The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's student body last week rejected a referendum calling upon the University to divest from 16 companies doing business in Israel.
Last month, the UIUC chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, in coalition with other groups, launched an aggressive campaign called "UIUC Divest," demanding that the University divest from 16 corporations that they allege "are complicit in human rights violations." The broader goal of the divestment campaign was to advance the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which works to delegitimize Israel on university campuses.
Immediately after the launch of the divestment campaign, students formed the group United Illini for a United Campus to oppose this divisive effort and to promote a unified campus. Over the past month, United Illini put together an impressive, multi-pronged campaign and encouraged their classmates to vote no. Students canvassed the campus, created marketing materials, and held educational events.
Throughout the campaign, United Illini presented information in a nuanced, sophisticated way. Their efforts demonstrated that the UIUC Jewish community, though diverse, is unified in its opposition to efforts to divide their campus and delegitimize the Jewish state.
Even in the face of anti-Semitic attacks and cyber bullying, the students worked around the clock in consultation with Illini Hillel, JUF's Israel Education Center, Israel on Campus Coalition, Israel Action Network, Hillel International, Chabad, and others to prevent the referendum from passing.
On March 7 and 8, in the hours immediately preceding the divestment vote, swastikas were spray-painted on university academic buildings, reflecting a disturbing trend in which BDS and anti-Israel activity lead to widespread anti-Semitism. Hillel and JUF are working with the University to address the increase in anti-Semitism that has infected not just U of I, but campuses across the country.
The experience inspired students to redouble their efforts to support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state within safe and secure borders, to promote peace and dialogue, and to continue to combat the deceptive and divisive efforts of the BDS campaign.