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Sonoma State University Agrees to Academic Boycott of Israel Amid Controversy

Sonoma State University agrees to academic boycott of Israel, sparking backlash and aligning with BDS movement.

By Athena Xu

5/15, 16:57 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • Sonoma State University agrees to an academic boycott of Israel, barring formal collaborations with Israeli institutions.
  • The university commits to developing a divestment strategy without divesting from Israel-linked entities in its endowment.
  • Agreement draws criticism and aligns the university with the controversial BDS movement, raising concerns about potential backlash.

Academic Boycott Agreement

Sonoma State University, a public liberal arts college in California, has entered into an agreement with pro-Palestinian protesters that includes an academic boycott of Israel. This agreement, announced by Sonoma State President Mike Lee and campus activists, precludes the university from engaging in formal academic collaborations with Israeli institutions, including study abroad programs. President Lee emphasized the importance of not remaining on the sidelines in the face of human suffering, stating, "None of us should be on the sidelines when human beings are subject to mass killing and destruction."

Divestment Strategy Development

As part of the agreement, Sonoma State University has committed to developing a divestment strategy that incorporates "ethical alternatives." However, the university has not agreed to divest from Israel-linked entities within its endowment. This move comes amid nationwide efforts by colleges to address pro-Palestinian protests, which have disrupted academic schedules and led to scaled-back graduation ceremonies. Other universities, such as Harvard, Rutgers, and Northwestern, have engaged with activists but have not acceded to divestment demands, citing various concerns including the complexity of investment structures and potential legal issues.

Enforcement and Oversight

A notable aspect of the Sonoma State agreement is the designation of the Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus student group, as the sole authority to appoint members to a new advisory group. This group, in collaboration with administration staff, is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the agreement. The Sonoma State chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has publicly declared that its demands have been met, marking a significant moment in the campus's engagement with these issues.

Broader Context and Criticism

The agreement has positioned Sonoma State University in alignment with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, drawing criticism from figures such as State Senator Scott Wiener, who views the agreement as aligning the campus with BDS. The BDS movement has been controversial, with critics labeling it antisemitic due to its questioning of the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Advocates for Palestine, however, argue that boycotts and divestments are vital non-violent tactics to pressure Israel. The agreement has also sparked discussions about the potential for backlash similar to what was experienced by Ben & Jerry's following its boycott, with concerns about the impact on university operations and stakeholder views.