UTDivest

Tracy Frydberg’s editorial response “BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community” entirely avoids the points that my original article makes. I make two key points: First, that Unify Texas is not open about its pro-Israeli politics and that prevents an honest campus debate; and second, that Palestine is a relevant issue of justice and human rights for students and UTDivest is a way to get involved.

For the first point, I explain that they are run by Texas Hillel, which announced Unify Texas in an email to its supporters and said they “must speak with one voice” that is pro-Israel. This is an explicitly political position. Neither Hillel nor this position is acknowledged by Unify Texas, and repeated requests about this from the author were ignored. To elaborate on why Hillel’s politics matter, I discuss the Open Hillel movement of Jewish college students. In short, the movement calls on Hillel chapters to reject the restrictive political standards of the organization and engage in dialogue about Palestine.

For the second point, I quote famous activists like Dorothy Zellner and Nelson Mandela, who argued that their work for civil rights and against apartheid rests on a principle of justice which should be extended to Palestinians. I explain that Palestine is particularly an issue for UT students because our University and our government support the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine with various investments. UTDivest and BDS are a way to fight against the occupation by ending our institutional complicity. I cite Martin Luther King Jr. and how white America hated him to show that we have to fight for justice even if it’s divisive.

Frydberg does not address any of these points. She argues that UTDivest activism will promote anti-Semitism and that I have already done so through my article. Her article contains no citations and makes verifiably false claims.

Frydberg says that I have “refused to engage with Jewish student groups on the issue.” There is no citation. This is false and is particularly odd because I have never even been approached. On the other hand, I recently contacted Jewish student groups like Open Hillel to discuss Palestine and Hillel.

Frydberg says Texas Hillel is non-political. This is false, as repeatedly stated by Hillel itself. They openly advocate pro-Israel politics in the Unify Texas email and on their website. On their “About Us” page, they proudly say that they won the “Best Campus Political Organization” award for work that included “Texans for Israel advocacy.”

Frydberg accuses me of “insidiously” going from being “anti-Israel” to “anti-Semitic.” There is no explanation for how I or my article does this (because, again, she does not address anything I actually say). Perhaps the accusation is because I support UTDivest, which she says decided to “single out one Jewish state for its vitriol.” Readers should read the UTDivest resolution and my original article (and others I have written), all of which is on the basis of human rights. As such, I agree that the same standard should be applied to other companies and other countries.

Frydberg says that Israel and the Jewish people are “intertwined” and “inseparable.” It’s not clear what this means, but it’s clear after the recent Israeli elections that an increasing number of Jewish Americans do not agree with this. This is especially true for those who are in organizations like Open Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace, which explicitly reject the idea that Israel has a monopoly on Judaism.  Frydberg claims that UTDivest has “slapped away” invitations from the “Jewish community” (again no citation). It’s also unclear what this means, especially because Austin Jewish Voice for Peace and Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights are members of UTDivest and have been publicly speaking at events.

Frydberg then makes a series of accusations about BDS and anti-Semitism at various universities with no citations. Moreover, she doesn’t actually state who is supposedly being anti-Semitic or what their relationship is to UTDivest. I can’t respond to these accusations without knowing this information.

Frydberg then repeats accusations that UTDivest is anti-Semitic and does not actually care about human rights because they are singling out Israel. Again, the reader should review UTDivest and see for themselves that everything is based on human rights, and that they are fully supportive of other such initiatives. As mentioned, BDS is modeled on a similar campaign conducted on US college campuses against South African apartheid.

UTDivest provides an opportunity for students to act on UT’s core values of Freedom and Responsibility with regards to the Palestinians. This requires open debate on the actual issue and honest politics. Students who are concerned about human rights and justice should take this debate seriously rather than avoiding the issue and relying on non sequiturs and baseless accusations.

— Mukund Rathi, computer science honors junior, in response to Tracy Frydberg's Wednesday Firing Line titled "BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community."

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Student-led movement UTDivest will propose legislation to Student Government asking for the University of Texas Investment Management Company to pull investments from corporations the group believes facilitate the oppression of Palestinians. 

Unify Texas, another campus movement, has expressed disagreements with UTDivest and has garnered support through social media and an online petition. UTDivest, which the Palestinian Solidarity Committee founded, is part of a larger boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement started by Palestinian civil society organizations.

Katie Jensen, SG graduate student representative, sociology graduate student supporter of UTDivest, said the movement is fighting for human rights and equality.

“I don’t want my tuition money going to the corporations that have produced the infrastructure that enables the segregation, inequality and painful uncertainties that subjugate Palestinian people,” Jensen said.

Brandon Mond, government senior and one of the founders of Unify Texas, said divestment divides pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups and cuts off dialogue.

“Dialogue and the free exchange of ideas is sacrosanct at a university,” Mond said. “Where the people who are bringing this divestment movement refuse to engage in dialogue with groups that have opposing ideologies, we think that’s wrong, and we oppose that.”

Mohammed Nabulsi, SG law school representative and supporter of UTDivest, said Unify Texas does not understand the BDS movement.

“Unify Texas relies on a mischaracterization of BDS and our goals here on campus in order to make a straw man argument,” Nabulsi said. “BDS is a step towards leveling the negotiating playing field so that the Israeli government is forced to take Palestinian demands seriously.”

The BDS movement has gained traction at other American universities, such as DePaul University and University of California-Davis. Student groups at these schools have been successful in passing student legislation asking for the divestment of their universities from corporations that the groups believe help to oppress Palestinians. 

Nabulsi said UTDivest plans to introduce its legislation in support of divestment at the SG Assembly meeting Tuesday. The legislation states that investing in corporations which, according to UTDivest, participate in illegal activities or facilitate in oppression of the Palestinian people compromises the University's core values.

“The University of Texas fails to uphold its values of ‘improving the human condition at local and global levels through programs that advance equality’ by investing in companies that facilitate and profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine and systematic human rights violations,” Nabulsi said. 

Mond said their cause has no political affiliations.

“You don’t have to be of a certain mind-set to oppose BDS in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Mond said. “We have pro-Israel students who are against it for obvious reasons. We have pro-Palestinian students who are against divestment also because they don’t think it’s the place of Student Government to decide this.”

University spokesman J. B. Bird said the Office of the President is aware of the two groups, although they have not been approached about the situation. The UT System Board of Regents would make the ultimate decision to divest, according to Bird.

“We have not been formally approached about this question, and we do not have any formal response,” Bird said. “It hasn’t been brought up, so we don’t have a position on it.”

Correction: This article has been amended since its original publication. UTDivest's proposed legislation says investing in corporations that participate in illegal activities or facilitate the oppresion of Palestinian people is contrary to the University's core values.