At Sunday’s meeting, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) voted to adopt Resolution 11.35, which calls for the University and the WSA to divest from companies that profit from the occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
Members of the WSA had discussed this resolution during the three weekly meetings that preceded the vote. According to WSA President Nicole Updegrove ’14, the WSA is peripherally invested in the region through about $80,000 that is currently a part of the Wesleyan Endowment.
“We will likely move to a more transparent section of the Wesleyan Endowment where we can be sure that student money is invested somewhere that all students can support,” Updegrove wrote in an email to The Argus.
Earlier this year, members of the University circulated a petition calling for divestment, and over one quarter of the student body signed the petition. A press release circulated by students in support of the WSA decision explained that the petition also recognized the divestment resolutions passed by the student governments of UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, Oberlin College, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Arizona State University, Hampshire College, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Wayne State University, and others.
The work of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement encouraged the adoption of this resolution. Consequently, some students believe that this conclusion is a concrete step toward ending the occupation and restoring the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian people.
“[The resolution demands divestment from] companies that a) provide weaponry, security systems, prisons, or other military support for the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories; or b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal Separation Wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes; or c) 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); for the purpose of removing the financial incentive to participate in the illegal occupation and exploitation of indigenous Palestinians and their land,” the resolution reads.
Rebecca Markell ’14 believes that the resolution inherently associates the University with the BDS movement, an organization that she says calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and denies the right for Jewish self-determination.
“It divests from both Israeli and Palestinian security, and undermines negotiations towards a peaceful two-state solution,” Markell wrote in an email to The Argus.
Opponents of the resolution introduced two last-minute amendments, both of which were rejected by the WSA following continuous debate.
“One of the rejected amendments condemned the BDS movement, while the second called for divestment from indirect support of groups recognized by the US government as terrorist organizations,” the press release read. “…Regarding the latter, assembly members recognized its practical impossibility, as well as the fact that support of these organizations is already illegal under US law. Co-signers of the resolution voiced that both of these amendments would contradict the original resolution.”
Markell commented on the refusal to add the amendments.
“Even though supporters of the resolution denied involvement with the BDS movement, they refused to add amendments condemning it,” Markell wrote. “They also failed to pass an amendment condemning terrorism and divesting from anyone indirectly funding terrorist organizations.”
Rebecca Casper-Johnson ’15, a member of J Street U, explained that J Street U opposes the BDS movement and Resolution 11.35.
“I do not believe that divestment is an effective tactic in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the human rights violations encompassed by the Israeli occupation, and am disappointed that the WSA passed up a chance to include an amendment supporting Israel’s right to exist within a two-state solution, which I believe is the only viable political solution to the conflict,” Casper-Johnson wrote in an email to The Argus. “I would call upon the community to find avenues for constructive engagement with both sides as a means to furthering the cause of human rights in the region.”
However, other students, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member JJ Mitchell ’15, were in firm support of the resolution.
“The WSA’s vote to pass the resolution gives me hope that the student body cares about where our money is going and refuses to be complicit in funding an illegal colonial project,” Mitchell wrote in an email to The Argus.
Markell explained that she felt that the meeting’s atmosphere was hostile.
“Every time I spoke, I was laughed at, shushed, and mocked (by other attendees, not WSA members),” Markell wrote. “When WSA members attempted to keep order and respect, their request was ignored and the negative attitude continued to pervade the room. After the vote passed, supporters of the resolution screamed out in victory and continued to audibly do so after leaving the room, disrupting the meeting to the point where WSA members had to reprimand them for their disrespect.”
However, Christian Hosam ’15 explained that from his perspective, the idea of a resolution designed to claim that we desire not to be complicit in human rights atrocities should not be a politically divisive issue.
“From being in the meeting, it felt as though a number of people were concerned about the potential co-option of the rhetoric coming out of the resolution,” Hosam wrote in an email to The Argus. “I query that because it sends a message that we are more concerned about political correctness than the occupation itself. I am heartened, however, that the resolution passed as it did and I hope that this is indicative of the way that the University can evolve from very difficult dialogues on social and global justice issues.”