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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Petition calling for VSG to boycott BDS target corporations gains over 600 signatures

The petition comes from a newly formed group called the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition. Students Supporting Israel and ‘Dores for Israel responded with banners and flyers in support of Israel.
Alison Winters
“Divest from genocide” written in chalk on the wall in Rand, as photographed on Feb. 25, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Alison Winters)

CORRECTION: This article was updated on March 4 at 6:43 a.m. CST to clarify the goals of the BDS movement and stipulations of Vanderbilt Divest Coalition’s petition. It previously stated that the Maya Angelou poem recited at the Feb. 23 Blair concert was “Solidarity”; however, the poem is “Human Family,” and the event was “Solidarity: An Evening of Creative Collaborations.”

Vanderbilt Divest Coalition, a new student group, submitted a petition to Vanderbilt Student Government titled “Divest VSG from genocide” on Feb. 23. This comes as a response to the conflict in Gaza and frustrations with the administration’s stance of principled neutrality. The coalition also confronted Chancellor Daniel Diermeier while he walked outside of Blair School of Music that night.

Vanderbilt’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel and ‘Dores for Israel put up flyers and banners in response to the petition’s popularity. VSG President Sam Sliman posted his reply on Feb. 27 asking for minor changes to the proposed amendment before it can be considered.

Divest Coalition petition

The petition — submitted to VSG’s website “Roadmaps” — calls for text to be added to the statutes of VSG’s constitution that would prevent VSG’s funding from being used to purchase goods or services from companies that the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement has identified as “complicit” in Israel’s violence against the people in Gaza and post-1967 occupation of Palestinian territories. 

“None of the expenditures from the VSG Budget may be spent on the BDS movement’s consumer and organic boycott targets or spent in collaboration with organizations who spend student service funds on BDS movement’s consumer and organic boycott targets,” the amendment reads.

The petition currently has 642 signatures, which is over the 200-signature standard that VSG requires for submissions to receive an official response on whether they will take the next steps to incorporate the petition. Petitions calling for amendments to the VSG constitution require at least 338 signatures, or 5% of the student body. Their submission gained over 600 signatures in under 24 hours.

In a joint statement to The Hustler, the Divest Coalition said the next step for their amendment is for the VSG Judicial Branch to determine its constitutionality. If it is deemed constitutional, the amendment will be available for the student body to vote on during the upcoming VSG elections from March 25-28.

“Although Vanderbilt students overwhelmingly value human rights and justice, many don’t get involved in politics, particularly Palestinian advocacy, because they don’t know how or they think it’s a huge time commitment,” the Divest Coalition said. “The fact that our petition surpassed the needed threshold of signatures in just a few short hours demonstrates that students are eager to engage and jumped at the opportunity to take action, especially when it has a tangible impact.”

The Divest Coalition believes that petitioning VSG will be effective as the organization has funding that is taken directly from student tuition, saying that amending the VSG constitution is “one of the most tangible ways” for students to support Palestine.

“By passing this amendment, our student body will take a principled stand against genocide and apartheid,” the Divest Coalition said. “This is the first step in larger initiatives for Palestine solidarity on campus.”

A university representative declined to respond directly to the petition, stating that they are aware of this particular petition as well as “student activism on several topics.” 

“As we previously stated, our position on boycott, divestment and sanctions movements is that, unless required by law, Vanderbilt will not boycott or divest from companies for doing business in or with any specific nations,” the representative said in an email to The Hustler.

VSG response

VSG President Sam Sliman posted a response to the coalition’s petition in which he addressed two issues on Feb. 27. First, he said a referendum may only alter the VSG Constitution itself and not its statutes, as this power is left to the Senate. He proposed two solutions including bringing the bill directly to the Senate or amending the petition to instead address a section of the Constitution, as opposed to its statutes.

The second issue concerned VSG’s ability to “review the purchasing behavior of other student organizations.” Sliman said the petition’s request that VSG limit the recipients of funds from other student organizations may need to be removed or altered, and he asked that the Divest Coalition reach out to him with their changes.

“From there, we can work together to ensure that this progresses in a way that is amenable to you and the supporters that have signed your petition,” Sliman’s response reads.

In response to Sliman, a representative from the Divest Coalition said the group is working to make changes to adhere to VSG’s requests.

“We are excited to follow through on the minor edits indicated to make sure it goes to a public vote,” the representative said.

Divest Coalition

The Vanderbilt Divest Coalition is one of many groups committed to the initiatives of the BDS movement around the world calling for boycotts against investment in corporations accused of aiding Israel’s occupation of Palestine or complicit in its actions. 

Founded in 2005, the international BDS movement was inspired by boycotts that aided in putting an end to apartheid in South Africa. It calls for the end of Israel’s occupation of territories annexed in 1967 and dismantling of the West Bank separation wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice; equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the establishment of a right to return for Palestinian refugees. 

