University of Maryland student government scraps BDS bill before vote

(JTA) — Members of the University of Maryland student government nixed a bill to boycott Israel before it could be brought to a vote.

After two hours of debate Wednesday, the student affairs committee put forward an unfavorable report on the bill by a vote of 21-1 with three abstentions, according to the university’s Diamondback newspaper. Student legislators then voted 23-13 against overturning the report, with one abstention.

Of the 61 students that spoke during the debates, 45 opposed the bill, according to student legislator David Rekhtman.

“BDS does nothing to facilitate that change [of status quo in Israel], nor does it help to promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians or students on campus,” said one speaker, Talya Gordon, a sophomore psychology major. “What BDS does is shut down the conversation before it can ever be had.”

The bill would have called on the University of Maryland to divest from companies that supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel say enable and profit from human rights violations in the Palestinian territories.

The legislation was put forward at the urging of the Students for Justice in Palestine group on campus. A petition by the pro-Palestinian group in support of the bill was signed by nearly 200 undergraduate students. One against the petition garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

Ahead of Wednesday’s debates, powerful voices from outside the university weighed in against the bill. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and six of Maryland’s Democratic U.S. congressmen signed a letter to the student government president, A.J. Pruitt, voicing opposition to the BDS movement “that would only undermine efforts to achieving Middle East peace through a two-state solution.”

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order barring executive branch agencies from doing business with entities unless they certify that they will not boycott Israel.

Also Wednesday, the University of Michigan’s student government voted 23-17, with five abstentions, to urge university leaders to look into divesting from companies that do business with Israel.

The resolution to investigate divesting from Israel passed after 10 failed attempts since 2002. Last year’s resolution was voted down 34-13.

However, University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said that while the university appreciates hearing from its students, the main purpose of its investments is to generate income to support its mission, according to the MLive news website.

“We do not anticipate a change in this approach or the creation of a committee,” he said.

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