Student representatives at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut voted on Sunday to support divestment from companies profiting from Israeli military occupation in Palestine.
“While the resolutions passed by student governments at other universities have had largely symbolic implications, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) holds a separate endowment that will soon be divested from companies implicated in the Israeli occupation,” Wesleyan University students involved in the initiative said in a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada.
The Wesleyan Student Assembly endowment, worth several hundred thousand dollars, is the first in the US to be funded and managed by a student government. The endowment supports the activities of student organizations on campus.
The resolution also calls on the university to divest its own holdings from such companies.
Most of the WSA endowment is invested in local and green businesses, and part is invested directly with the university’s endowment.
The resolution asks the WSA to withdraw its money from the university endowment if the university is not transparent about its investments and refuses to divest.
The students’ statement hails the decision as an “historic vote, inspired by the work of students at universities across the country and the international boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement.”
They call the divestment resolution “an action that offers a concrete step toward ending the occupation and restoring the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people.”
In response to an emailed query about last night’s vote, the university’s director of communications Kate Carlisle wrote to The Electronic Intifada in an email that “Wesleyan won’t be commenting on the vote by the student association.”
JJ Mitchell and Daniel Plafker, third-year students who support divestment, said the debate lasted more than three hours and involved secret voting on each individual point in the resolution.
In a phone call, Mitchell and Plafker told The Electronic Intifada that the clauses calling for divestment passed by large majorities.
Minutes of the meeting and official results were not immediately available from the WSA website and are usually posted after about a week.
Mitchell and Plafker said that the initiative for divestment was the work of a coalition of students, some involved in Wesleyan University Students for Justice in Palestine.
Students had gathered 600 signatures – from a student body of just under 3,000 – on a petition in support of divestment.
The vote had originally been scheduled for 27 April, but had been postponed to last night at the request of pro-Israel students because it would have coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day.
President opposed academic boycott
The vote could also be seen as an indirect rebuke to Wesleyan University president Michael S. Roth, who has been an outspoken public opponent of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Last December, Roth wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed condemning the American Studies Association’s vote to support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions, which he called a “politically retrograde resolution” hiding under “the guise of phony progressivism.”
While Roth was himself a student at the university in the 1970s, he took part in an occupation of the president’s office in support of divestment from South Africa.
Last night’s vote, notably, did not address the question of academic boycott, but only divestment.
It was “narrowly focused on companies profiting from the military occupation” and, according to student supporters, “modeled off of a similar resolution that passed recently at University of California Irvine.”
The students’ statement says the resolution demands divestment from companies that “provide weaponry, security systems, prisons, or other military support for the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories” that “facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal Separation Wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes” or “facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements, outposts, and segregated roads and transportation systems on the occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza Strip, West Bank, and annexed East Jerusalem).”
The goal of divestment would be to remove “the financial incentive to participate in the illegal occupation and exploitation of indigenous Palestinians and their land.”
Attempts to derail
According to the students, opponents of the resolution tried to introduce several amendments, but these were rejected. One would have condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, while the second called for divestment “from indirect support of groups recognized by the US government as terrorist organizations.”
A third, also rejected, affirmed “the right of the state of Israel to exist.” Instead, according to Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine, an amendment “affirming the rights of all peoples to autonomy, security, and self-determination” was passed instead.
On 1 May, several students penned an article in the campus newspaper The Wesleyan Argus urging support for the divestment resolution.
“This resolution is asking for a stance of neutrality from the WSA. As it stands now, the investments of the University and the WSA materially support ongoing human rights abuses,” the article says.
“This resolution is an opportunity to retract our support of those human rights abuses and be neutral as to the ultimate outcome.”
In another sign of the swirling debate about Palestine on campus, members of the organization Wesleyan Jewish Community, an affiliate of the national Jewish organization Hillel, declared last month that they would defy Hillel’s ban on hosting speakers critical of Israel or supportive of boycott.