Senate approves campus club despite student concerns
February 28, 2019
The chartering of Students in Support of Israel (SSI) has instigated student criticism of Associated Student Government (ASG) for approving their club status due to concerns over SSI’s potential threat to Palestinian students and supporters on campus.
At the Feb. 14 senate meeting, ASG granted Registered Student Organization (RSO) status to SSI, an international organization that supports Israel as a Jewish Democratic nation-state.
During discussion about the club, some senators mentioned not feeling informed enough about the issue to vote while others talked about the importance of including a diversity of voices—especially since there is already a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club.
First-year Valerie Rutenburg, president of SSI, saw a need for SSI at Santa Clara because she noticed there was no club for the Israeli viewpoint at Santa Clara.
“It was alarming that the Israeli perspective wasn’t being represented on campus because there is a complexity behind these tensions,” Rutenburg said. “Not having both sides doesn’t reflect our democratic values.”
Senior Noor Darwish, co-president of SJP, and other SJP members felt the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) had not done its due diligence in informing them beforehand that SSI was attempting to get chartered.
But CSI is only responsible for initially deciding whether or not a club will cause physical harm, and it was deemed SSI would not.
“Our safety and well-being is at risk here,” Darwish said. “We don’t stand for this club and we also don’t think Santa Clara should either.”
After the Diversity and Inclusion Forum on Feb. 20, questions were also raised about ASG’s handling of the situation and why it was approved. This is in addition to concerns about SSI’s advisor and their lack of acknowledgment of human rights violations against Palestinians in Israel.
“We purely want to raise awareness about the human rights violations that are happening to the Palestinian people,” Darwish said. “There are about 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinians, therefore we label it as an apartheid state. When you hold Israel accountable to the human rights violations, then we can have a conversation.”
Rutenberg, however, does not feel equating apartheid in South Africa with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is fair.
“There is ugliness on both sides, there is good on both sides and there is bloodshed on both sides,” she said.
There was confusion over the advisor appointment because it appeared that SSI had an ex-Israeli soldier without Santa Clara affiliation acting as their advisor.
RSOs are allowed to have non-Santa Clara affiliate advisors, but SJP was concerned because the individual they identified as the advisor was someone who, along with other pro-Israel activists, harassed them on May 15.
This was when the club’s apartheid wall was up near the Learning Commons as part of Palestinian Awareness Week.
In their intent to charter, SSI had no official advisor listed.
SJP intended to announce a referendum motion asking ASG to revote on SSI’s RSO status, which would give them more time to make an informed vote. SJP would then have get 552 written students signatures (10 percent of the student body) calling for a referendum election.
If a referendum is approved, 20 percent of the undergraduate population would need to vote either way in order to consider the election valid.
Assuming at least 20 percent of students do vote, then SJP would still need a supermajority (two-thirds plus one) in favor of the referendum.
The ASG bylaws officially state it must be a supermajority of the entire student population but that was deemed not feasible. As of now, SJP needs a supermajority of all those who vote in the election.
Concerns over a club’s presence on campus and their corresponding national organization’s watchlist is a situation all too familiar for ASG.
Two years ago, similar issues were raised when Turning Point USA (TPUSA) was approved as an RSO.
TPUSA is a branch of a right-wing, nonprofit organization that maintains a watchlist of professors who allegedly discriminate against conservative students and advance left-wing propaganda.
“TPUSA is not me,” Rutenburg said. “I am not TPUSA. No way are we linked. I think it’s very important to allow my group objective scrutiny and not confuse it with prior instances.”
The national SSI does have ties to Canary Mission, a website which lists student activists, professors and organizations it considers anti-Israel or anti-semitic.
Canary Mission has been used by the Israeli government and border security officials to interrogate and deny entry to those boycotting Israel.
Rutenburg said the purpose of her club is not to put anyone on a watchlist.
“My ultimate goal is to shed light on the complexity of the issue and engage in dialogue,” she said.
Going forward, SJP hopes it can raise awareness of the Palestinian perspective. Rutenburg likewise hopes to increase conversation around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without posing SSI as a threat to anyone on campus.
At-Large Senator Eduardo Ruano and three other ASG senators have written an apology letter that will be discussed in a closed senate meeting after Thursday’s general meeting.
ASG senators are also considering making changes to the bylaws or procedures to prevent future problems from arising.
“Some students in senate do not feel like there are opportunities to learn from this whole process and maybe add more to our procedure to help prevent further problems in the future,” ASG Senate Chair Alex Perlman said. “One such idea I have heard is to post our agenda a day or so before the senate meeting.”
SSI will be further discussed at tonight’s senate meeting.
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.
Note: The article has been updated for accuracy.