On September 29, Vassar’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) launched a boycott campaign aimed at removing Sabra hummus from the Retreat’s shelves. SJP distributed free, homemade hummus as an alternative and received 94 signatures on a petition that stated:
1. A purchase is an endorsement of the company’s politics.
2. Vassar should not financially support human rights violators like the Golani Brigade.
3. The Retreat should not sell Sabra or Tribe hummus.
Sabra Hummus is owned by the Strauss Group, a multinational corporation that invests in and financially supports the Golani Brigade of the Israeli armed forces. Since its inception, the Brigade has carried out a myriad of human rights violations against Palestinians in Hebron, including arbitrary murders, assaults, incarcerations, evictions, and arrests of children. The Brigade’s existences as an occupying force violates international law: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and its 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem are all illegal according to the United Nations.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society initiated a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel until it complies with international law. The Palestinian BDS National Committee now runs the international campaign, which functions as one of many efforts intended to achieve Palestinian self-determination.
On the first day of the SJP boycott campaign, we e-mailed Campus Dining directly about the sale of Sabra in the Retreat:
The following morning, Campus Dining responded to our e-mail inquiry:
SJP then inquired further:
In response, Campus Dining answered the questions:
Then, without notice, Campus Dining reversed its original decision:
Zionist organizations inaccurately frame the Israel/Palestine conflict as a binary of two equal sides. Vassar may sell any other hummus brand as a so-called alternative, but as long as it sells Sabra, it is directing money toward the occupation. The administration argues that selling both Cedar’s and Sabra offers students the choice between “both sides of the story,” but in reality it only advocates for anti-Arab violence: Cedar’s has no direct link to the conflict.
Alumni money and administrative regulators loom omnisciently. A Palestinian flag left hanging in the Retreat for twenty minutes yielded an e-mail sent from the administration to SJP, citing “fairly frantic calls from some sensitive people” and demanding the flag’s removal. Days into the Sabra campaign, anonymous individuals initiated a “Save the Hummus” Facebook page and petition. No Zionist student organization undergoes such surveillance and censorship.
Representatives of the Vassar administration, the Vassar Jewish Union, and Vassar J Street U have, on multiple occasions, invited SJP to participate in dialogues meant to render our politics and tactics more “respectful.” For example, when Jewish students affiliated with SJP held a sign that read “Another Jew Acknowledging Apartheid,” VJU leaders labeled the action anti-Semitic. When SJP applied to the Dialogue Across Difference fund to host a discussion between Arab and Jewish activists, we were rejected for refusing to include Zionists in the panel. For Zionists, the BDS movement– a nonviolent, grassroots approach to the occupation– stretches beyond the line of appropriate discourse.
Student resistance has always played a central role in holding the administration accountable for its support of state-sanctioned violence. In 1986, Vassar divested its $200 million endowment portfolio from companies that operated in apartheid South Africa only after years of intense pressure from students; in 1978, for instance, a handful of Vassar students stormed a Board of Trustees meeting and blockaded it until divestment was discussed. Considering the Vassar administration’s historic obstinance disguised as neutrality, how are we supposed to approach its contributions to Israeli apartheid?
Moral reasoning will never move the Vassar administration, and most American academic institutions, to divest from organizations that finance apartheid. Many administrators refuse to acknowledge politics as a part of the job (or their sympathies lie in the easiest political position despite the violence it perpetuates). Those who wrote the “Save Our Hummus” petition explicitly argue, in a paternalistic tone, “Campus Dining’s job is to serve meals, not policy.” With the recognition that it is impossible for the administration to be distinct from the political sphere, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace will continue to resist Vassar’s participation in Israeli apartheid– through education, civil disobedience, and coalition building– until it is economically bound to subscribe to BDS in all aspects of the institution.
A purchase is a vote, and every vote is political. By selling Sabra, Vassar is an accessory to the colonization of Palestine.