Two days after the Student Association Senate voted down a contentious pro-Palestian divestment resolution, student leaders on both sides of the debate say they are prepared to continue the conversation on campus.
After about five hours of debate surrounding the resolution at Monday’s senate meeting, leaders of the divestment movement said despite the senate’s vote, their campaign was successful in bringing attention to the plight of Palestinian students on campus. Opponents of the resolution – many from Jewish and pro-Israel student groups – said they wanted to open a campus dialogue on the topic after tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students were laid bare at Monday’s meeting.
The resolution, which failed by a vote of 14 to 15 with one abstention Monday, called for the University to divest from 10 companies supporters of the resolution said contributed to Palestinian suffering.
Abby Brook, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and a founder of Divest this Time – a coalition of students that campaign for the University to divest from companies they say contribute to the occupation of Palestine – said that the vote was disappointing but still a success for the organizations.
“I was surprised and proud to see how close the vote was,” she said. “At the same time, it was especially hard for the Palestinian students who had just watched their lives and their worth be debated – for them to see it so close to passing but not passing – and that meant that they would continue to be complicit in the violence occurring against themselves and their loved ones.”
Brook said supporters of the resolution will push for a referendum vote on the topic in the future, which would allow the entire student body to vote on divestment. She said a vote would allow more people to learn about the issue.
“It’s about thousands of people learning about the violations that are occurring against Palestinians, and that’s how they’ll truly stop, because then all of those people feel the passion that this needs to stop and that it’s wrong,” Brook said.
Brook said she hopes that the resolution has encouraged more people to learn about the Israel-Palestine conflict and that it will inspire more turnout at Divest this Time and SJP events. She added that the groups will likely announce their next steps in the divestment campaign at the end of this year or early next year.
“We obtained a very close vote and brought out hundreds of students to engage in the conversation in a real way and lifted up the voices of Palestinians in a true way that had not happened before on this campus,” she said.
Maryam Alhassani, a member of SJP who spoke twice during the public comment portions of the senate meeting, said she felt, despite the claims from the opponents of the resolution, no effort was made to have meaningful dialogue.
“You can check our Facebook page,” she said. “We haven’t had any messages on our Facebook even before our divestment.”
She said that she wanted the people who did not support the resolution to recognize that there were Palestinian students who could not speak up on campus because they felt unsafe.
“For us, in reality, GW divesting is only going to make people more aware of the issue,” she said. “No matter how they approach us, that doesn’t really matter, because how are they going to approach us if they don’t even recognize what we’re trying to fight for?”
Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, the executive director of GW Hillel, said the event was traumatizing for students on both sides of the resolution, and that students within Hillel were exhausted from five weeks of campaigning.
“This has been rather hard and divisive on both sides,” he said. “There was a lot that was said certainly before Monday but in the five hours of debate and even the public comments that happened after the bill itself, most of which breaks my heart.”
He said Monday’s debate created an opportunity for continued dialogue among students with opposing views especially once students have the time to reflect on the week’s events.
“It’s incumbent on all sides – forget names of organizations or protesters – just to start to talk to each other, one student to another student,” he said.
Leaders of GW Together – a group made up of members of organizations like GW for Israel and the Jewish Student Association that mobilized in opposition to the resolution – said in an email statement that the resolution was problematic for its use of contested sources and represented only one side of the debate.
Dozens of members of the organization came out to the SA Senate meeting Monday wearing matching GW Together T-shirts to voice opposition for the resolution.
“After this legislation was introduced, we heard an outpouring of concerns from GW students about the one-sided nature of the legislation and its potential to create a divisive environment in our community,” leaders said in a statement. “We encouraged those who were concerned to attend the senate meeting so they could express their concern and voice their opposition to their SA senators.”
Leaders of the organization said they will continue to promote discussion about the issue.
“We are committed to working with our counterparts to ensure that these conversations are accessible, safe and open to all,” according to the statement.
Keiko Tsuboi, a former SA senator who co-sponsored the resolution, said she will continue to promote divestment next year as a member of Divest this Time GW.
“For some of the students who are so protective of their identities – and for me to be able to hear their names, even, and get to know them – that means so much to me, and so now that I have the face and name to these students, I’m going to fight for them even harder,” she said.
She added that the resolution’s failure in the senate was not a disappointment.
“We went into a mindset going in with the coalition that even a loss would be a victory to us, because we realized that it’s about changing hearts and minds, and even all the people behind this never expected it to get this far,” she said.
Tsuboi said she would personally favor putting divestment on a student-wide referendum, but that Palestinian student organizations would ultimately decide what came next.
“To us, the moral imperative to do something about this means way too much,” she said. “We haven’t made any decision about where we’re going. We just know that we’re going somewhere and that it’s going to be big.”
Leah Potter contributed reporting.