The OSU Divest resolution—backed by 23 other student organizations—was discussed and voted down by the Ohio State University Undergraduate Student Government (USG), on March 23. It demanded that the university divest from three companies profiting from human rights violations in Palestine—Group 4 Securicor (G4S), Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard.
A secret ballot produced 21 votes against, nine votes in favor, and 15 abstentions. According to a press release from OSU Divest, the discussion lasted more than five hours and more than 300 students attended. The meeting minutes can be found here.
Earlier this month, USG senators tabled the resolution so they could consult their constituents and educate themselves. Even though OSU Divest held a town hall, where students could find ample information, only 4 of the 48 senators showed up to its town hall.
The following day, the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) at OSU held an event focused around BDS— specifically divestment—and none of the USG senators were present. Buckeyes for Israel, a pro-Israel lobby organization on campus, also held a town hall that night and more than 10 USG senators attended.
“Senators kept saying that they wanted to hear from constituents, but who exactly did they want to hear from? It was obvious from the attendance what senators valued more, and who senators wanted to hear from. And it was from the other side,” Committee for Justice in Palestine treasurer, USG general body member, and OSU Divest organizer Yousef Yacoub pointed out.
He told Palestine in America that he attempted to bring up the senators’ bias during the senate discussion, but was shut down by USG vice president Abby Waidelich.
Many arguments were made throughout the span of the five hour discussion and members of the OSU Divest coalition found flaws in the opposition’s arguments, as well as what some senators were alleging about the resolution.
“Throughout the whole night, the public forum speakers and the senators who were against the resolution had clearly lost the rational debate and would constantly try to change the focus of the discussion to irrelevant topics,” said OSU Divest member Eyad Hamza. “By currently being invested in corporations complicit in human rights violations, our university has already taken a stance, and it’s not a good stance to be in. Our university should have higher ethical standards than this and it’s sad that so many of the USG senators did not see it this way.”
Many senators claimed they didn’t want their constituents to be uncomfortable, and that the resolution was enforcing that feeling upon them.
A few days before the discussion and vote took place, USG senators received a letter from three members of Congress, Patrick J. Tiberi, Steve Stivers and Joyce Beatty, urging them to reject the divestment resolution.
Every spring break, OSU sends delegates from its USG to Washington D.C. This year, that trip coincided with the AIPAC convention, which was being hosted in the nation’s capital. While on the trip, USG Vice President Waidelich was given the letter while in Tiberi’s office discussing the Higher Education Act, according to USG Senator Sami Mubarak. He was not on the trip, but was informed by USG Senator Daniel Marchese, who was at that meeting.
After Waidelich received the letter, she also contacted Mubarak, who is a sponsor of the resolution and a member of OSU Divest, to tell him about her encounter in D.C. From there she proceeded to forward the letter to the rest of the USG members.
“The meeting was in Tiberi’s office to talk about the Higher Education Act. And then their meeting was interrupted by a guy that presented them with that letter,” Mubarak told Palestine in America. “And they were presented a letter signed by Representatives Tiberi, Stivers, and Beatty. It was also emailed to [USG VP Waidelich]. She mentioned [during the phone call] how AIPAC was in D.C. too and may have been a part of it. She said it was thrown at them in the meeting and they [the USG delegates] were all surprised. She said she felt compelled to share it with the senators, since it was sent to her.”
OSU Divest members were not happy with the way things went down in the nation’s capital.
“These letters were solicited; they were not just given to the Undergraduate Student Government. The whole way that it went down in D.C. is very fishy,” Yacoub said.
The letter contradicted what OSU Divest’s resolution called for, Yacoub added. It misleadingly stated that the purpose of the resolution was to isolate Israel.
“They kept referencing a BDS group but there is no BDS group on our campus, so I don’t know where they’re getting those facts from. And also our resolution has no mention of BDS, and it was not anti-Israel,” Yacoub said.
Hours before the USG voted, another “misleading” letter urging the USG senators to oppose the resolution surfaced, this time it came from the Ohio House of Representatives. The letter, signed by 11 Ohio Representatives, said that the resolution goes against House Bill 476—an anti-BDS bill.
According to OSU Divest, that bill does not have binding legality because it has not been signed into law. And even if it were to pass, the coalition argued that the bill would be unconstitutional, so it would not prohibit the USG from passing divestment, nor would it affect Ohio State University should it choose to divest.
During the discussion before the vote, USG President Abby Grossman told the senators to not allow outside voices to influence their decision. Still, members of the OSU Divest coalition felt that the senators were swayed by the letters.
“Before the senators spoke, the president of student government said, she urged them to, when they made their comments in their speeches, not to be influenced by anything that, any external source that had, you know, reached out to the Undergraduate Student Government prior to that meeting or that general assembly. So every time one of the senators spoke, they said we did have letters come in but I’m not going to let that influence my decision and I’m just going to go based off of what I heard today, but I mean you could tell that they were really influenced,” Committee for Justice in Palestine publicity director and OSU Divest organizer Eyad Rasoul told Palestine in America. “You could tell that even though they may have not tried to intentionally, you know, have that influence them, it still did influence their decisions.”