Augsburg College Rejects Campus Israel Group

A special meeting on Tuesday in Augsburg to show support for the student group. Credit: Ilan Sinelnikov

A special meeting last Tuesday at Augsburg to show support for SSI. Credit: Ilan Sinelnikov

On September 17th, the student government of Augsburg College voted 6 to 3 to deny chartering Students Supporting Israel (SSI) on the Augsburg campus.

According to their website, SSI’s mission is to, “create a clear and confident Pro-Israel voice on college campuses, and to support students in grassroots Pro-Israel advocacy.” They currently have 14 chapters across the US and Canada and continue to grow as anti-Israel sentiment continues to rise on campus.

Augsburg College is 4-year liberal arts college offering undergraduate and graduate degrees for a student body of over 3,000 full- and part-time students.

It was not immediately clear what the full extent of charter status gets a student group at Augsburg. It seems that charter status isn’t needed to organize or express opinions; but by not being a charted group, SSI is banned from all official school activities, such as activity fairs and Homecoming Week.

The Augsburg College Day Student Government, with SSI representatives present, discussed the issue of whether to charter Students Supporting Israel for the 2014-15 school year at their September 17th meeting, the minutes of which are freely available online. Some of the questions asked of the SSI representatives during the chartering discussion included, “How can you suggest supporting such an unjust cause?” And, “By supporting this group, aren’t we going against human rights?”

Since the vote, SSI has been working behind the scenes to resolve this issue, but they apparently decided a behind-the-scenes approach wasn’t working. On September 28th, they encouraged supporters to head to Augsburg College’s Facebook page and post respectful comments and questions to the Augsburg administration regarding the student government’s decision. In a September 29th response, Augsburg said that their, “Day Student Government has the right to approve or decline any student organization’s charter as long as the decision does not violate the College’s nondiscrimination policy,” and that, “Augsburg College Day Student Government communicated with Students Supporting Israel that the charter was denied based on language in the constitution of Students Supporting Israel.”

An email to the Augsburg Day Student Government about the language in SSI’s submitted constitution that caused their charter to be denied was not immediately returned. However, according to the minutes of the September 17th meeting, at least one member of the student government holds the view that, “Their constitution says they support the government and its actions. The government has been involved in massive destruction.” This seems to intimate that at least to one voting member, the issue with SSI’s constitution is that it voices support for Israel at all.

This is so far the only publicly available reason we could find that suggests a specific issue with SSI’s constitution—it is the only reason given in the official minutes of the September 17th meeting. Is it the primary reason for denying SSI’s charter? If so, the Augsburg Day School Government has denied the charter of Students Supporting Israel because Students Supporting Israel supports Israel. The student government has, in effect, created an unwelcome environment on campus for anyone who sympathizes with Israel, whether a part of SSI or not.

If there are further reasons, Augsburg College has been coy about providing details. Does this violate Augsburg’s nondiscrimination policy? Can the Augsburg College administration overturn their student government’s decision? Will they?