Candidates running to serve as officers in the undergraduate student government at UCLA are being asked to sign a pledge that they will not go on certain free or sponsored trip to Israel, a prerequisite that one pro-Israel group is calling “bigoted” and “absurd.” According to the UCLA newspaper the Daily Bruin, the majority of candidates have signed the pledge.

The Joint Statement on Undergraduate Students Association Council Ethics to which the candidates have signed was drafted by the pro-Palestinian groups Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Armenian Students’ Association, the Bruin reported on Tuesday.

The Muslim Students Association has also expressed support for the initiative.

UCLA campus (Image source: Shutterstock/Ken Wolter)

UCLA campus (Image source: Shutterstock/Ken Wolter)

The Students’ Association Ethics statement would require council members to refrain from going on trips paid for or partially-sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League and Hasbara Fellowships, all groups with a pro-Israel stance, the Bruin reported.

The ethics statement does not appear to prohibit the student government officers from traveling to Israel with Palestinian, church or mosque groups.

Cornell University law professor William Jacobson who runs the Legal Insurrection blog called the UCLA development a “move to disqualify a generation of pro-Israel students from campus government” and “another move to stack the deck in favor of BDS.” BDS refers to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which targets Israel.

“These trips and advocacy training are critical because some campuses have become openly hostile to pro-Israel students as a result of ‘direct action’ and other intimidation by relatively small but highly coordinated anti-Israel groups like Students for Justice in Palestine,” Jacobson wrote. “Professors actively participate in demonizing pro-Israel students.”

Roz Rothstein who heads the pro-Israel group StandWithUs said in a statement Friday, “BDS activists are trying to intimidate student leaders and prevent them from learning about Israel. This is bigoted — because only Israel is being targeted. It is absurd because student senators are not expected to vote on foreign policy issues.”

“It is also hypocritical because if applied fairly, candidates would also be forced to completely disassociate themselves from the BDS Movement. They would not be allowed to attend divestment training sessions, SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] conferences, or pro-BDS events in general, because BDS promotes hatred and marginalizes so many students on campus,” Rothstein added.

Jonathan Tobin of Commentary Magazine wrote that the UCLA initiative was most likely prompted by the defeat in February of a student government motion to divest from Israel.

He wrote that “some students—especially Jews—have been to Israel on trips where they learn the other side of the story from the pro-Palestinian propaganda that is often shoved down their throats in classes or at college forums.” The trips empower the students to then convey the equal rights that they witnessed in Israel, rather than “accept the lies about Israel being an ‘apartheid’ state,” Tobin wrote.

“That’s a problem for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) crowd, but they’ve come up with an effective answer to it: start a campaign seeking to stigmatize those who take trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish organizations,” Tobin wrote.

“Shaming those who have been on trips to Israel or take the opportunity to learn more about the Middle East first hand is, above all, a direct attack on Jewish students,” Tobin added.

The UCLA undergraduate student government in February defeated a resolution proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine calling for UCLA and the University of California to divest from five Israeli companies whose products are allegedly used by the Israel Defense Forces.

Student candidate Avinoam Baral who did not sign the statement told the Bruin that he believes student council members should be free to associate with different organizations in order to educate themselves on a variety of issues. He told the university paper that he traveled to Israel on a Hasbara Fellowship – one of the groups targeted by the pledge – as an educational experience. He does not believe it to be a conflict of interest because he received no financial benefits in exchange for his vote on the divestment resolution.

(H/T: Legal Insurrection)