Virginia AG urges UVA board to reject student BDS vote

Jason Miyares says student body vote ‘undermines the legitimacy of Israel’; tells JI, ‘now is not a time for moral confusion’

Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The newly sworn-in attorney general of Virginia, Jason Miyares sits in his office January 19, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia.

Virginia’s attorney general urged the University of Virginia board of visitors on Friday to “explicitly reject and definitively repudiate the misguided attempt by the UVA student body to undermine the legitimacy of Israel,” according to a copy of a letter shared exclusively with Jewish Insider

Jason Miyares’ letter was in response to the passage this week of a non-binding BDS referendum at UVA. On Wednesday, students voted overwhelmingly to call on the school to divest from companies with ties to Israel. 

“I write to you today with grave concern about the recent student-led referendum at the University of Virginia,” Miyares, a Republican, wrote. “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. It is well-documented that the leaders and founders of the international BDS campaign believe in the destruction of Israel… In addition, BDS fundamentally opposes the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in any inch of Israel, rejecting a two-state solution, while using antisemitic language and tropes.”

“Time and time again, the BDS movement disguises its malicious intentions under the banner of ‘human rights,’ yet inexplicably ignores the human rights abuses elsewhere around the world,” Miyares continued. “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.” 

Miyares was apparently referencing widespread reports of rape and sexual assault carried out by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attacks, as well as the 1,200 Israelis killed in the massacre in southern Israel.

In a statement to JI, Miyares added, “Our universities must reject any action that could be seen as justifying terrorist attacks, rape or kidnapping. This is not a time for moral confusion, and the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia must unequivocally condemn the radical BDS movement and the supportive vote taken by the student body.”

Wednesday’s vote — initiated by the campus’ chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace — was the only referendum in this year’s student elections. The UVA Apartheid Divest Referendum passed by a 68%-32% vote, with 7,993 students of the campus’ total 17,294 undergraduate population casting ballots. The resolution demands that the university audit its investment portfolio to identify any connections to companies engaging in or profiting from what the sponsors call “the State of Israel’s apartheid regime and acute violence against Palestinians.”

A UVA spokesperson told JI that “as a general matter, the university does not take positions on student referenda. UVA has a tradition of student self-governance, which means students are responsible for running elections like this. The referendum was an expression of the opinion of the students who voted for it, it is not the university’s position and it is not binding on the university in any way.” 

“At UVA, decisions about how to invest the university endowment or other long-term funds are made by the University of Virginia Investment Management Company, which is a separate entity,” the spokesperson continued. 

In October, as antisemitism dramatically increased on college campuses in the wake of Hamas’ attack in Israel, Miyares announced that Virginia would become the second state, after Florida, to target a group affiliated with SJP. 

The UVA chapter of SJP described the Oct. 7 terrorist attack as “an unprecedented feat for the 21st century,” and said that “resistance fighters in Gaza” had broken through an “illegal border fence” and taken “occupation soldiers hostage.”

Miyares wrote on X at the time, “My office has launched an investigation into the nonprofit American Muslims for Palestine for fundraising without proper registration and for potentially violating Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws, including benefitting or providing support to terrorist organizations.” 

A spokesperson for Miyares told JI on Friday that the probe is ongoing. 

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