UW rejects resolution to divest from Israel: Now what?

Students in Washington State and around the world are locked in a passionate debate over whether colleges should divest from Israel as a protest over the country's treatment of Palestinians.
Evergreen student organizers (from left to right) Jan Nicholas, Jesse Taylor, Sophie Pesquidous, and Elizabeth Moore during Israel Apartheid Week in Olympia, WA.

Evergreen student organizers (from left to right) Jan Nicholas, Jesse Taylor, Sophie Pesquidous, and Elizabeth Moore during Israel Apartheid Week in Olympia, WA. Students for Justice in Palestine

A demonstration commemorating Al Nakba on the UW Quad.

A demonstration commemorating Al Nakba on the UW Quad. Credit: Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights

The global movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel suffered a resounding setback this week in Seattle when the University of Washington's student senate rejected a resolution that would have pulled UW investments out of companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The defeat was particularly disappointing for Seattle-native and Evergreen State College senior Elizabeth Moore, one of many local activists involved in the global divestment campaign. (The UW vote affects Evergreen too. More on that soon.) As a young Jewish woman, Moore has always had a vexing relationship with Israel. Her criticisms of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians have led to accusations that she was a “turn coat” and “a self-hating Jew.”

When she started at The Evergreen State College in 2010, Moore’s desire to balance her Jewish identity with her ideals for social justice drove her to join the student group Mideast Solidarity Project, now called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). She arrived just as the organization was celebrating a pivotal victory.

In the second largest turnout (34%) for any ballot measure in the history of Evergreen, 79% of the participating students voted in favor of divesting from companies linked to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The election result was subsequently affirmed by a divestment resolution passed by Evergreen's student government. After months of educational events, meetings and impassioned speeches, the Palestinian solidarity activists had finally won. 

But nothing happened.

Ironically, control over Evergreen's investment portfolio, and thus divestment, rests with the University of Washington. According to a 2012 financial report, $4.8 million of Evergreen’s $5.7 million endowment is held — along with 3,100 other individual portfolios — in the Consolidated Endowment Fund, which is managed by the UW. Pooling investments makes sense financially, but it leaves Evergreen with little say over where and how its money is invested.

Removing its investments from the pooled fund isn’t such a simple matter either. Although Evergreen wouldn’t incur any withdrawal fees, replicating the financial performance of the pooled fund would be “difficult if not impossible” with other investment options, says Todd Sprague, a spokesperson from Evergreen's treasury office.

Moore and other divestment activists have spent the last four years quietly maintaining awareness of the issue at Evergreen while working with UW students to slowly build support for divestment on that campus. Their efforts coalesced in Resolution 20-39, which the UW's student senate roundly rejected this week by a 59-8 vote (with 11 abstaining and 29 absent).

Had the student senate and its Board of Director passed the resolution, the senate would have sent a formal recommendation to the ultimate decision makers, the UW Board of Regents.

During discussions before the final vote, one senator warned that approving such a controversial measure could harm the credibility of the student senate. “This is one instance when UW’s cutting-edge innovation would be a bad thing,” he told his senate colleagues. 

Huskies Against Divestment Logo, Seattle WaDespite the defeat, the divestment issue isn’t likely to disappear. Proponents point to what they say is growing campus support, saying that this week's failure has only strengthened their resolve.

Resolution 20-39 ignited a heated campus debate about the university’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; about whether maintaining financial ties to Israel makes schools complicit in what has been called an "apartheid state"; and about whether divestment unfairly singles out Israel.

“It’s a question of do you support human rights violations or not?” asked Caitlin Palo, a graduate student and a member of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, one of several campus organizations that cosponsored Resolution 20-39.

For opponents, at campuses in Washington and around the world, the resolution is an unjust attack on Israel. “Blaming and sanctioning only one side does nothing to promote an agreement that is just for both peoples,” argued David Weingarten, a student senator and member of the UW Hillel Board of Directors. On the contrary, it “polarizes the debate more, and decreases the chances for peace.” It could also depress enrollment, warned Rabbi Oren Hayon in The Jewish Sound, by making “UW a less attractive option for prospective Jewish students making decisions about where to go to college.”


