GW must protect students supporting pro-Palestinian divestment resolution

Tyler Katz (they/them/theirs), a senior majoring in biology, is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, the Association of Queer Women and Allies, Jewish Voice for Peace and Divest This Time at GW.

Since the divestment campaign, Divest This Time at GW, launched in 2017, pro-Israel students have demanded “dialogue” instead of action. When Divest This Time launched their second campaign, pro-Israel students made the same demands. Students against divestment claim that such resolutions ignore and deny the power of “dialogue.” That is simply not the case.

The University’s endowment is a mystery to nearly all students on this campus. It is most disconcerting that when committing to attend classes at GW — and thereby further funding the University’s operations — there is no explanation of how a student’s tuition will be supporting or not supporting an institution that invests its endowment in ethically responsible corporations. A student’s tuition is a direct support of an institution, but students do not know what kinds of actions and endeavors they are supporting. Such opaque investment practices should be a red flag, regardless of politics. When students began preparing to launch the Divest This Time campaign, a request was sent to the Office of the President. Divest This Time requested that the University divulge whether or not they were invested in 10 multinational corporations that fuel human rights violations committed against Palestinians and other demographics around the world. The request was met with silence.

Palestinian students on this campus were refused by our University’s administration, and only after the campaign launched did the administration attempt — and then twice refuse — to meet with Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students. When administrators refused to divulge the investments, or lack thereof, in the 10 companies of interest, officials reaffirmed that the opinions of students on this campus do not matter when finances are concerned. And yet, students against divestment seem to believe that lack of evidence is sufficient to justify inaction. The silence that administrators so willingly provided not only dampened the voices of Palestinians on campus, but also fueled the demands for “dialogue” by pro-Israel students.

These demands for “dialogue” are a tactic frequently used to silence Palestinians. The “constructive dialogue” that pro-Israel students demand is made with the assumption that both pro-Palestine students and pro-Israel students are invited to equal seats at the table. The truth is, pro-Palestine advocates are at a significant disadvantage on this campus and around the world.

When a pro-Israel student advocates for their beliefs, their claims are accepted and they put themselves at relatively low risk. When a pro-Palestine student advocates for their beliefs, pro-Israel students demand that their counterparts denounce extremist groups, acknowledge the oppressors’ supposed rights to oppress Palestinians and sacrifice their dignity for the opportunity to speak. After a pro-Palestine student speaks, there often is a profile made for them on a blacklisting site, Canary Mission. Such profiles often include not only the names of places of employment or universities, but also links to all social media profiles and associates of that person.

When Divest This Time announced their campaign, they released a video featuring students announcing their support for divestment from companies that profit from the oppression of the Palestinian people. Blacklist profiles were created for those depicted in the video.

When the Student Association Senate was considering SR-S17-14, students from different ideological beliefs made statements during public comment. Blacklist profiles were created for some of those who spoke out in favor of the resolution, but not for those who spoke out against the resolution.

When SR-S17-14 received 14 votes in favor of passage, and 15 votes against — with one abstention – those 15 Senators who voted against the resolution received no consequence, risk or backlash. However, a majority of the Senators who voted in favor of the resolution received profiles on Canary Mission.

Many of the people who had their personal information published on a blacklisting site have subsequently received hateful and threatening messages, or been denied employment at desired companies, businesses or organizations.

Now, Divest This Time at GW is trying once more to have the human rights of Palestinians, and the safety, security and dignity of Palestinian students on campus acknowledged and protected by the Student Association. While the external suppression and silencing forces of blacklisting sites cannot be entirely avoided for those students vocal in standing with Palestinians, the University has a duty and responsibility to ensure that every student is able to speak their beliefs and advocate for their own well-being.

At least that’s what our University should be doing.

Instead, GW has seen former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg publish an op-ed that encourages and fuels the silencing of Palestinians and pro-Palestine organizers on this campus. If you don’t know who Trachtenberg is, you may recognize him from some of his greatest hits, like his comments on victims of sexual assault, or not rescinding Bill Cosby’s degree. I am not shocked that a man who found fault with the victims of sexual assault and refused to strip an abuser of his title, would endorse the efforts to further silence marginalized students on this campus.

Students, staff and former administrators have all spoken out about the resolution. Those who oppose this resolution demand “dialogue,” and additional efforts and tactics to silence the already marginalized Palestinians on this campus – often accompanying these same demands. By looking at the oppositional responses to this resolution, it is abundantly clear that students on this campus do not truly want “dialogue.”

They want silence.

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