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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Israel students clash in heated SA Senate meeting

Anger as Paul-Odionhin continues to block SJP-backed UB Foundation divestment resolution

SA President Becky Paul-Odionhin listens during Wednesday's Senate meeting.
SA President Becky Paul-Odionhin listens during Wednesday's Senate meeting.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students clashed with each other and with Student Association (SA) President Becky Paul-Odionhin for more than an hour at a tense and sometimes fiery SA Senate meeting Wednesday evening.

Attendees argued over experiences of hate and discrimination at UB, and over Paul-Odionhin’s continued blockage of a vote on a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)-backed resolution calling for the UB Foundation to “divest all stocks, funds, partnerships, endowments and other monetary instruments from companies complicit in human rights abuse in Palestine.”

Adrian Alvarez SA Senate

Latin American Student Association president Adrian Alvarez displays a placard at Wednesday's SA Senate meeting.

Despite mounting pressure from pro-Palestinian students — who’ve circulated a petition with over 1,000 UB students’ signatures and flooded Paul-Odionhin with emails — she maintained her stance, continuing to withhold the resolution from the agenda of the last Senate meeting this academic year.

Paul-Odionhin cited New York State Executive Order 157, a 2016 executive order that forbids public entities from investing in private companies participating in boycott, divestment or sanctions (BDS) activities toward Israel. The order was cited last month by two downstate lawmakers who called for Binghamton University’s student government to lose its charter after it passed a similar resolution.

Paul-Odionhin said that if SA passes a resolution that is determined to be in violation of the order, SA and its clubs could be disbanded.

She told The Spectrum she similarly turned down JSU members who asked her to draft a resolution in support of Israel last October.

SA Senate meeting comes amid contentious week on campus

Wednesday’s meeting comes amid a contentious week of protesting that followed an attempted pro-Palestine encampment on UB’s North Campus on May 1, which ended in the arrest of 15 demonstrators. Spectrum editors and other students recorded instances of police officers tackling protesters, transporting detainees using a Stampede bus and allegedly ripping a woman’s hijab off. 

On Friday, two days later, hundreds marched on campus to call for divestment from Israel and to decry UB’s treatment of protesters. That march was followed by smaller pro-Palestine demonstrations and a pro-Israel rally on Sunday and Monday. A student was arrested Monday for a social media post encouraging violence against the pro-Israel rally.

Pro-Palestinian students criticize Paul-Odionhin for inaction 

At Wednesday’s meeting, students representing clubs including SJP, the Organization of Arab Students (OAS) and the Latin American Student Association (LASA) lined one side of the room in support of the resolution. Many carried posters criticizing Paul-Odionhin. Jewish Student Union (JSU) members lined the opposite side.

Speakers representing the pro-Palestinian coalition decried the university and police response to last Wednesday’s protest, and accused Paul-Odionhin of cowardice for her blockage of a vote on the SJP-backed resolution.

Sara Abdalla SA Senate

OAS President Sara Abdalla said Paul-Odionhin's blockage of the resolution "shut down" students' voices.

“This is yet another blatant display of bias and injustice,” OAS President Sara Abdalla said. “It’s time for the Student Association to stop hiding behind hollow promises of inclusivity and actually demonstrate it through action.”

She said that though protesters on May 1 complied with “everything that was asked” of them, police still “charged toward” and arrested them.

“It broke all of us to see our fellow students be treated in such an inhumane way,” Abdalla said. “I’m sorry, Becky, but you’re not a student for the students. I am here today to demand that you let the resolution be presented. You can’t shut down the voice of 1,000 undergraduates on the bias of your own research.” 

Gripping the edge of the table, an exasperated Paul-Odionhin told senators she will not allow a resolution that she previously said could “jeopardize our [SA’s] existence.”

“This is not, ‘Oh, Becky feels a certain way.’ Becky’s feelings have no bearing here,” Paul-Odionhin said. “If we were to call for anything, we’re f–ked. That’s the gist of it.”

Tiffany Verdugo SA Senate

SUNY Student Assembly delegate Tiffany Verdugo criticized SA President Becky Paul-Odionhin's handling of the resolution.

SUNY Student Assembly Delegate Tiffany Verdugo said it’s worth risking SA’s future to call for divestment. 

“Does a club not existing really override thousands of kids dying? Does it really?” Verdugo said. “You know what else was illegal? Freeing slaves was illegal. You know what else was illegal? Hiding Jews in your house was illegal during the Holocaust.”

Senator Benjamin Lau said he introduced a resolution calling for UPD to drop charges against peaceful protesters arrested on May 1. That resolution was not on Wednesday’s agenda, and Lau said he could not understand why.

JSU members blame pro-Palestine protesters for rising antisemitism

Multiple JSU members said they had faced antisemitism on campus, and several of them accused pro-Palestine protesters of contributing to the problem. 

Amanda Mondschein SA Senate

JSU member Amanda Mondschein said she was insulted and harassed on May 1.

Psychology student Amanda Mondschein said she was called a “Nazi” and told to “go back to Germany” on May 1. She compared her treatment at UB to her great-grandfather’s treatment during the Holocaust.

“On Wednesday, I was trying to get to my research lab as the encampment was being set up, and I actually could not get there to where I was trying to conduct my research work,” Mondschein said. “This was the exact same thing that happened to my great-grandfather when he was removed from his job as a lawyer. And I feel unsafe on this campus as a Jew now, because this is exactly what got my great-grandfather into Auschwitz, where he died.”

Dylan Kallett SA Senate

JSU member Dylan Kallett said he feels uncomfortable as a Jewish person at UB.

JSU member Dylan Kallett, a sociology student, said the longstanding plight of Jews overshadows that of Palestinians. He said those calling Israel’s actions a genocide should ask “where the Jews are” in Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Iraq.

“Oct. 7 was a genocidal act against the Jewish people of Israel, and I am tired of hearing false narratives, nothing rooted in factual evidence. It is exhausting. Sit down and research,” Kallett said, gesturing at the pro-Palestinian students. 


Sol Hauser is the senior news editor and can be reached at sol.hauser@ubspectrum.com 

Mylien Lai is the senior arts editor and can be reached at mylien.lai@ubspectrum.com 

Alisha Allison is an assistant news editor and can be reached at alisha.allison@ubspectrum.com


MYLIEN LAI
mylien-lai.jpg

Mylien Lai is the senior news editor at The Spectrum. Outside of getting lost in Buffalo, she enjoys practicing the piano and being a bean plant mom. She can be found at @my_my_my_myliennnn on Instagram. 

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