The Student Association Senate passed a resolution Monday calling on the University to divest from nine companies that allegedly contribute to Palestinian human rights abuses – legislation that the senate rejected last academic year.
The senate approved the resolution by a vote of 18 to six, with six abstentions, on a secret paper ballot following more than three hours of emotional public comment. Students from both sides of the issue packed Betts Theatre for the meeting – though an executive session barred them from witnessing debate about the merits of the legislation.
The resolution demanded that the University withdraw its holdings from nine companies that sell weapons and other services to the Israeli government, allegedly contributing to Palestinian oppression. Officials have repeatedly declined to release information about the investments in the University’s $1.7 billion endowment, the financial foundation that funds major University projects.
A similar resolution last spring failed in the senate by just one vote.
Sen. Eden Vitoff, CCAS-U, and a sponsor of the resolution, said the University uses a third-party group to make investment decisions, which gives an “appearance of neutrality,” but officials still fail to be transparent about the University’s holdings and could be invested in the companies supporters claim contribute to Palestinian oppression.
“We simply cannot turn a blind eye toward human rights abuses in favor of our University’s obsession with profit,” Vitoff said.
The meeting to debate the resolution was pushed back last week amid heightened safety concerns. SA leaders received emails comparing senators to Nazis, and students found threatening stickers and signs around campus in the days leading up to the vote, which was initially scheduled for last Monday.
Student leaders canceled the meeting after miscommunications between administrators and the GW Police Department led senate leadership to believe that there would not be increased security for the event.
After the original meeting was called off, pro-Palestinian student groups drafted a list of demands, which called for increased GWPD presence and a secret paper-ballot vote at Monday’s meeting.
Throughout roughly three hours of public comment, more than 80 students on both sides of the issue delivered impassioned two-minute remarks about the impact the resolution would have on their lives.
Proponents of the resolution voiced support for divestment and read letters on behalf of anonymous Palestinian students, who said the legislation’s passage will allow them to feel more welcome on a campus that often excludes them as a minority population.
Senior Keiko Tsuboi, a former SA senator who sponsored last year’s resolution, said this year’s legislation wasn’t sponsored by “two terrified” senators like it was last spring, placing the senate in a better position for its passage.
“We can make people more open and less afraid of what they don’t understand,” she said during public comment. “If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
In the middle of public comment, the senate left temporarily to hold a censure hearing for Sen. Brady Forrest, G-at-Large, who faced accusations of anti-Semitism last month and was removed from a senate leadership role amid the controversy. Senators failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to censure Forrest – a decision Jewish student groups condemned.
Students who opposed the resolution said the legislation conflates political and religious ideology, creating one-sided legislation that fails to explain the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Hannah Finkel, the president of Chabad GW, said the resolution lacks factual information and the SA can do better in attempting to represent “me and my community.” Dozens of students who opposed the resolution walked out of Betts Theatre following her comments and headed to the Hillel townhouse.
“There is no reason why we have to sacrifice the protection of some students in order to get the protection of others,” she said. “This resolution can do both and don’t sell yourselves short by voting for this piece of shit.”
Following public comment, the SA Senate voted to debate the resolution in executive session – a private forum closed to the public – before voting on the legislation by secret ballot. The resolution was amended to include a line recognizing Israel as a state.
“You all have made a good first step in advocating for Palestinian students on this campus,” Sen. Josh Gomez, CCAS-U, and a sponsor of the resolution, said after the vote. “I thank you all for doing that tonight.”
Jared Gans and Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.