Student Association President Phil Robinson vetoed a Senate bill supporting a U.S.-Israel relationship Dec. 9. After the controversial legislation caused heated debate among senators and students, dozens of students approached the SA concerning the bill, and the sponsor of the resolution called for its veto.
Robinson said he vetoed the bill because he wants to ensure “everyone is represented by the Student Association” and because the SA should not take sides in political issues that indirectly affect students.
“Blanket statements are dangerous when it comes to political issues,” Robinson said.
At the Senate’s Dec. 3 meeting, a resolution supporting a petition in favor of “maintaining and enhancing a mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and Israel” passed nine to seven, with four abstentions and one no-vote.
Pro-Israel student organizations including the Student Alliance for Israel and Israel Peace Project were seeking the SA’s name on a petition they were circulating around campus. The petition received about 1,000 signatures from individuals as well as support from several student organizations, including the College Democrats and College Republicans. GW was one of more than 35 campuses across the country at which groups collected petitions supporting the relationship.
Student governments at other universities, including the University of Maryland, put their names on the groups’ petitions.
“With the SA as the governing body of the students, and since we got a thousand signatures, we thought it would be a good opportunity to bring the representative governing body (into it),” said junior Baylene Wacks, GW’s campus representative for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“Obviously I was hoping for (Robinson) not to veto it – my victory was that it passed in the Senate,” Wacks said.
Wacks also said she and other organizers plan to send the petition to Congress after they run it as an advertisement in the Jan. 21 Hatchet.
Sen. Chrissy Trotta (CCAS-U) sponsored the resolution but took back her support soon after the Senate passed it, asking Robinson to veto the bill.
Trotta said she withdrew her support because the Senate voted to suspend its rule of sending a new piece of legislation to a committee before Senate review, which gives the chance for study by senators and feedback from students, to coincide with the placement of an advertisement in the Hatchet concerning the petition.
“I am happy with Phil’s decision to veto the legislation,” Trotta said, adding, “I didn’t necessarily agree with the veto message.” She said if the regular procedure would have been carried out, she still would have supported the bill, regardless of its political nature.
Several senators and Robinson criticized the piece of legislation because it asked the SA to take sides on a political issue that does not directly affect students.
Robinson noted that the SA has aken sides on certain pieces of national interest, including encouraging Congress to alter the Higher Education Act to allow federal funding for students with drug convictions.
“These pieces of legislation are targeted at issues that directly impact students on our campus,” Robinson wrote in a veto message.
Some senators at the December meeting who supported the bill said the SA can and should give support to national issues that concern students and support U.S. policy.
“Whenever you’re involved with politics and legislation, you’re never going to (satisfy) all people,” said Sen. Dan Moss (U-SBPM), who voted for the resolution.
Moss also noted that hundreds of pieces of legislation are passed in the Senate, and not all students will agree with all pieces of legislation.
“I’ve seen other schools take stances on political issues,” said Sen. Aaron Binstock (U-SBPM). He also said the wording of the bill supported a relationship that benefits both countries, Israel and the United States.
The Senate can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote, but Moss said he does not believe any senator will bring the resolution back to the floor.