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DePaul Divest: One year later

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Students protest in the quad of DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus in March, calling for DePaul to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Students protest in the quad of DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus in March, calling for DePaul to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Last year in late May, before finals took their toll and the quarter ended, students voted for SGA president, senators and various referendum items. The most contentious of the items, proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine, called for DePaul to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine as part of the national Boycott, Divest and Sanction, BDS, movement that occurred on college campuses across the country.

Before the final ballots were cast, rallies and protests took over campus locations and everyday conversation. The vote to divest passed 1,575 to 1,333, but the school did not divest and has made no steps to. In the email sent after the results of last year’s election, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, CM said, “I have previously  made clear that university policy is not set by referendum and that the Fair Business Practices Committee is the appropriate university body to study and make a recommendation on this issue.”

A year later, with a new SGA decision to skim through, it’s worth noting that issues from last year have not been resolved.

The Fair Business Practices Committee considered the case for divestment in late January and ruled that “DePaul already has an existing socially responsible investment strategy.” It was similar to a decision made in 2011 with the call for boycotting Sabra Hummus. The committee said, “there do not appear to be sufficient grounds for a boycott of Sabra Hummus, primarily because the Committee did not find evidence that the Strauss Group provides direct military support for units within the Israeli Defense Forces.”

Since both decisions, the groups have kept themselves busy. They are still working to educate the student body and foster a conversation here so as to help the international situation, but there has not been a dialogue between them and the situation is now at an impasse, much like its international counterpart.

“I think a dialogue with them would work if there wasn’t so much hostility. It’s easy to say that the two could talk and things would be all right but it’s just not that easy,” said junior Monisa Ahmed, who supports the Palestinian cause though she has not been thoroughly involved with SJP.

Hostility stems from events before and after the SGA vote last year. SJP protests last year, which included a sit-in in the Pit, became tense when members of Students Supporting Israel, SSI, disrupted. This year, SJP invited and hosted a convicted terrorist, though her charges — and the confession used to convict her — are sketchy at best. SSI, though primarily its leadership, attended conferences and has hosted fundraisers for Israel. The main goal is educating the student body.

“We want to provide an Israeli perspective on campus, as it is often lacking on college campuses,” Cameron Erickson, president of SSI, said. “We also promote a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict by ensuring that Israel is secure enough to abide by her most progressive inclinations.”

Tensions between the two groups after a referendum last year have not been resolved, nor has there been dialogue, much like the international situation.

Students for Justice in Palestine drop a Palestinian flag in Arts & Letters Hall last spring in support of the BDS movement on campus.(DePaulia File)

Students for Justice in Palestine drop a Palestinian flag in Arts & Letters Hall last spring in support of the BDS movement on campus.(DePaulia File)

After the most recent Gaza War, the Pew Research Center found that 34 percent of Americans sympathize a lot with the Israeli people and 32 percent sympathize “some,” something Ahmed attributes to the media’s coverage of the conflict and Israel “at the hands of the Palestinians, but not so much the other way around.” The tense atmosphere on campus mirrors the national and international atmosphere surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An anti-BDS bill passed in the Illinois House with unanimous support May 13. It requires the state’s five pension funds to divest from foreign companies that boycott Israel.

The bill is seen as a way to “counter efforts to economically isolate Israel,” according to state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz.   Economic isolation, and the issue of isolation in general, is ironic considering the U.S.’ support and gifts of arms to the country.

The relationship between Israel and the U.S. has been strained in recent months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress March 3, and recent developments in the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

These occurrences, though on a much larger level, influence the larger conversation surrounding relations in the Middle East and America’s role there. 

At home, however, Erickson attributes the tensions on campus, and lack of conversation, to SJP. He said SSI tried to reach out for dialogue, but they were rebuked, and that “they had no interest in meeting with us. This goes against their policy of ‘normalization,’ and they refuse to have dialogue with anyone who believes in the existence of the Jewish state.”

“Rather than doing everything in their power to stop human rights violations on both sides, SJP wants, needs and applauds every single Israeli human rights violation,” Erickson said.

“Peace takes security, and when the Israeli people feel secure, history tells us they always vote with their most noble and progressive inclinations.”

Though the issue is far from settled, and dialogue at this point seems far from possible, the two groups and those that support them are continuing to get their message out.

SJP held Café Resistance May 18, an event that included music, poetry and an open mic during a week of events to commemorate the displacement of the Palestinian people and planned for the upcoming weeks.

SSI sponsored other events like a party on the Quad for Israel’s 67th birthday, and continue supporting legislation that is pro-Israel. Both will continue to highlight an international conflict that deserves a resolution. Whether it happens or not, locally or globally, will be a result of discussion and debate.

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DePaul Divest: One year later