The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student council has adopted an anti-Semitism resolution and a code of conduct following a conflict that emerged last spring over divestment legislation.
The anti-Semitism resolution adopts the U.S. Department of State definition and vows that members of Associated Students of Madison, the university's student governance group, will become “active allies” of the campus Jewish community.
The conduct code prohibits specific behaviors that would attack the dignity of others or counter attempts to resolve conflict.
The resolution and code were adopted at the student council’s first meeting of the academic year Tuesday, when ASM Chair Katrina Morrison also offered an apology for her role in allowing a vote on a divestment proposal at a meeting in April when many Jewish students were absent because of the Passover holiday.
“The events of last semester are an example of when my passion misguided me and in my haste to pass legislation, I silenced students who deserve a voice in our government and on our broader campus,” Morrison said a news release from ASM.
The disputed vote on April 12 advanced a measure calling on UW-Madison to divest from corporations involved in private prisons, fossil fuels, border walls or arms manufacture. Controversy over the divestment resolution was fueled by an earlier version that referred repeatedly to the Israel-Palestine conflict that outraged Jewish students who said it attacked their heritage.
Five students filed a complaint against Morrison, then a student council representative and student council chair Carmen Gosey, with ASM’s student judiciary, a dispute-resolving body.
The student judiciary found on May 10 that the vote violated the ASM constitution and bylaws, both in terms of procedure and because it denied Jewish students a voice. They required Morrison to apologize to Jewish students and to read her apology to the student council.
Complainant Ariela Rivkin, who had sought a delay of the divestment discussion last spring, welcomed Morrison’s “heartfelt” apology. “We look forward to positive action and constructive leadership in the future than includes our community,” she said.
Other complainants expressed skepticism over the prospect of change in practices, the Daily Cardinal reported.
Jake Lubenow, chair of College Republicans, told the Cardinal that he and other College Republicans are hopeful this is the beginning of serious change in ASM but are “not holding [their] breath.”
Diego Villegas said, “An apology means nothing if no further actions are taken to ensure that ASM stands firm against any form of discrimination.”
Morrison told student council members that she helped develop the conduct code and anti-Semitism resolution adopted Tuesday. “Until the end of my term, I will work every day to regain the trust of Jewish students of this university,” she said.
The anti-Semitism resolution adopts the State Department definition of anti-Semitism, which includes rhetorical and physical manifestations of hatred of Jews, directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals, their property, community institutions and religious facilities.
ASM officials also pledged to “be active allies of the Jewish community and pledge to actively seek open lines of communication with the leaders of the organized Jewish community on issues pertaining to their constituency.”
The introduction to the resolution states that “legitimate criticism of specific Israeli government policies” leveled at government administration, not Israel as a whole or the Jewish community as a whole, “is not anti-Semitic.”
The conduct code prohibit such actions as attacking someone on social media, making distracting sounds or gestures while someone else is speaking at AMS meetings or speaking without recognition by the chair.
It also requires following ASM attendance policies, and bars abuse of email listservs or printing personal documents on ASM printers.
Enforcement procedures range from a verbal warning to written reprimand and review of membership in ASM.