DePaul SGA referendum vote calls for divestment

Supporters of DePaul Divest dropped a Palestinian flag Wednesday, May 21 in Arts & Letters Hall. (Matt Paras / The DePaulia)
Supporters of DePaul Divest dropped a Palestinian flag Wednesday, May 21 in Arts & Letters Hall. (Matt Paras / The DePaulia)

Students voted in favor of a Student Government Association (SGA) referendum calling on DePaul to withdraw its investments in companies that do business with Israel’s military and corporations that work in the West Bank and Gaza, easily passing by 54.2 percent.

A total of 2,908 votes were cast, with 45.8 percent against the referendum, an 8.4 percent margin in favor of the proposal.

The vote, dubbed “DePaul Divest,” followed weeks of campaigning by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and counter demonstrations by several campus Jewish groups opposed to the measure. SJP set up a ‘refugee camp’ in the SAC pit as well as an ‘apartheid wall’ detailing Israel’s alleged human rights violations, while Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsiolon Pi (AEPi) and Students Supporting Israel at DePaul (also known as Demon PAC) set up displays in the Quad highlighting Israel’s achievements in technology, human rights and humanitarian aid, among other things. Both groups handed out flyers and urged students to vote against or for the measure.

With the issue of Israel/ Palestine relations already a divisive one, it is clear that not all students see eye-to-eye with the nature of the referendum.

“This campaign seemed to more so center around the vilification of Israel, rather than practical solutions,” Eli Hershkovich, a Jewish student at DePaul, said. “These efforts were, if not anti-Semitic, at the very least pretty insensitive, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable on campus.”

“One thing that I heard over and over again is that this effort is an ‘anti-Semitic attack,’ that (DePaul Divest) is attacking Jewish students on campus, and that’s just such a ridiculous claim,” Mishka Pavlovich, a member of Jewish Students for Justice in Palestine, said. “We have Jews who were supporting the campaign; I am one of them, and we had many others.”

SJP wrote an op-ed May 18 titled “No more intimidation, no more misinformation” where they clarified many of their stances and refuted the accusations that they call for the elimination of Israel or the existence of Jewish groups on campus.

However, this raised questions over the type of future that pro-divest activists advocate for Israel and Palestine. SJP member Dina Abdalla said, “BDS does not call for a one-state or two-state solution.” Additionally, as she describes, one of the solutions SJP advocates is that “Israel (has the) right to exist and defend itself, as long as they comply with international law … and implement UN Resolution 954, which calls for an Arab right to return.”

Demon PAC member Matthew Rudolph believes that this type of resolution would have profound adverse effects on Israel, as it would “(require that) Israel relinquish its territory to several million Palestinian descendants, which would essentially eliminate Israel.”

“I believe that we could see tangible progress if groups like SJP cared as much about the creation of a Palestinian state as they did the denigration of Israel … This helps no one — Palestinians included,” he said.

In addition to the controversy over the nature of the campaign itself, many have complained about a bias in the wording of the referendum, which was submitted by SJP and approved by SGA’s Election Operations Board without changes. After a short introduction, the question read, “Do you think that DePaul should follow socially responsible investment practices and divest its funds from companies that profit from Israel’s discriminatory practices and human rights violations?”

Abdalla described the process by which the question was placed on the ballot.

“Every week at the Student Center we were tabling and collecting signatures to get this question posed on the referendum. We gathered over 1,300 signatures, which means that over 1,300 students had seen this and read the wording, and we had told them specifically our question,” Abdalla said. “The opposition group had the opportunity to pose their own question on the referendum…and at the end they decided they would not take that route and instead take the ‘vote no’ campaign route.”

While SGA is required by the organization’s bylaws to adopt the position of any referendum that passes, the vote is not binding and any action concerning divestment would have to be taken by the administration.

Shortly after the results were released, DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., released a statement by email. He addressed the referendum making it ambiguous about whether the administration would follow through with the demands of the vote.

“The (divestment) request is problematic in a number of ways. First, of course, is because the political standoff at the root of this matter is deeply complicated … What is socially responsible to one organization or set of interests may be objectionable to another.” The statement goes on to “encourage supporters of the referendum to present their case to the (Fair Business Practices) Committee and encourage all other interested parties to do the same.”

When asked additional questions, DePaul Spokesperson Carol Hughes continually referred back to Holtschneider’s statement and said it is an issue that needs to start with the committee.

As of the time of publication, several administrators and members of DePaul’s investment committees could not be reached for comment on the likelihood of DePaul to follow through on the referendum’s request.

However, leaders from both the pro and anti-divestment sides said they are hashing out plans to appeal to the committee in the upcoming months to encourage a decision one way or another.

“From a human rights standpoint, (the investment board) has every reason to follow through on divestment from these corporations,” Leila Abdul Razzaq, president of SJP, said. “I have not heard a single legitimate human rights based argument against divestment.”

Additionally, the incoming SGA members plan to follow through on representing the student body’s interests in DePaul’s investment practices.

“Cristina and I are planning on always working with students and representing students,” incoming SGA President Matthew von Nida said. “SGA has two positions on (the) Fair Business Practices Committee, and we will ensure two SGA members will represent the student voice on that committee.”

Although the student body has, for now, shown its affirmative support for divestment, it is clear that the debate will continue when the university deliberates over the possibility of taking action on the referendum in the fall.

Michael Corio, Nathan Weisman and Grant Myatt contributed to this report.

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