The Oberlin College Student Senate has endorsed a resolution that calls for the college to divest from six companies that allegedly profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Oberlin College Students for a Free Palestine, an anti-Israel student group, presented the resolution to the Student Senate, which voted by majority to support it May 5.
But Rabbi Shimon Brand, Jewish chaplain at the college, said the resolution is not a cause for great concern.
“It’s a sad thing, but not a significant thing,” said Brand, director of Hillel at Oberlin College.
“The Oberlin College Student Senate is not a representative of the student body. It’s a minor organization on campus. The Student Senate does not have a clue about Israel; they know nothing about it.
“This also has no reflection on Oberlin College’s investment policies. The (college’s) investment committee will not pay attention to it. It won’t affect the administration on its investments.”
The resolution calls for the college’s divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Group 4 Securicor, SodaStream, Elbit Systems and Veolia. It indicates these companies do business in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and Gaza.
“These six companies represent a wide range of injustices perpetrated on the Palestinian people by Israel,” a May 6 press release from Students for a Free Palestine said. “By endorsing the resolution, Oberlin College will join a growing global movement for justice in Israel/Palestine.”
The press release also calls the resolution’s endorsement “a major milestone in SFP’s Oberlin Divest campaign, which follows the principles of the 2005 Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”
“We are thrilled that this resolution has passed,” Lucia Kalinosky, an Oberlin senior and Students for a Free Palestine member, said in the release. “We’re proud that our senate has decided to stand on the side of justice.”
But even though the Students for a Free Palestine views the action as a victory for its divestment campaign, Brand does not see it that way.
“(The Student Senate) said they want to make it very clear they are not advocating for any divestment from Israel itself,” he said.
“Jewish students on Senate worked very hard to get the Senate to change the proposal, so the Student Senate removed anything that would allow this to be associated with the general divestment campaign.”
Nina Sundell, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the resolution is non-binding, so the college’s administration is not obligated to make a financial decision based on the Student Senate’s endorsement of the resolution.
“The ADL has spoken out against BDS campaigns on a national level, and we would say the same thing in this case,” said Sundell, whose office is based in Cleveland.
“These campaigns are orchestrated by individuals who seek to deepen the division between Israelis and Palestinians. They are problematic because it places the entire onus on Israel and the Israelis. It doesn’t give a clear understanding of the conflict on both sides.”
Similar resolutions have been passed this school year at the University of California campuses in Irvine, Berkeley and San Diego.
“We have been seeing a lot of these types of resolutions, and several BDS campaigns, popping up on campuses this year and in recent years,” Sundell said. “These campaigns and resolutions can negatively impact the university by creating environments that are less inclusive, less unified and more hostile.”
Sundell said while the resolution “definitely does concern us,” the ADL does not plan to take any action at this time because it is non-binding and the college has no financial obligation as a result of it.
In the press release, Students for a Free Palestine indicated it plans to take the resolution next semester to the college’s investment committee, which will determine if Oberlin adopts the financial policies outlined in the resolution.
Scott Wargo, the college’s director of media relations, said the resolution will be presented to the investment committee, and “it will be given all due consideration.”
“Students have a number of different ideas regarding the endowment of the college and how they would like to see the college manage the endowment,” Wargo said. “In this case, the Student Senate, through its support of the resolution, has concerns about the college’s endowment and investments.”
Gary Coleman, executive director of the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, said he had been in contact with Brand about the situation.
“I have full confidence in the work Shimon does at Hillel at Oberlin,” he said. “He is involved with the students and the decision making, and we are very supportive of all of his work.”
A member of the Oberlin Student Senate who was contacted by email seeking comment did not reply.