Michigan Daily endorses Palestine students’ divestment effort

Students at McMaster University listen to Salah Khalaf urge them to vote “yes for BDS.” (Vine)

Students at McMaster University win big majority for divestment despite walk-out by opponents. Loyola student government president, supported by off-campus Israeli lobby groups, vetoes divestment resolution.

Despite losing a vote on a divestment resolution in the University of Michigan student government earlier this week, campus Palestine solidarity activists showed they had massive support by mobilizing unprecedented hundreds of fellow students to attend the meeting.

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), the campus group that proposed the divestment resolution, had already gained the support of 36 other campus organizations.

“One of the pressing issues of our time”

Today, there is more powerful evidence that despite losing the vote, divestment proponents are winning the argument.

The Michigan Daily, the main campus newspaper has published an editorial powerfully making the case in support of holding the university’s investments to ethical standards:

In the last few weeks, SAFE has raised legitimate concerns about the University’s ethical standards for investment, calling attention to alleged human rights violations by companies the University has invested in. The activism led by SAFE and its allies is admirable, as the group has brought to light disturbing questions about the University’s behavior. The University cannot allow the allure of profits to muddle the school’s ethical standard. As with all of its actions, the school must hold itself to a fundamental morality when making financial investments.

After criticizing the student government’s handling of the matter, the editorial backs SAFE’s demand that the university set up inclusive procedures to monitor the ethical standards and human rights impact of the university’s investments, something it currently fails to do.

It concludes:

If nothing else, SAFE and its allies have re-centered the campus conversation on the balance between the University’s financial interests and moral imperatives. Any company complicit or duplicitous in human rights violations is unworthy of our investment and the many exemplary individuals who have helped build the endowment over the course of generations.

To that end, the University needs to institutionalize a permanent mechanism to evaluate complaints against companies that are suspected of doing business with unethical regimes. A committee composed of faculty, students, administrators, alumni and community members can dutifully and thoroughly evaluate these claims and publicly recommend to the Board of Regents whether or not these companies merit divestment or other sanctions. Until such a committee is established, willful blindness will continue to be a poor substitute for defining leadership on one of the pressing issues of our time.

Divestment resolution passes at McMaster

Meanwhile, hundreds turned out for the annual student assembly at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where they voted by a large margin – 360 in favor, 23 opposed and 135 abstentions – in favor of a divestment resolution.

The “Vote Yes to BDS” coalition thanked supporters on its Facebook page but noted that the resolution is not binding on the student government because, despite hundreds of students voting, the meeting narrowly missed achieving a quorum.

As the campus newspaper The Silhouette reported, “Attendance at the Assembly peaked at 630, three members from quorum. Compared to last year’s peak attendance of 60 students and to a string of non-quorate assemblies from 1996 to 2011, this year’s turnout was impressive.”

The lack of a quorum was, the paper reported, due to what appeared to be an organized walk out by opponents of the call to support Palestinian rights:

At around 6:30 pm, just before the Assembly voted to adopt the agenda and attendance was announced to be 621, many students against BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] got up to leave the gym, ensuring that quorum would not be reached.

“The problem is that many students feel uncomfortable and should have the right to leave and not be counted in the vote,” said an anti-BDS student after a call to question was announced and the chair ordered the doors to be sealed for voting. The tension in the room was most palpable at that point.

By 6:40 pm, the number of voting members in the gym was reduced to 520.

“Although the vote passed without quorum, I still feel like it was a huge success,” Nadia Igdoura, a second-year student at McMaster, told The Electronic Intifada.

“We raised awareness on campus for an issue that was previously almost entirely unknown. We also showed the student union and administration that this is an issue that students care deeply about. Despite the disappointing result, we will fight for this at the Student Representative Assembly and at next year’s general assembly, if necessary.”

The McMaster BDS coalition sent this statement to The Electronic Intifada:

We, the willing, justice loving and capable students of McMaster university have acknowledged the Palestinian people’s suffering and thus decided to take comprehensive nonviolent action against those who sustain oppression, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, oppression is oppression. This action is embodied in BDS. Let it be known that we will continue until the dark clouds of oppression unveil the lasting sunshine of justice and peace. For justice everywhere.”

Veto at Loyola

On Tuesday, the student government at Loyola University Chicago passed a divestment resolution for a second time.

The first vote, the previous week, had been by 26-0, but the margin of victory in the second vote was narrower after anti-Palestinian groups mobilized against the resolution: 12-10 with 9 abstentions.

But the student government president vetoed the resolution, as JTA reports:

Pedro Guerrero, president of the Loyola United Student Government Association, or USGA, on Tuesday vetoed the resolution that calls on the university to remove its holdings from eight companies that provide equipment or services to Israel for use in the West Bank.

JTA also makes clear the interference of off-campus anti-Palestinian groups, who welcomed Guerrero’s action:

Pro-Israel students were assisted in their efforts to overturn the measure by the Metro Chicago Hillel and the Jewish United Fund’s Israel Education Center. The two organizations issued a statement Tuesday praising Guerrero’s “courageous and considered decision” to veto the resolution.

The student senate can overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority.

What is clear is the battle over divestment – and over the path to justice in Palestine – continues on campuses across North America.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.