Opinion

Open Letter in Response to ASM Actions on Divestment

Faculty members associated with the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies voice concern after ASM divestment. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

We, the undersigned, are faculty and staff affiliated with the George L. Mosse / Laurence A. Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We are deeply troubled by recent actions of the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Student Council, and we call on the ASM leadership to reconsider the wisdom of those actions.

After a divestment resolution that singled out the State of Israel was defeated at the March 29th ASM meeting, Student Council member Ariela Rivkin requested that ASM not take up related resolutions at ASM’s April 12th meeting because it fell during the Passover holiday. Despite her request, the ASM Student Council took extraordinary steps on April 12, including suspension of its own bylaws, to create a standing ASM committee dedicated to divestment. We are dismayed by these actions, which appear to reflect a willful exclusion of Jewish students from student governance concerning a matter of special interest and concern to them. This exclusion is contrary to the spirit of state law and university policy, which encourage reasonable accommodation of religious observances. We commend the ASM Student Council members who walked out in protest and the ASM Student Judiciary, which issued an injunction against the student legislation enacted at the April 12th meeting.

The ASM Student Council took up another divestment resolution at its final meeting of this session on April 26. This resolution did not single out Israel, and Jewish students thanked the authors of the resolution for accommodating their concerns. However, the language singling out Israel was subsequently reincorporated into the resolution by amendment. We believe this language is selective and one-sided, creating a regrettably facile and tendentious picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We note that the university’s March 30th statement “encourage[d] students seeking to address geopolitical conflicts that span generations to take the time to understand fully the complex nature of these issues,” and we strongly endorse this encouragement. One way for students to deepen their understanding is to take one of the many relevant courses in the history of Israel, Zionism, and the Middle East, including those offered by the Center for Jewish Studies.

We support the university’s April 26th “Statement in Response to ASM Action on Divestment,” and we share the concerns expressed therein that ASM’s actions appear undemocratic, not transparent, and in violation of a Student Judiciary ruling. We are especially disturbed by reports that on April 26 some students publicly targeted and verbally attacked the ASM Student Council’s only Jewish member. We commend UW Hillel and Badgers United Against Hate for their efforts to promote a more inclusive campus. We applaud Chancellor Blank’s “opposition to the concept of BDS and academic boycotts,” and we are reassured by the university’s reaffirmation that it “values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities.”

(Signed)

Michael Bernard-Donals, Professor, English

Amos Bitzan, Assistant Professor, History

Teryl L. Dobbs, Associate Professor, Mead Witter School of Music

Ivan Ermakoff, Professor, Sociology

Michael V. Fox, Professor Emeritus, Classical and Near Eastern Studies

Chad Alan Goldberg, Professor, Sociology

Philip Hollander, Assistant Professor, German, Nordic, and Slavic

Jeremy M. Hutton, Associate Professor, Classical and Near Eastern Studies

Tracey Mason, Financial Specialist, Center for Jewish Studies

Tony Michels, Professor, History

Bilha Mirkin, Emeritus, Center for Jewish Studies

Anna Paretskaya, Lecturer, Sociology

Daniel N. Pekarsky, Professor Emeritus, Educational Policy Studies

Jeanne Swack, Professor, Mead Witter School of Music

Frank M. Tuerkheimer, Professor Emeritus, Law School

Uri Vardi, Professor, Mead Witter School of Music

Alan Jay Weisbard, Professor Emeritus, Law School

Haya Yuchtman, Senior Lecturer, Center for Jewish Studies

Marina Zilbergerts, Assistant Professor, German, Nordic, and Slavic

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