SUNY BDS Organizes Protest in Albany Against Monetary Ties to Israel

Students, adults and activists marched through the streets of Albany on April 15, demanding that SUNY divest from Israel as a part of the SUNY Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) organization’s first statewide action.

SUNY BDS is an independent community organization consisting of “SUNY students, staff, faculty and alumni working to make New York State divest from Israeli apartheid,” according to their Instagram. The collective operates under “three non-negotiable points of unity,” which said “the state of Israel occupies and colonizes Palestinian land, discriminates against its Palestinian citizens and denies Palestinian refugees the right of return … Boycott, divestment and sanctions are legitimate and effective forms of resistance against states … We condemn all forms of hatred.” 

The protest began at 1 p.m. in West Capitol Park, where protestors chanted “Free Palestine” and “SUNY, SUNY you can’t hide, you’re funding a genocide,” outside of the Capitol building. The event had several speakers voicing their support for Palestine and disdain with the SUNY system’s ties to Israel, joined in solidarity with organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America, local chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Black Lives Matter.

“There needs to be real, substantial change in Gaza and Israel … ideally with a permanent ceasefire. There needs to be real solutions, otherwise more Palestinians will die and more Israelis will die,” said Nicholas Hund, a student protestor. “You can’t go about your day and pretend you don’t know what’s happening, that there’s a genocide happening in Gaza,” added Sheila Stumph, another protestor.

When asked if most people in her age range agree with the causes she supports, Stumph told The Oracle, “I think a lot of people do agree and don’t come out, or I’m just hoping they don’t understand and that’s why they’re not coming out.”

“I think a lot of people are misled by mass media, which tends to favorite Israel whenever it can,” said John Mason, another adult protestor.

Protestors weren’t certain, however, that the protests would be enough to get SUNY to divest from Israel.

“I don’t know how optimistic I am about it,” said Vivienne Knouse-Frenzer, a student protestor. “There has been a shift and more politicians are open to some sort of ceasefire. While a complete ceasefire is what we’re going for, it’s good to see especially in New York State, but even if SUNY isn’t going to divest, we still need to be here, because it’s important for solidarity.”

Lauren Schroeder-Romeo, a counterprotestor present for the first part of the protest, was doubtful that SUNY will ever divest. “Unless they want to lose half their student population … do you know how many Jews go to SUNY? Not a smart move,” she said.

The organization has drawn scrutiny from Gov. Kathy Hochul and the SUNY system, with SUNY warning SUNY BDS with a cease-and-desist letter claiming the organization “uses images and other written references that utilize one or more SUNY Trademarks.”

“Chancellor King has made it absolutely clear since the horrific Hamas attack of Oct. 7 that SUNY stands with Israel in the face of terrorism and that there is no place for antisemitism at SUNY. We stand with Gov. Hochul in condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. SUNY BDS is not a recognized SUNY student organization,” SUNY Press Secretary Holly Liapis wrote in an email to The Oracle

Shortly before 2 p.m., the protestors began their march to SUNY Plaza, the headquarters for SUNY, where they stayed for the remainder of the event and protested outside the building.

According to SUNY BDS, SUNY’s connections to Israel “include but are not limited to: state retirement plans with over $250 million invested in israeli [sic] bonds, study abroad programs such as SUNY Albany and Stony Brook in Tel Aviv and a partnership with IBM.”

An independent research center, Who Profits? said that IBM provides “services, equipment and technology to Israeli settlements and Israeli police.”

SUNY New Paltz has contracts with Siemens, a company on BDS’ boycott list in part for its planned EuroAsia Interconnector, which would connect Israel’s electricity grid with the EU’s, in turn providing electricity for Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

If implemented as planned, the project “will contribute to the maintenance and expansion of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territory,” because it will “produce and transmit electricity through the Interconnector from its national electricity grid that incorporates – and de facto annexes – the illegal settlements,” according to BDS.

“People are wondering if BDS is working. F*** yeah it is. It worked in South Africa during apartheid, and it’s working right now, because everybody globally, internationally, are saying it’s not on our dime,” said Samira Sangare, a speaker at the protest and a co-founder of Saratoga Black Lives Matter.

Starbucks and McDonald’s in particular are two heavy boycotting targets that have been feeling the pressure from the war in Gaza. The New York Times reported last month that Starbucks franchises across the Middle East and Southeast Asia have lost business because of the boycotts, while McDonald’s announced it would buy back all its Israeli franchises.

“Not in our name should we allow, or stand with the 1% or Genocide Joe [Biden], Killer Kathy [Hochul] or Dark DiNapoli [Thomas],” said Eyad Alkurabi, a SUNY Albany alum who studied political science and global politics.

The frustrations with state and federal officials have grown as an increasing number of Americans have become wary of Israel’s actions in Gaza. A poll from Gallup released in late March found that a majority of Americans now disapprove of Israel’s military campaign.

A separate poll from CBS found that approval of Biden’s handling of the conflict has steadily declined since October with the rating for March being 33%.

“Lack of education, antisemitism on the rise … there’s so much hate spread on social media. I have relatives that went to schools and colleges where their teachers were very anti-Israel,” said Schroeder-Romeo, in response to a question about why support for Israel has been declining.

“I don’t agree with [SUNY BDS] at all; I think they’re another group of hateful people who want to wipe Israel off the face of the planet, and we’re not going anywhere, ever.”