In its longest and final meeting this semester, the Student Government Association of the University of Massachusetts wrapped up business.
The four-hour-long meeting was held in the Amherst Room on floor 10 of the Campus Center and had a large attendance, with outgoing and incoming senators present as well as students from outside the senate.
Former Senator Aron Unger started the meeting, where he talked to the senators about the controversial panel titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” to be held May 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center.
Unger said the premise of the event is “clearly problematic.” He quoted Sut Jhally, executive director of the Media Education Foundation, the main sponsor of the panel, who said there is a “systematic effort to change the subject and deflect attention away from the billions of dollars in financial and military aid the U.S. continues to give Israel,” in a promotional flyer for the event.
According to Unger, Jhally’s statement “calls to mind the anti-Semitic slurs that the Jews control the media and that all Jews care about is money, but more dangerous in my mind is the claim that Jews and others falsely use the term anti-Semitic to shut down debate about Israel.”
Unger said another issue he has with the panel is regarding one of the panelists: original Pink Floyd member, Roger Waters. He told senators about Waters “use of a pig-shaped balloon with a Jewish star and dollar signs during a concert while wearing a Nazi-like uniform,” which, according to Unger, caused the anti-defamation league to call Waters anti-Semitic.
Unger said he had no problem with the other two panelists who have also been accused of anti-Semitism, Linda Sarsour, a co-founder of the Women’s March and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill because they “apologized and promised to do better.”
“Water did not apologize, he didn’t back down. Instead, he demanded an apology from those who dared to call out his actions as anti-Semitic,” Unger said.
Unger also criticized President Timmy Sullivan, Vice President Hayden Latimer-Ireland and the Social Justice and Empowerment Committee for signing on to a letter from the Students for Justice in Palestine in response to the backlash regarding the event on May 4.
“They [signed the letter] without even bothering to reach out to Hillel, or any leaders in the Jewish community to try to understand why we fear this event,” Unger said.
“This is unacceptable,” he added.
“When those in power in student government signed on to this letter, it tells the Jewish community at this University that our fears are irrelevant and that we are irrelevant,” Unger said.
He finished his speech asking for Sullivan, Latimer-Ireland and SoJEC to disavow their previous statements regarding the event and apologize to the Jewish community.
During officer reports, President Sullivan gave his condolences regarding the recent San Diego synagogue shooting but did not respond to Unger.
Also during officer reports, many senators shared excitement for the next year and celebrated the SGA’s achievements this year.
“I am really grateful to have been able to work with most of you,” said Attorney General Ilina Shah.
“I want to thank everyone for this year,” said Colleen Coakley, who announced she would not be returning.
After officer reports, senators moved on to a motion which asked the SGA to endorse a letter in support of cultural centers on campus, such as the Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center and the Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center.
The motion passed unanimously after leaders of the cultural centers gave their own testimonies regarding the obstacles they are facing at the moment.
The letter said the cultural centers have been “operating with insufficient resources,” and are understaffed, with insufficient budgets, and located in often inaccessible locations with worsening building conditions.
Among other things, the letter asked for “a public commitment to the continued support of the cultural centers and their mission” and “increased staffing for the centers as well as increased funding for their operations and their student (undergraduate and graduate) employees.”
Later, senators elected in the 2019 spring election were sworn in, and several candidates were interviewed and voted in for legislative and executive positions.
Leticia Medeiros can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @fmleticia.