USG passes anti-Semitism denunciation resolution after initial BDS Movement controversy

Mitch Felan

Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) passed its controversial resolution to condemn anti-Semitism on main campus Wednesday.

The resolution passed with a 18-0-3 vote in a meeting attended by Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP), Students Supporting Israel at Kent State (SSI) and The Student Power Coalition.

“This is a very rare resolution,” Ariella Yager, resolution’s sponsor, said. “We’re usually passing things like dining, tampons being sold on campus and stuff like that.”

The legislation became controversial for its ties to the Israel-Palestine conflict after it was introduced at USG’s Feb. 22 meeting.

Although USG’s resolution worked out those issues, Yager said the conflict plays a small part in the new resolution, as it was created at the request of SSl President Sophia Witt.

“I worked very hard on this,” Witt said after the resolution was passed. “A lot of writing, reforming and trying to get everything together to best represent the Jewish people.”

Yager said that if any other minority student comes to SSI with a desire to create a resolution, they shouldn’t be afraid to do so.

“It’s not like we found them and said, ‘We really want to support you,’” she said.

The resolution had a rocky start, with the main controversies coming from the legislation’s definition of anti-Semitism — which was borrowed from the U.S. Department of State — and its explicit mentions of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement in connection with anti-Semitism.

Palestinian groups created the international BDS Movement in an effort to economically pressure Israel. This included boycotting Israeli-made products and campaigning for sanctions against Israel.

Yousof Mousa, president of SJP, said he was dismayed after hearing the proposed resolution would include a definition that conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of the state of Israel’s policies and actions, as well as the ideology of Zionism.

“My concern stemmed from the fact it would sanction debate and curb my speech to advocate for Palestinian rights,” Mousa said.

The new resolution omits all mentions of the movement. Mousa later said he is grateful USG walked back on the connection and used a “traditional understanding of anti-Semitism.”

The other issue, as Yager pointed out, was the definition of the term “anti-Semitism” in the originally-proposed legislation that was taken from the U.S. Department of State’s definition for the term.

Sitting down with professors and professionals “with knowledge in the Israel-Palestine conflict” helped resolve the issue, she said.

“The biggest take-away was that the Department of State’s definition wasn’t okay. How were we supposed to know which definition was true or not?” Yager said.

The original resolution also references several other occurrences of anti-Semitic speech at the Kent State campus, including an incident where a student called his waitress a (Jewish slur) on a receipt at a local bar and the painting of Nazi imagery on the Kent State Rock last semester. Those references were taken out of the revised copy.

But even with the changes, controversy arose in the USG governance chambers over the definition, which some students argued needed to go further.

Amanda Michalak, a senior political science major who wrote a letter to the editor for The Kent Stater on the original resolution, argued USG needed to acknowledge that criticism of the state of Israel did not equate anti-Semitism.

Mousa and Rachel Mason, president of the Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA), who was at the meeting, agreed with the change.

A Jewish student in the audience — who did not reveal his name and wished to remain anonymous — had issues with the proposal.

“What I’m hearing, whether it’s anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism, it’s hate speech,” he said. “And Zionism is the right to self-determination.”

The conversation lasted several minutes before USG President Samuel Graska offered to listen to both sides at a separate time to discuss the definitions of anti-Semitism versus that of anti-Zionism.

Graska said the resolution debated should be voted on as is.

“We learned the history behind it, and we created our own definition of anti-Semitism. It suits the students on our campus and our campus climate. It’s not political and it’s not part of the Israel-Palestine conflict at all,” Yager said in defense of the new definition.

“(Yager and I) really wanted it to be inclusive to everyone  not only Jewish people, but all minorities,” Witt said.

The definition worked, as students from SSI, SALSA, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and several USG senators publicly supported the resolution after stating their issues with the original draft.

Mousa also threw his support behind the modified legislation.

“What anti-racist wouldn’t support a condemnation of (anti-Semitism)?” he said. “It was easy to support as part of this larger struggle against bigotry.”

Mitch Felan is a senior reporter, contact him at [email protected].