Sheila Nazarian

Anti-Israel Referendum Fails at Princeton

Princeton University (Shutterstock)

On April 13, leaked results revealed that Princeton students voting April 11-13 had rejected an anti-Israel referendum question whose consideration has poisoned the last several weeks of life for Jewish students on campus. 56% of students chose not to support the antisemitic BDS referendum, with the remaining 44% voting in favor. Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Constitution provides that a vote is binding on the Student Senate only if “a majority of the votes cast in the referendum are in the affirmative.”

This is not the first time Princeton students have rejected anti-Israel hatred in recent years. In 2015, an even more ambitious referendum to completely divest Princeton from “all multinational corporations that contribute to or profit from [Israel’s] illegal military occupation of the Palestinian territories” generated a surge in antisemitic activity. According to records published in the Princetonian and in the Tory, there were no recorded instances of antisemitic activity at Princeton for 10 years prior to the 2015 BDS referendum, yet the semester of the 2015 referendum saw 12 individually tracked antisemitic events.

This year’s referendum, attempting a new strategy after having already been rejected by the student body, strategically chose not to mention the global anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the referendum language. The referendum language attempted to obfuscate the issue with misleading information about prison labor in the U.S., and an emotional appeal regarding American activist Rachel Corrie who died twenty years ago in a combat environment in the Gaza Strip during the second intifada, two years before Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory.

Referendum supporters also declined to participate in a debate over the proposal, showing that they knew that their campaign could not withstand the rigorous scrutiny the student body would be able to provide given a thorough examination and time for due consideration. They understood that they would be revealed as supporters of a global movement that hurts Jews and Palestinians without bringing anyone closer to a just peace. 

It’s quite shocking that the student government has pursued no such referendum targeting  Russia, which has repeatedly invaded its much smaller neighbors and is currently pursuing a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine; or China, with its genocide of the Uighurs, its crackdown on Hong Kong, and its seventy-year occupation of Tibet. Instead, it has singled out for attack the Middle East’s most flourishing democracy, in which Arab citizens serve in the governing parliamentary coalition and on the Supreme Court.

As noted above, the USG Constitution provides for a referendum resolution to be binding only if “a majority of the votes cast in the referendum are in the affirmative.” (Sec. 1003(a)(2)). Under Robert’s Rules of Order, the traditional basis of parliamentary procedure at U.S. institutions, “​​if the rules explicitly require a majority… an abstention will have the same effect as a “no” vote.” This is distinct from a plurality of votes cast, as under plurality rules, a position “need only poll more votes than any other single opponent.”

As a fellow Ivy League alumna, I know firsthand what it’s like for my alma mater to experience a campus-wide BDS referendum. At Columbia University, the administration rejected the campus-wide BDS referendum after it passed in September 2020. All the referendum did was marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus while having no material effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe their ultimate goal was to make Jewish and pro-Israel students feel unwelcome and unsafe in the first place. We know that these referendums serve no purpose and the Princeton administration would not implement the ridiculous claims and demands in the referendum. 

Even using misleading language, avoiding debate, and pouring in outside resources to attempt to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, the referendum’s sponsors could not cobble together a majority to support their bigoted proposal. It’s time for Princeton to end its demonization and persecution of Israel. 

About the Author
Dr. Sheila Nazarian is an Emmy Nominated, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon with a private practice in Beverly Hills. She founded the Nazarian Institute where she helps medical professionals develop their business skills by Thinking BIG – Branding, Innovation, Growth. Dr. Nazarian stars in the Emmy Nominated Netflix Original Series, Skin Decision: Before and After. She also enjoys being an influencer on social media, talking about Jewish identity and combatting antisemitism.
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