Louisa County Board of Supervisors Votes to Withhold Funding from PVCC over Israel Documentary Showing


As the 2024 graduation season unfolds, a wave of student activism is sweeping across university campuses, transforming commencement ceremonies into platforms for protest and critique.

From coast to coast, students and commencement speakers are leveraging these traditionally celebratory events to voice their discontent with university policies, particularly those related to Israel's actions in Gaza. This burgeoning movement underscores a broader trend of increasing political engagement among students and highlights the evolving role of commencement speakers in shaping the discourse on campus.

Louisa County Board of Supervisors Votes to Withhold Funding from PVCC over Israel Documentary Showing

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Piedmont Virginia Community College)

Film Sparks Debate on College Campuses

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors in Virginia has stirred controversy by voting to withhold its share of funding from Piedmont, Virginia Community College (PVCC). The decision came after the college's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter screened the documentary film "Israelism" on campus. The board's unanimous vote, which took place on Monday, cited concerns over antisemitism following the film's showing.

Film Sparks Debate on College Campuses

"Israelism," produced by Jewish filmmakers, follows two young Jewish Americans who question and ultimately abandon their support for Israel after traveling in the region and engaging with Palestinians. The film has sparked controversy on some college campuses, particularly in the wake of the Israel-Gaza conflict. Despite its Jewish creators, some critics argue that the film presents a biased view against Israel.

READ MORE: UT Dallas Removes Campus Tradition Spirit Rocks Amid Israel-Hamas Debate 

Board's Resolution Raises Questions

The resolution passed by the Louisa County Board of Supervisors expressed concern over antisemitism and discrimination, stating that "public funds should not support platforms for antisemitism or discrimination." It resolved to suspend funding for PVCC in fiscal year 2025, pending an in-person explanation by PVCC of its stance on discrimination and antisemitism. However, the resolution did not specify what aspects of the film or the SJP chapter's actions raised concerns about antisemitism.

PVCC and Community Response

PVCC responded to the board's decision with dismay, emphasizing its commitment to fostering a safe environment for freedom of expression. The college's statement noted that it serves the community and benefits thousands of students who rely on its affordable, accessible programs for their career development. PVCC asked the board to reconsider its decision, highlighting the college's crucial role in supporting the community.

Symbolic Impact of the Decision

While the amount denied to PVCC was relatively small-$5,859 out of a proposed $500,600 operating budget for the 2024-25 academic year, the move carries symbolic weight. In the spring, PVCC had nearly 4,600 students and got financial support from six neighboring counties and the city of Charlottesville, where its main campus is situated. Louisa County's decision is significant when community colleges have not experienced the same level of campus turmoil seen at four-year institutions.

Board Chairman's Statement

Duane Adams, chairman of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, posted on Facebook expressing his disappointment with the screening of "Israelism." He stated that he could not "in good conscience support funding for an organization that allows a blatantly antisemitic organization [to use] their facilities." Adams emphasized the board's commitment to fostering a community that values diversity, inclusivity, and respect for all.

Legal and Ethical Questions

The decision to withhold funding raises legal and ethical questions. Haley Gluhanich, a senior program officer for campus rights advocacy, emphasized that hate speech is legally protected under the First Amendment unless it constitutes discriminatory harassment. Gluhanich highlighted that government entities must abide by the First Amendment and cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination, regardless of the viewpoint expressed.

Community Response and Criticism

Some Louisa County residents have criticized the board's decision not to fund PVCC. Mary Kranz, a longtime county resident who has taken classes at PVCC, started a GoFundMe page to raise the nearly $6,000 denied to the college. Kranz expressed concern over the lack of transparency in the board's decision-making process and emphasized the importance of open discussion and debate in education.

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors' decision to withhold funding from PVCC has sparked debate and raised questions about freedom of expression, antisemitism, and discrimination. While the board cited concerns over antisemitism following the screening of "Israelism," critics argue that the decision stifles academic freedom and open dialogue on college campuses. PVCC's response emphasizes its commitment to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all students, highlighting the complex challenges faced by educational institutions in balancing competing interests and viewpoints.

RELATED ARTICLE: Documentary 'Israelism' Divides UPenn Campus: Navigating Academic Freedom Amid Israel-Hamas Tensions 

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