SFSU President Says She Can’t Support BDS Resolution

San Francisco State University (SFSU) President Lynn Mahoney announced that she can’t support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution that the student government passed on November 18.

In a letter to the Associated Students Board of Directors (obtained by the Jewish News of Northern California), Mahoney wrote that the university aims to create a “safe space for discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which is why she can’t support the divestment resolution that recently passed.

“I am deeply uncomfortable with the binary positions that drove the conversation around the resolution,” she wrote. “I also fundamentally disagree with the premise that a single geopolitical issue can serve as a proxy against which to measure an institution’s commitment to human rights. I regret that the resolution flattens an incredibly complex historical and current geopolitical issue into misleading binaries.”

“I regret that the resolution flattens an incredibly complex historical and current geopolitical issue into misleading binaries.” — Lynn Mahoney

Mahoney added: “Some would have us believe that you are either Pro-Palestinian or Pro-Israel; that you are either an antisemite if you oppose Zionism or a racist if you support it. You can only be for or against. These binaries do not do this issue justice nor do they do justice to us as a University.”

The university president did say she respected the student government’s “commitment to human rights” as well as the right for students to criticize Israel, however she “was struck by the acknowledgement some made throughout the process about how little they know — and many of us know — about the historical and current complexities of Israel and Palestine. We need courageous conversations, and we need to listen to one another without demonizing each other. We who are in leadership positions — at the student and administration levels — must hold ourselves accountable to model complex conversations, develop nuanced understandings, and think about how our actions either fuel or stem Islamophobia, antisemitism, academic freedom, freedom of expression, and activism.”

Mahoney also noted that several countries have committed human rights abuses, including “the gross violation of voter rights and racial disenfranchisement rampant in our nation” and that “a single geopolitical issue cannot serve as a proxy against which to measure an institution’s commitment to human rights. The University cannot advance a divestment position with no global context or acceptance of the complexities at hand.”

Mahoney said she would instruct the university to adopt “a socially responsible investment strategy” and that the university “will initiate a faculty, student, and administration collaboration and use our shared governance partnerships to construct a comprehensive plan for educating and training on Islamophobia, antisemitism, and the resurgence of white nationalism that threatens many of our communities — and model how to have these important discussions without blacklisting, red lining, doxing or canceling.”

San Francisco Hillel Director Rachel Nilson Ralston said in an email to community members, “We appreciate Dr. Mahoney’s nuanced framing of the issues, which helps our diverse Jewish student community feel heard and included. We also welcome Dr. Mahoney’s strong vision for the future of SF State that affirms our students’ right to a safe learning environment, where marginalization and bullying are condemned, where we have courageous conversations and respectful disagreement.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “We commend President Mahoney for recognizing the serious and deleterious effects of the intolerance expressed in the chat, and for making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she will not tolerate blatant intolerance like this on her campus.  However, it’s also important to recognize the role that faculty – like her own Rabab Abdulhadi, faculty advisor to the GUPS students who brought the BDS resolution forward – play in inciting such hateful rhetoric and the hateful behavior that inevitably results.  To achieve what President Mahoney aims to achieve, it’s critical she also apply this standard to professors like Abdulhadi, who inappropriately participated in the chat and who regularly abuses her university position and resources to promote viciously anti-Israel propaganda and demonize and marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students at SFSU, and has been doing so, with impunity, for more than a decade.”

The resolution, which called for the university to divest from more than 100 companies that conduct business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, passed with 17 votes in favor and one against and two abstentions. Jewish groups had denounced the resolution’s passage, arguing that it would have a negative impact for Jewish students on campus.

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