Wisconsin student government censors criticism of firms abetting Israel’s crimes

Students at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Wisconsin, are organizing against a recent attempt to suppress Palestine solidarity activism on campus.

In late April, members of the Marquette Students for Justice in Palestine (MU SJP) and their supporters with the #MUDivest coalition introduced a bill to the student senate that urged the administration to pull its investments in US and multinational companies which profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ rights.

However, in apparent protection of students who support Israel’s policies, the Marquette student government removed terms from the divestment resolution that “mention divesting or screening out companies that act against Marquette’s values,” reported campus newspaper The Marquette Wire.

“The changes remove any reference to companies that are complicit with human rights violations and the organizations that cite them,” the report adds.

The resolution passed, but with the removal of the meaningful language, students say that they — and Palestinians’ rights — have been silenced.

“Not knowing the intentions”

Rawan Atari, president of MU SJP, told The Electronic Intifada that more than 700 students, faculty and alumni signed a petition in support of divestment and the implementation of socially-responsible investment at the university. But the student senators feared that by mentioning Israel’s abuses of Palestinians’ rights or by passing a resolution that directly addressed Marquette’s investments in companies that are complicit in Israel’s occupation, students who support Israel could feel “targeted,” Atari said.

Atari said that student senators requested that they take out all references to companies that they targeted for divestment — including United Technologies, Caterpillar, G4S and Hewlett-Packard, corporations that profit from Israel’s occupation and prison industry. Because Marquette is a private institution, its complete investment portfolio is not made public.

During the senate vote, senators went into executive session — barring students and their supporters from hearing the discussion — and their debate wasn’t put on public record. “We still don’t know what was said during the debate period,” Atari said.

The bill passed with one abstention and one dissenting vote, but any mention of divestment, Palestine, or the companies’ names was taken out of the bill entirely.

“It speaks to the senators not knowing the intentions of the legislation,” Atari explained. “Even after hearing all these students talk about their families’ experiences in Palestine, they were still able to tear apart the [resolution].”

“Just the beginning”

On 6 May, students from the ‪MUDivest‬ coalition occupied the Marquette University student government offices. They wore black tape on their mouths to symbolize the student government’s decision to take out any mention of divestment from the resolution and “shut them out of the debate.”

Students posted on their Facebook page that “They have chosen to silence our voices but this is just the beginning for #MUDivest!”

Atari said that despite the censorship of the divestment resolution, student activists have built an impressive coalition with allied student groups to push forward with demands for accountability from the university. And despite it being completely watered-down, the resolution did pass with a clause that demands transparency from the university’s investment portfolio.

“We are hoping that with this legislation, Marquette will start releasing [information on] some of the companies they are invested in,” she said, adding that students will have a stronger platform next time divestment is up for debate at the university.

MU SJP is considering a campus-wide referendum on divestment, similar to the successful initiative at DePaul University in Chicago last year.

Listen to the interview with Rawan Atari via the media player above.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).