California university president placed on leave after announcing divestment and boycott of Israel


Sonoma State University president Ming Tung “Mike” Lee was placed on leave after an email surfaced showing his planned announcement to concede to anti-Israel protesters’ demands, including to divest from and boycott Israel.

The California school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter posted screenshots of Lee’s email, which commits to divest from and boycott the Jewish nation, as well as create an Advisory Council of Students for Justice in Palestine, recognize the Palestinian identity and build out a curriculum and programing for Palestine Studies, as well as make a statement in support of a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Sonoma State University, which is part of the California State University system, became the first school in the country to explicitly announce an academic boycott of Israel.

Lee apologized for the ‘harm that this has caused’

“In my attempt to find agreement with one group of students, I marginalized other members of our student population and community,” Lee said in an apology email obtained by the Washington Examiner. “I realize the harm that this has caused, and I take full ownership of it. I deeply regret the unintended consequences of my actions.”

In his apology email, Lee said his announcement was “drafted and sent without the approval of, or consultation with, the Chancellor or other system leaders.”

The Washington Examiner reached out to Sonoma State University to see if the school will be overturning the decisions listed in the announcement after Lee was placed on leave.

Lee noted that while he meant to foster a safe and inclusive environment for all students, “I realize now that my message has caused more fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. This was not my intent.”

The SSU president will be working with the Chancellor’s Office to determine next steps as he reflects “on the harm this has caused.” The school’s deputy vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, Nathan Evans, will serve as acting president in Lee’s place.

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of pro-Israel group StandWithUs, applauded the decision to place Lee on leave. She said, “StandWithUs deeply appreciates leaders across California who acted quickly after Sonoma State’s shameful agreement became public.”

“We hope this case sets an example for all universities that face pressure from anti-Israel extremists. Instead of caving to the demands of hate groups and their supporters, campus leaders must enforce their policies and stand up to antisemitism,” she added.

Many schools are making concessions to anti-Israel protesters

Other schools around the country have reached agreements with anti-Israel protesters, including Brown University which agreed to hold a vote on divesting from Israel in exchange for student protesters tearing down their encampment. Northwestern University agreed to re-establish an Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, but stopped short of a divestment vote.

Evergreen State College agreed to work toward divesting from “‘companies that profit from gross human rights violations and/or the occupation of Palestinian territories,’” while San Francisco State University agreed to divest from “direct investments in weapons manufacturers.”

Harvard University reached its agreement with student protesters on Tuesday, agreeing to hold reinstatement proceedings for those suspended for their alleged participation in the anti-Israel encampment, as well as expedite the cases of other students facing disciplinary procedures “in line with precedents of leniency for similar actions in the past.”

The school additionally will meet with the protesters “to begin discussions on disclosure, divestment, and reinvestment.” They will also have conversations about creating a “Center for Palestine Studies at Harvard.”

How boycott, divest, and sanctions campaigns impact Jewish students

Campaigns to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel are not new on campus, and almost 200 BDS campaigns have been voted on by student governments since 2005. They exploded in popularity between 2012 and 2019, but have reached new heights since the start of the war in Gaza.

After Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack against Israel, BDS campaigns and anti-Israel protests began to spread more rapidly, and mass reports of antisemitic violence and harassment in campus communities followed. There has been a massive spike in such reports following Columbia President Minouche Shafik’s April 17 House testimony on campus antisemitism, with anti-Israel encampments popping up at many schools around the country.

Carly Cooperman, CEO and pollster at Schoen Cooperman Research, previously told the Washington Examiner that these campaigns are a major contributor to Jewish students feeling unsafe on campus, with 73% feeling less safe at school since Oct. 7.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the pro-Israel campus group AMCHA Initative, explained to the Washington Examiner how BDS campaigns impact Jewish students on campus.


“Our annual studies of the 100 colleges and universities most popular with Jewish students have shown schools with BDS activity are about 3 times more likely to have incidents targeting Jewish students for harm than schools with little or no BDS activity,” she said.

“We have also shown that the vast majority of incidents involving the anti-Zionist motivated harassment of Jewish students were consistent with actions prescribed by the guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI),” she continued.

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