Boston students reject Israeli training of campus cops

An Israeli police officer puts a Palestinian in a choke hold while another officer points a gun

Students across the US are demanding that their universities end complicity in Israel’s systems of occupation and apartheid.

Goran Tomasevic Reuters

Students at Tufts University in Boston have voted in favor of ending all foreign military training of the college’s police department.

Their referendum is just the latest in a recent series of victorious student campaigns in support of Palestinian rights around the country.

Members of Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and more than 40 allied campus groups launched the referendum campaign after documents revealed that Tufts’ police chief attended a “counter-terrorism seminar” in Israel, funded by the Anti-Defamation League.

The referendum passed with the support of 68 percent of voters, and in spite of smear campaigns by Israel lobby groups to try and influence the outcome.

Tufts SJP says it is the first student group to adopt the national End the Deadly Exchange campaign, a project of Jewish Voice for Peace, which seeks to end ties between US and Israeli police forces.

In addition to demanding that the university prohibit campus police officers from attending training programs, students are seeking a formal apology from administrators for sending the police chief to be trained by Israeli police commanders.

They also call on the university to refine the vetting process for hiring future police officials “to prevent prior program attendees from being hired.”

Tufts administrators have already dismissed the referendum, with the university’s public relations chief claiming it was “misinformed.”

The Anti-Defamation League said that it was “grateful” that Anthony Monaco, the university’s president, has “promised to take no action in response to this misguided initiative.”

Earlier this year, Tufts administrators impugned SJP over its work with the Deadly Exchange campaign.

After Tufts SJP was given an award in April by the university’s Office for Campus Life, major Israel lobby groups condemned SJP and the university itself. They labeled Palestine rights advocacy as incitement to “hatred and intolerance” and urged the university’s president to rescind the award.

However, instead of defending their students, Monaco and other senior university officials repeated Israel lobby talking points to smear the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic.

Capitulating to the Israel lobby, Tufts officials claimed that the award “should not have” been given to SJP.

Seven months later, Tufts continues to ignore student demands and has yet “to offer more protection for student activists facing attacks from outside agitators,” Tufts SJP said in a statement on 19 December.

But students say that the growing support for dismantling training programs between US and Israeli forces on their campus is significant and has the potential to lead to institutional change.

“Tufts SJP urges the university to listen to student voices and follow through on their promise of providing a safe campus for all,” the group said.

“Uniting in demands”

Preceding the successful referendum vote at Tufts, students in California, New York and Indiana led strong campaigns on their campuses to uphold Palestinian rights.

In October, students at California State University, Fresno passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies that play an active role in Israel’s occupation.

On 18 November, the student government at San Francisco State University (SFSU) passed a resolution calling on the university to divest its holdings from corporations complicit in Israel’s occupation.

The vote, which was passed by a significant margin – 17 in favor, one against and two abstaining – was held as a closed ballot, due to a series of attacks and intimidation campaigns on social media by Israel lobby groups against student representatives, according to the General Union of Palestinian Students at SFSU.

The divestment vote came just two months after a discussion on Palestine hosted by members of faculty at SFSU was censored and shut down by Silicon Valley tech giants, including Zoom, Google and Facebook, under pressure from Israel lobby groups and members of the Israeli government itself.

SFSU joins other campuses in the California State University system which have passed similar resolutions in support of the BDS movement.

“CSUs in the Bay Area are uniting in their demands for combating occupation and oppression,” the students stated.

Students do not support apartheid

In late September, students at Columbia University’s liberal arts college in New York City supported a referendum calling on the university to divest from “stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians.”

More than 60 percent of voters supported the referendum, making it clear that “they want nothing to do with Israel’s practices of settler-colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid,” stated Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a student campaign group.

Immediately after the referendum passed, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger rejected the students’ demands and reiterated the administration’s commitment to their investment policies.

Students stated that they will “continue to apply pressure on the university to heed the demands” made in the referendum.

And at Butler University in Indiana, two resolutions that would have condemned the BDS campaign and conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry were rushed to the Student Government Association in October, following attack campaigns by anti-Palestinian groups and right-wing political commentators.

“As pro-Israel groups attempted to enlist student government as a censor of speech in support of Palestine,” a senior Butler administrator “sent a campus-wide email to students bolstering false Zionist claims about the event and implying that the resolutions were a solution,” stated the civil rights group Palestine Legal.

While Palestine Legal called on the official to apologize, student organizers received support from campus groups and local human rights and antiwar organizations.

The resolutions were defeated.

Despite “deliberate attempts” to censor its work, Butler’s SJP chapter told Mondoweiss that its activists “remain steadfast in our commitment to educating our campus on the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).