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Virginia AG condemns UVa student vote for school to divest from Israel

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is condemning a “stunning” student referendum at the University of Virginia calling on the school to divest from companies doing business in Israel.

In a letter sent to the school’s leaders on Friday, Miyares directly compared the divestment movement, which has picked up momentum on college campuses during Israel’s monthslong war with Palestinian terror group Hamas, with the deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and launched the war in the first place.

“I write to you today with grave concern about the recent student-led referendum at the University of Virginia,” Miyares wrote to the school’s governing Board of Visitors. “The UVA referendum in question urges the University of Virginia and the University of Virginia Investment Management Company to participate in the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.”

Students held a referendum this past week on a measure calling on the school to divest any and all monies in its $13.6 billion endowment invested in “companies engaging in or profiting from the State of Israel’s apartheid regime and acute violence against Palestinians.”

Nearly 8,000 voted, and the referendum passed Thursday with 67.87% of the vote.

The referendum is nonbinding, however, and has no power over the Board of Visitors or the UVa Investment Management Company, the agency charged with regulating the school’s endowment fund.

“The institution is not bound by the results of this student referendum,” UVa spokeswoman Bethanie Glover previously told The Daily Progress.

Nevertheless, Miyares still called on the Board of Visitors to reject the referendum and offer students “essential moral clarity.”

“My earnest desire is for the Board of Visitors to explicitly reject and definitively repudiate the misguided attempt by the UVA student body to undermine the legitimacy of Israel,” he wrote.

Miyares’ letter warns of “alarming trends” among college-age young adults between 18 and 24, citing a December Harvard-Harris poll which found 60% of the demographic deemed Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack justified.

“The fact that a majority of young Americans surveyed feel that terrorism might be ‘justified’ indicates a moral compass veering dangerously towards the rocky shoals of antisemitism,” Miyares wrote. “Terrorism and kidnapping of the innocent must never be justified.”

He noted that Virginia recently codified into law a definition of antisemitism: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or nonJewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Miyares argued the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is inherently antisemitic.

“Just like direct attacks from Hamas, BDS poses an existential threat to the Jewish state,” he wrote.

Reports of antisemitism have been on the rise at UVa since Oct. 7. There have been dozens of complaints from Jewish students and their families that they have been harassed, intimidated and even physically assaulted. The university has said it is looking into those claims, and the U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation.

The referendum was spearheaded by UVa Apartheid Divest, a group that has roots in the student protests against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa and has been revived in recent years in response to other worldwide conflicts.

A third-year representative of that group, who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation, acknowledged that the referendum is nonactionable but told The Daily Progress that it is a line in the sand. His group, he said, “will use the results of the referendum as a lobbying tool as we continue to push the unaccountable, undemocratic institutions that have control over our university’s investments to be transparent about our investments and divest from apartheid and genocide.”

But the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, Miyares wrote, “disguises its malicious intentions” while ignoring other human rights abuses elsewhere in the world.

“I await the same organizers at UVA who pushed the BDS referendum to place as much effort to condemn the rape, sexual assault of innocent Jewish women, and the murder of the innocent,” he wrote.

More than 30,000 people have died so far in the Israel-Hamas war, the overwhelming majority of those Palestinians. Since Oct. 7, Israel has been bombing and blockading the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile territory home to 2 million people, half of which are under the age of 18. Palestinian authorities, including Hamas, have charged Israel with senselessly killing civilians. Even U.S. President Biden has called the Israeli response “over the top.” Israel has maintained that Hamas, which started the conflict when it attacked Israeli civilians going on five months ago, continues to operate out of hospitals, schools and apartment buildings, using civilians as shields.


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