The BDS movement has been criticized by nations including Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, with several states denouncing the movement. In July 2023, New Hampshire became the 37th state to adopt an anti-BDS law. Israeli officials have accused the movement of being antisemitic for singling out Israel for sanctions and for its right of return stipulation, though others have claimed that such criticism incorrectly conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism. BDS has gained traction in recent years, with various student organizations, political groups and churches endorsing the movement. 

“The BDS movement exerts nonviolent economic and political pressure on the State of Israel until it ends the genocide in Gaza, respects fundamental human rights and ends its occupation of Palestine and oppression of Palestinian people,” the representative from the Divest Coalition said.

The coalition was recently founded in an effort to bring this movement to Vanderbilt’s campus, citing recent successful BDS resolutions at other universities like UC Davis and UCLA. A Senate bill at UC Davis passed by their undergraduate student council on Feb. 16 with a similar divestment amendment, and UCLA’s student government followed on Feb. 20. The Vanderbilt Divest Coalition said these examples represent the “growing momentum” of the BDS movement on college campuses.

“We are not a standalone organization but rather a diverse coalition of numerous student groups representing all facets of Vanderbilt’s community, united in our recognition of the fundamental humanity of the Palestinian people and the injustices they have faced at the hands of the Israeli state,” the Divest Coalition said.

The Divest Coalition put up flyers around campus promoting the petition. They believe many of the flyers were taken down by administration within the first hour of being posted and that their posters were “subjected to stricter scrutiny” than those of other groups. 

They were told by the administration that the reason for taking them down was due to a lack of a date of posting. The posters are now signed with an endorsement from Students for Justice in Palestine and date of posting. SJP did not respond to a request for comment.

In their statement, the Divest Coalition compared the university’s response to their posters with the lack of response to past posters promoting “hate speech and open bigotry” toward transgender students.

“The university claims neutrality on ‘political’ issues, but administrators make it abundantly clear which voices they decide to allow and which ones they decide to silence,” the Divest Coalition said.

As posted on their Instagram, the Divest Coalition followed Diermeier outside of Blair following a concert there on Feb. 23. The students asked Diermeier about Palestinian students’ families who have been or are at risk of being “indiscriminately slaughtered in Gaza” to which Diermeier did not respond. The group said they saw Diermeier’s reading of a Maya Angelou poem titled “Human Family” at the concert as “ironic and disgraceful” considering Angelou’s strong public support for Palestine.

“The Chancellor dismissed us immediately, refused to speak with us, called VUPD and fled in his Tesla. This is consistent with his continued silence,” the Divest Coalition said. “Instead of even acknowledging the students that were demanding he respond, he focused on spinning to avoid the camera and trying to distance himself.”

In their statement to The Hustler, a representative from the university said that administration expects students to be familiar with the policies outlined in the Student Handbook and that violations will be subject to action by Student Accountability. The university did not specifically respond to the incident outside of Blair.

“Student Affairs continues to remind students of our policies related to protests and demonstrations to ensure engagement remains civil, respectful and productive,” the representative said. “Any posters related to these and other activities that do not comply with the university’s posting policies will be removed.”

Student organizations react

SSI put up flyers in response to those promoting Divest Coalition’s petition. These flyers, which also lacked mention of a date of posting, stated “end Hamas” and “bring the hostages home,” referring to Israeli hostages who were taken during the Oct. 7 attacks. A representative from SSI said they wanted to protest against the rise in antisemitic and anti-Zionist views on college campuses they have seen since Hamas’s invasion.

“We’re very concerned about the rising anti-Israel sentiment on campus and the way that it has contributed to antisemitism and hostility toward Zionist students. We feel that it’s important for Vanderbilt students to be provided with more information outside of the narrative being pushed by the BDS coalition,” the representative said. “Bringing the hostages home and ending Hamas’s tyranny are crucial aspects of ending this war.”

DFI also put up flyers and a banner outside of Rand the day of the petition’s release reading “our existence is not political.” A representative from DFI said these materials were in response to protests at their recent events, but that they believe these were all quickly taken down by students.

“We originally designed our banner and flyers as a response to those who aimed to interrupt and shut down our events two weeks ago. We wanted to define what we actually stand for and that our organization was here to stay,” the representative said in a message to The Hustler. “We felt these materials were even more important to post given the events on Friday.” 

DFI expressed concern about what they perceive to be an “ultimatum” perpetuated by the BDS petition. They said the proposed amendment would force students and organizations to choose between breaking ties with Israel or being ostracized in a way that is “unfair and uncomfortable.”

