Note: This article is the second part of the coverage regarding the USG meeting on March 27. The first part of this meeting, which includes details about the referenda language review process, can be found here.
The third referendum proposed at the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) meeting on Sunday, March 27 called for the University to boycott Caterpillar construction products. Deliberations began with a statement from the referendum sponsor, Eric Periman ’23, who serves as president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP).
During the meeting, Periman explained PCP’s rationale, saying, “We’ve recently been really concerned by the use of Caterpillar manufacturing construction machinery on campus for the various campus construction projects, including the E-quad construction, the art museum, the New Colleges East and West, [and] the Lake Campus development project.”
“Their machinery is routinely used for some really despicable and inhumane purposes,” Periman continued.
Periman cited the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as one of the motives for the referendum.
“BDS is a Palestinian-led organization that targets boycotts, divestments, and sanctions to the state of Israel with regard to their treatment of Palestinian people, [and] the violations that that has for international law,” he said.
Periman claimed that Caterpillar machinery was used in the demolition of many Palestinian houses and that “Caterpillar knows that its machinery is being used in the violation of human rights.”
The ballot in question, if passed, would call on the University administration to stop the use of Caterpillar machinery in “all ongoing campus projects,” and discontinue the future use of Caterpillar machines on campus, including use by contractors.
Members of the USG Senate raised a number of questions and concerns regarding the referendum during the language review discussion.
USG Treasurer Adam Hoffman ’23 spoke in reference to the criterion that USG referenda cannot claim to exercise power beyond what an undergraduate referendum can do. Hoffman previously served as the vice president of Tigers for Israel.
“It’s actually illegal to boycott Caterpillar,” Hoffman claimed.
He also raised a concern that BDS campaigns on college campuses might lead to an increase in antisemitic attacks, an occurrence that has been previously reported across some U.S. college campuses. He claimed that when a 2015 referendum called for Princeton to divest “from multinational corporations that maintain the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank,” a member of the CJL staff saw a rise in antisemitism on Princeton’s campus.
Senator Ned Dockery ’25 later added to this, asking Periman to consider including a clause in the referendum commenting on the potential direct effect of the measure on antisemitic attacks.
To this, Periman brought up instances “as recently as this year” of PCP activists and non-PCP-affiliated Palestinian and Muslim students also facing discrimination. He did not amend the referendum language.
“It seems to me this referendum tries to sneak in BDS,” Hoffman later argued, referencing the omission of language referring to BDS in the ballot question text itself but the inclusion of the movement in the question’s explanation. He called for fellow USG members to vote no on the language approval.
Periman then addressed the Senate body, arguing that “[Hoffman] would like you to believe this is a BDS referendum — it’s not. BDS does not appear in the resolution or in the ballot question. It only exists in the explanation; that’s not what’s being implemented.”
Andrew Zucker ’25, a member of the Sustainability Committee, said that “the boycott of a company that conducts business with Israel” qualifies the measure as a BDS referendum, regardless of whether it is explicitly stated.
Zucker currently serves as the secretary for Tigers for Israel.
Periman, Hoffman, and others continued to debate the phrasing of the referendum and whether the inclusion of BDS in the explanation section constituted part of the resolution.
“That’s an interpretation that Senate members are going to have to consider when they vote,” Hannah Kapoor ’23, Vice President of USG said.
At this point, the meeting reached the one-hour mark. Senate members extended the meeting in ten-minute intervals for nearly an additional 90 minutes.
Over an hour and a half after discussion of this referendum language began, the Senate began the voting process. It approved the referendum language with twelve members voting in favor, five abstaining, and five opposing. The votes are as follows:
Voting in favor were USG President Mayu Takeuchi ’23, Senator Sean Bradley ’24, U-Councilor Stephen Daniels ’24, Academic Chair Austin Davis ’23, Senator Kanishkh Kanodia ’23, Kapoor, Senator Mariam Latif ’24, Social Committee Chair Madison Linton ’24, U-Council Chair Riley Martinez ’23, Senator Walker Penfield ’25, Campus and Community Affairs Chair Isabella Shutt ’24, and U-Councilor Vian Wagatsuma ’23.
Abstaining from the vote were University Student Life Committee Chair Avi Attar ’25 and Dockery, as well as several absent Senate members; votes from those who are not in attendance are automatically marked as abstaining, so U-Councilors Mohamed Jishi ’24, Anna Sivaraj ’23, and Jiwon Yun ’22 were marked as such.
Voting in opposition were Hoffman, U-Councilor Carlisle Imperial ’25, U-Councilor Alen Palic ’23, U-Councilor Eric Sklanka ’23, and Zucker, who attended and voted by proxy as a representative of Sustainability Chair Audrey Zhang ’25.
The Daily Princetonian was unable to verify the vote of Senator Gisell Curbelo ’23.
DEI Chair Braiden Aaronson ’25 advocated that the referendum be considered “frivolous.”
After approving the language of the referendum to appear on the ballot, the Senate then debated the question of frivolity.
Citing Hoffman’s prior claim that it would be illegal for the University to cease using Caterpillar products, Daniels said that the referendum should be considered frivolous because “the University is not actually able to carry out this action.”
Shutt contested that the measure would be legal, saying that the anti-BDS laws discussed do not “pertain to University contracting of construction equipment.”
The purpose of the frivolous measure under the Senate’s Constitution, Shutt said, was to prevent “someone put[ing] up a referendum that said every student must wear green on Wednesday, [for example,] that we cannot then allow it on the ballot.”
Following Shutt’s comments, Penfield motioned to vote on whether the referendum is frivolous and Shutt seconded.
Kapoor granted a request from Daniels to delay the vote to give members the opportunity to resolve the issue of whether or not federal and New Jersey laws would make the referendum’s implementation unfeasible.
As the legal discussion continued, Aaronson said that the referendum should be considered frivolous as “a BDS referendum” that attempts to “sneak around the Senate language review process,” done necessarily in “bad faith.”
The Senate voted and ultimately did not find the referendum frivolous, failing to reach the 5/6 threshold to mark a referendum as such. The votes were as follows:
Voting in favor of deeming the referendum “frivolous” were Daniels, Hoffman, Imperial, Linton, and Zucker (representing Zhang).
Abstaining from the vote were Takeuchi, Attar, Bradley, Davis, Kapoor, Martinez, Palic, Penfield, and Sklanka. Jishi, Sivaraj, and Yun were again counted as abstaining because they were not in attendance.
Opposing the deeming of the referendum as “frivolous” were Dockery, Kanodia, Latif, Shutt, and Wagatsuma.
The ‘Prince’ was unable to verify Curbelo’s vote.
After the USG meeting, PCP member Harshini Abbaraju ’22 told the ‘Prince’ that she “watched in great dismay as the discussion around this referendum devolved into bad faith [and] unfounded accusations.”
Nevertheless, Abbaraju and other members of PCP expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the vote and their excitement for the petition and campaign periods to come.
The ‘Prince’ requested comment from other community members in attendance but no others provided comment.
USG Senate meetings are held in Robertson Hall Bowl 016 at 8 p.m. on Sunday evenings and are open to all.
Correction: The headline of this article previously stated that USG debated the referendum’s appearance on the ballot. It has since been corrected to accurately represent the debate regarding the referendum language. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.
A previous version of this article also stated that three members of the Senate abstained from the language review vote. In fact, five members in total abstained.
Staff news writer Alison Araten contributed reporting to this piece.
Annie Rupertus is a first-year from Philadelphia and a News Staff Writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She is also a designer for the print issue. She can be reached at email@example.com or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.