anyone who questions Israeli apartheid.
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      It’s rather cowardly of you to hide behind a religion and use it as a cover to smear others of “antisemitism” because you don’t wish to acknowledge Israeli apartheid.
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      Why my “rants” bother you is because they’re effective. I’ve pointed, accurately, you and the FTI crowd as a bunch of entitled alumni who wish to engage in this pretend shrieking of “anti-semitism”. The faculty and the student body are prolly having a good laugh at your permanent “victimhood”. The joke is on you.

  3. BDS is an anti-Semitic, racist movement, plain and simple. There are 49 Muslim majority countries in the world that identify themselves as Muslim and where Islam is considered the official religion of the state. But the BDS movement doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. They have a problem with only one nation, the Jewish one, which they wish to be supplanted with yet another dysfunctional Muslim state.

  4. Trying to demonize, delegitimize and apply double standards against a pluralistic, tolerant and democratic state such as Israel, by siding with genocidal groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, has nothing to do with human rights. It is just raw, undisguised anti-Semitism.

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