“If the intention is to pull VSG funds from any student organizations who have ties to Israel or buy from companies with ties to Israel, the impact is that the entire mainstream Jewish and Israeli communities will be further disenfranchised, isolated and ostracized from the campus community,” the representative said. “Most of these students have connections to the Land of Israel via their faith or their culture, connections that have been passed down for over 3,500 years.”

In an Instagram post on March 1, DFI said they are sympathetic towards all lives lost in the ongoing conflict but believe passing the amendment would only lead to increased antisemitic behavior towards pro-Israel Jewish groups on campus. They said they view this petition as a proposal to remove funding from student groups with ties to Israel, including DFI and Hillel.

“Dores for Israel encourages you to unmask the true impact of this petition,” the statement reads. “Because this is not a boycott against Israel, it’s a boycott against the Jewish and Israeli students who call Vanderbilt their home.”

If passed, the amendment would prevent VSG and organizations who hold events in collaboration with VSG from spending VSG funds on purchases from BDS target corporations. Student organizations with ties to Israel or who buy from companies with ties to Israel would not be defunded, as long as these companies are not among the BDS movement’s targets.

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About the Contributor
Alison Winters
Alison Winters, Deputy News Editor
Alison Winters (‘25) is from Franklin, Tenn., and is majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in psychology in the College of Arts and Science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her at the movie theater, reading a good book or attending a concert in Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
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Comments (9)

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VU Soph
2 months ago

Palestine and Hamas stand for 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion, womxn’s rights, climate justice, religious freedom, common sense gun regulations, cease fires in all wars, freedom of the press, equal work equal pay, no book bans in education, anti-racism, human rights, food security, universal housing, and universal healthcare.

2 months ago
Reply to  VU Soph

hahahahahahahahahahhahhahaahahahhaahhahaaaaaa. i needed that laugh. LGBT is absolutely not permitted in islam and is punishable by death, torture and in Iran, forced transition for men, aka full castration.

VU Truth
2 months ago

“By passing this amendment, our student body will take a principled stand against genocide and apartheid,” the Divest Coalition said.

Gaslighting definition confirmed with this statement.

2 months ago

The ignorance of this younger generation continues to amaze me. A word salad of unoriginal nonsense copied and pasted from NYT op-ed writers and the squad. It’s a shame my alma mater hasn’t educated these children better.

2 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Absolutely 100% correct. This is what happens when a generation is brainwashed with revisionist history. Unfortunately, these kids cannot see or hear truth anymore. Know your history kids, before you bandwagon the “cool thing” that has no merit.

Last edited 2 months ago by Austin
Samuel Sanders
2 months ago

(Woke) Mob rule

2 months ago

Hoping all the best for the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition! Hostility may come your way, but know that you guys are on the right side of history and your efforts are seen and appreciated. Keep up the good fight!

2 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

What side of revisionist history are you speaking of?

2 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

You may want to learn the history of the Palestinian people, and how they have been allowed into several countries, who then ended up in in severe civil unrest from them allowing the Palestinians in as guest. Why don’t you ask Egypt why they refuse to take in the Palestinians! You may, while your at it, ask Libya and Syria about their experiences with the Palestinians! And the following information is a short history of the massive issues Palestinians have caused! Know your history before you speak, otherwise most people will view you as idiots!

  1. Kuwait: In 1991, during the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the Kuwaiti government expelled nearly 300,000 Palestinians—an astonishing 18% of Kuwait’s entire population. The reason behind this expulsion was the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The PLO’s backing of Iraq’s rocket attacks on Israel during the war led to the perception that much of the Palestinian community was complicit in the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait1.
  2. Jordan: Decades earlier, Palestinian groups operating in Jordan openly called for the overthrow of Jordan’s monarchy after the Six Day War. The PLO maintained its own separate army on Jordanian soil, using it to sow chaos. Armed gangs of PLO militants carried out robberies in Amman, claiming “financial assistance” for the ongoing War of Attrition against Israel. When Jordanian police and army members tried to defend citizens, they were attacked and killed. The Palestinian political network operated as a state within a state, launching rockets into Israel from Jordan1.
  3. Egypt: Despite sharing a border with Gaza, Egypt has ruled out accepting Palestinian refugees. The Egyptian government is even constructing a larger border wall with Gaza. While many observers wonder why Egypt, an Arab and Islamic nation, would turn away Palestinians, historical context sheds light. The memory of past conflicts and the PLO’s actions may influence Egypt’s stance. It’s essential to recognize that Palestinian organizations have not only attacked Israel but also sowed unrest in neighboring Arab and Muslim countries1.
  4. Overall Shift: The strategic importance of the Palestinian question in the Arab world has declined since the Camp David Accords. Public opinion has shifted, and the Palestinian issue is no longer a top priority for Arab publics, especially amidst conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya2.