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Comments:

Posted Fri, May 23, 6:13 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems odd to feel good about this. There once was rampant racism against blacks in this country and now we have a black president. There once was a Soviet Union and a Berlin Wall and now there isn't. Once Pot was illegal everywhere and now ....

The fact that a vote like this even happened is the "tell." The trend is your friend and no matter how many pats on the back you give yourself on this little thing, Apartheid in Israel will end one day just like it did in South Africa.

ajpme

Posted Fri, May 23, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

If anyone thinks there is a substantive difference between the way blacks were treated under South African apartheid, and how Israel treats Palestinians then they should read and think about the theme of the book, The Ostrich Factor. And this vote shows the UW is now waving in the winds of money/power.

Posted Fri, May 23, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

The Israeli government deserves a lot of criticism for the handling of the situation, especially in allowing new Jewish settlements to be built in the West Bank. That having been said, equating the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the South African treatment of blacks shows an ignorance of the history of both South Africa and Israel/Palestine.

Posted Sat, May 24, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Posted Sun, May 25, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's see, assassinating Palestinian leadership from the air, imprisoning people without legal due process, bulldozing Palestinian homes and orchards, requiring people to wait at numerous check points for ID identification, not allowing many foreigners to visit the land, controlling energy and food supplies where Palestinians live.... IS NOT similar to how blacks were treated in South Africa?

Interesting!

Posted Sun, May 25, 9:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Anonymous,
You are generally "misinformed" is the kindest thing I can say.

In particular, your claim that "not allowing many foreigners to visit the land" is false.
Travel in the West Bank is easy. You can go on your own or join a tour such as
http://hebron.greenolivetours.com/p/overview-of-tours.html

If I thought that you were open to a serious discussion, I would have one with you.

Posted Fri, May 23, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

The fact that Crosscut published this leads me to question the image Crosscut was trying to build as a conciliatory or moderate voice. But again the anti-Semitism that pervades this region is revealing itself. Both sides are equally responsible for the Israel / Palestine situation. The Arab countries refused to accept the Palestinian refugees and they created the situation of refugee camps. Clearly no human being should have to grow up in refugee camps. The Palestinians should have their own country, with jobs, nice houses and good schools. But in 2008 Bill Clinton offered Arafat a Palestinian state with its own vote in the US and the Israelis agreed to Clinton's terms, but it was Arafat who said no over the "right of return." It is the Palestinian leaders who continually betray their own people. It happened again when Israel withdrew from Gaza. We saw the photos of the government moving Israelis out of their houses there and ceding the territory. What was the result? Did the Palestinians build a community of homes, hospitals and schools? Hamas took over a mental hospital and let the patients out o the street and used the facility as a weapons center. There were smuggling tunnels accepting shiploads of weapons from Iran. And the firing of rockets and shells into Israeli territory didn't stop. The fact is that both sides are equally responsible for the build-up of tensions. Divestment from Israel would only make the situation worse, not better. It would cause the moderates involved in Silicon Valley industry and international cultures to lose power and the country would fall into the hands of the right wing. Israel has its equivalent of our Democrats and Republicans. The answer is to elect progressive peace candidates in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to stop supporting Hamas.

Clarify

Posted Thu, May 29, 10:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"the country would fall into the hands of the right wing." lol

louploup

Posted Fri, May 23, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

If you look at the actual companies that would have been affected by the resolution. They are mostly American companies such as Hewlett Packard. So the question is what interests are behind these boycott efforts. Are they really pro-Palestinian or are they really veiled attempts to undermine and destabilize the American economy?

Clarify

Posted Thu, May 29, 8:43 p.m. Inappropriate

They're not-so-veiled attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

sarah90

Posted Thu, May 29, 10:57 p.m. Inappropriate

That's not difficult to do.

louploup

Posted Tue, May 27, 11:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Palestinians are more interested in killing Jews then in peace. They've proved it for decades in actions and thoughts.

They've made their bed...they can either die in it or change course.

Djinn

Posted Thu, May 29, 10:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Racist tripe.

louploup

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