Student Government President Mitchell Rosenberg vetoed a bill May 15 that student government senate had approved May 8 to oppose anti-Semitism.
Rosenberg’s veto came after student concerns that the bill, which was approved at an 11 p.m. student government meeting, took a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and could limit some students’ activism.
Rosenberg said in a statement that was provided to The Panther May 15 that he decided to veto the bill because the majority of students had “no knowledge of what was coming before their elected officials.”
“We failed as an organization at publicizing that meeting (May 8 at 11 p.m.), we failed as an organization at publicizing this resolution, and that’s on all of us,” Rosenberg said May 12 at a meeting to discuss the bill in the Cross-Cultural Center.
The bill used the U.S. Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism, which recognizes that anti-Semitism is related to Israel. The bill condemned blaming Israel for “interreligious or political tensions,” delegitimizing Israel or comparing contemporary Israeli policy to Nazi policy.
Nicole Newman, a freshman business administration major, and Leehe Reihanian, a sophomore strategic and corporate communication major, are the co-founders of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), the club that brought the bill to a student government senate meeting April 28.
Then, a senator brought up the bill at the May 8 senate meeting, where the senate approved the bill.
“We thought the (bill) was perfect because we have experienced anti-Semitism on campus,” Newman told The Panther. “We got a ‘heil Hitler’ (directed) toward us. We weren’t having a Jewish event. We were having an event for Israel that got a Nazi salute toward us. We felt like, after that, we had to do something on campus to send a message.”
In 2014, a swastika was found burned into the ceiling of Pralle-Sodaro Hall.
Safi Nazzal, a Palestinian student who attended the May 12 meeting, said that he thinks the bill is a violation of academic freedom and that it’s “very clearly meant to silence Palestinian activists.” Nazzal did not know about the bill until the senate had already approved it, he said.
“I feel like this particular bill is a political bill that is attempting to get the university to side with an act in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even though the bill says it doesn’t side,” Nazzal told The Panther.
Newman and Reihanian started a petition in support of the resolution that received more than 100 signatures, but the petition was not created until after the resolution was passed in the senate.
Newman said that she was disappointed that criticism of the bill arose after it had passed.
“I think the way it was handled was completely wrong,” Newman said. “(Student government is) to blame for the veto, so I don’t know why it’s being taken out on us. If they wanted us to bring more students, we could’ve done that. Whatever they wanted, we could’ve done it.”
One of the reasons Rosenberg vetoed the bill was because student government was not able to prove that students supported it, he told The Panther.
Nazzal, a sophomore film production major, said that he thinks the bill removes students’ ability to critique other nations– something that he said is a crucial part of a “democratic and free society.”
“If we are global citizens, we are allowed to critique other states,” Nazzal said. “If I were to critique Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t be called a xenophobe. If I were to critique (President Donald) Trump, I wouldn’t be called un-American. So if I critique Israel, I’m not an anti-Semite.”
The text of the bill states that it is not intended to restrict free speech, but rather to “define the line between civil, academic debate and hate speech or actions.”
At the discussion, Newman said that the school needs to condemn all forms of racism and bigotry.
“This bill is just focusing on anti-Semitism,” Newman said. “I hope that Black Student Union can come and do a bill on racism, and Muslim Student Association can come and do a bill on Islamophobia and things like that, because I think all these different minority groups have different forms of bigotry toward them.”
Spencer Kaseff, a sophomore television writing and production major who attended the discussion, said that she doesn’t think there is a need for the bill to be passed right now.
“My main question is, what’s the rush? As a Jew, I have had absolutely no anti-Semitic actions taken against me,” Kaseff said. “I think that the fact that one person is sitting here talking to us and telling us that there are changes here that need to be made is proof enough that it doesn’t need to be done so soon.”
During the discussion, Rosenberg said that the university will not implement any of the stipulations outlined in the bill.
“In my short conversations with the administration, they blatantly said this is not something they will adopt, and that’s because we didn’t do our job as a student government association at talking to students,” Rosenberg said.
Dean of Students Jerry Price told The Panther that the approval of the bill is a “slippery place to go through.”
“I applaud (student government’s) interest in denouncing hateful speech. All of that’s perfectly appropriate,” Price said. “I think where I would be careful is, who gets to determine what constitutes anti-Semitism, and what does that mean?”
In the statement, Rosenberg said that he is confident that a similar bill will be brought before the senate in the fall and that student government will work to ensure stronger student support.
Rebeccah Glaser contributed to this report.