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Tufts passes resolution as student activists increase divestment efforts across the US

Tufts University joined the growing list of universities that have passed divestment resolutions targeting organizations with ties to human rights violations, particularly in Palestine. Students in colleges around the country are increasing their divestment efforts, by pushing for student resolutions and beyond.

Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from four corporations that the authors said profit from Israeli occupation. The resolution passed with a vote of 17  in favor, six against, and eight abstentions.

The four corporations included in the resolution are G4S, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Northrop Grumman. The resolution also calls for the university to enact a human rights screen on investments to identify, and therefore avoid investing with organizations with ties to human rights violations.

Similar resolutions have been passed by student governments throughout the country. The University of Michigan-Dearborn passed a resolution last month. De Anza College in California also passed a divestment resolution, becoming the first community college to do so. As with Tufts, both resolutions included G4S and Hewlett Packard in the list of corporations from which the universities should divest.

According to Elise Sommers, a member of Tufts Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the students worked towards this win throughout the semester by speaking to organizations that had already passed resolutions.

“In terms of this resolution specifically, we’ve been working on it for this whole semester. From writing the resolution, getting people on board with it, getting advice from other SJPs and their experience, the pushback they’ve experienced. It’s been a really community effort,” Sommers said.

The resolution at Tufts did receive pushback, including from the student organization Tufts Hillel and a coalition of campus Israel groups that consisted of Tufts American Israel Alliance (TAIA)/ The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Tufts Friends of Israel, J Street U and Tufts Students for Two States.

After the vote, Tufts Hillel released a statement expressing concern over the fact that the vote occurred the evening before Passover.

“Many Jewish students felt that the timing of this resolution was especially shameful and intolerant because the vote came to the TCU Senate the evening before Passover when so many students, and student leaders, are home with their families and preparing for the holiday. Even though there was a strong call to table this resolution until it could properly be discussed and debated, it was railroaded through the TCU Senate.” the statement read.

The Tufts chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) responded to this concern by pointing out that classes and other events were also held during the week of Passover, and students who were not able to attend the meeting had the opportunity to submit comments that were read during the meeting. Tufts JVP also warned against conflating Judaism with the State of Israel.

“…the assumption that the Jewish students who are traveling the day before Passover and are unable to make it would only care about this one bill – and not the passing of all TCU club budgets for the next fiscal year which is also happening on Sunday night – perpetuates the conflation of Judaism with the State of Israel. The assumption that all Jewish students who would be travelling for Passover would oppose the resolution perpetuates the same fallacy. This conflation plays into the anti Semitic and hurtful idea that the only way to be Jewish is to support the State of Israel fully and unconditionally,”  Tufts JVP’s statement read.

Sommers explained that the resolution also faced opposition on social media, including from Canary Mission, a site ran anonymously that has compiled hundreds of profiles of Palestinian activists that include accusations of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorism.

“At the meetings there were several Zionist, Pro-Israel groups represented that were quite vocal. A lot of SJP members, myself included, have also been profiled on Canary Mission and were targeted by protesters on campus earlier in the year. There’s also been quite a lot of social media backlash, people sending really threatening emails to the senators who voted for? the resolution, really nasty Facebook comments,” Sommers said.

Divestment efforts have faced similar contention at other universities, at times leading to postponed votes or struck down resolutions. A resolution at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UiUC), for example, did not pass in a senate vote last month. However, the group noted that the vote was close, especially considering this was their first attempt, and vowed to continue their fight.

After a heated debate at University of Wisconsin, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) voted to indefinitely postpone a proposed divestment resolution. The university’s SJP hopes to introduce a new resolution to ASM before the end of the semester.

According to Amal Ayesh, one of the presidents of the UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, the new resolution will focus more on intersectionality while the first version focused primarily on Palestine.

“We’ve had a lot of different student organizations collaborate with us and actually write with us. And so the language is very different and it does come with a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot about Palestine but it’s a lot about other movements and other struggles that are standing with Palestine because the movements look very similar and there’s so many intersectionalities between these movements,” Ayesh said.

Ayesh said UW-Madison SJP is currently focusing most of their attention to educating the community on what divestment really means.

“Right now we are really on the brink with votes so we’re just trying to educate more and to get student council members to be educated more. I think that they’re not as educated as they think they are, so they’re making blind decisions when they’re voting. So, I think right now we’re in this educational period before we take any step forward,” Ayesh said

While Tufts already passed their resolution, Sommers said that Tufts SJP is still working on education and answering questions that the university community has about divestment. The SJP also hope to speak to the Board of Trustees about how divestment would look for the university.

UofC Divest, which passed a divestment resolution last year, is also currently attempting to get the attention of the board of trustees. The group launched a letter campaign called #TellTheTrustees, urging the board to meet the demands of the resolution.

The campaign letter called on the trustees to divest from companies that are “actively complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians.” It also calls for “a Socially Responsible Investment Committee with student representation that oversees ethical investment policy and transparency in investments.”

The letter has over 160 signatures from current UofC students as well as alumni. Eleven student organizations also signed the letter.

The student resolutions passed by UofC Divest and others are nonbinding recommendations, so calling on the university officials to adhere to the resolutions is the clear next step for divestment activists.

About Yasmeen Abdellatif

Yasmeen Abdellatif is a Palestinian-American student at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. She is an English major and minors in Writing, Middle Eastern Studies, and Spanish.

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