REQUEST TO BUY THIS PHOTOBROOKE LAVALLEY | DISPATCHReema Jallaq photographs a Palestinian flag she is holding in front of the Wexner Center for the Arts on the Ohio State University campus during a March 22 protest.
The Israel-Palestine conflict, never absent from most U.S. college campuses, is fueling especially passionate debate in central Ohio this spring.
Much of the argument centers on the nationwide “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement, which aims to punish Israel economically as a way to pressure it to change its treatment of Palestinians. In recent years, the movement has attracted powerful pushback from pro-Israel organizations.
As student governments at Capital and Ohio State universities considered resolutions on opposite sides of the issue last week, all three central Ohio Congress members and two state representatives entered the debate at Ohio State. Republican Reps. Steve Stivers and Pat Tiberi joined with Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty in a letter urging the Undergraduate Student Government to reject a measure calling for university divestment from three companies deemed to be involved in Israeli punishment and isolation of Palestinians in the West Bank.
State Reps. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, and Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, also sent letters opposing the resolution, which named Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and G4S.
In the Statehouse, Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, is one of 14 sponsors of House Bill 476, which would deny state contracts to any company that supports a boycott of Israel. Schuring, who was part of a Statehouse delegation that traveled to Israel, said he considers it “a bright and shining star that we should look to” because it serves as “a prospering, flourishing oasis in the Middle East.”
On Tuesday, a dozen or so members of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group of Jews who support Palestinian rights and criticize Israeli government policies, gathered on the Ohio State campus to protest the anti-”Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement, including Schuring’s bill, which they say would suppress a constitutional right to protest through boycott. “It is something you have to do at times,” said Farrell Brody, an organizer of the protest. “It’s a nonviolent means of pushing for justice.”
The pro-Israel side prevailed in both of the college votes; the OSU student government voted 25-9, with 15 abstentions, to reject the divestment measure. At Capital, the Student Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and pledging support for Capital’s Jewish community.
Neither the college measures nor the house bill mentions the BDS movement, but it has figured large in the debate.
Tomer Elias, an Israeli-born OSU student who campaigned against the divestment measure, considers BDS inherently anti-Semitic because it aims to harm Israel. Both he and Capital student Austin Reid, who pushed for the resolution condemning anti-Semitism, believe BDS protests create a hostile atmosphere for Jews on campus.
Sarah Almusbahi is a leader of #OSUDivest, the group that backed the unsuccessful divestment measure. She supports the aims of the BDS movement, but says opponents ignored that the resolution was more narrowly focused. “All we ask is that we not support three companies involved in well-documented human-rights abuses,” she said.
#OSUDivest isn’t going away, she said, noting that the failed resolution won endorsements from 23 student groups. “This movement challenges the status quo, and whenever you do that there’s going to be heavy opposition,” she said. “We’ve just gotten started.”