Mohammed Nabulsi

Clockwise from top left, Kallen Dimitroff, government junior and University-wide representative, Mohammed Nabulsi, law student, law school representative and co-author of the resolution, Mukund Rathi, computer science senior and co-author of the resolution and Jonathan Barak Dror, economics sophomore and University-wide representative debate the passing of the divestment resolution at the Student Government meeting Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

After weeks of contentious debate, the Student Government Assembly voted against a divestment resolution which would have asked the UT System Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) to pull investments from five corporations that the resolution claimed “facilitate in the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”  

The Assembly voted against the resolution by a 11–23–1 vote Tuesday night.

The resolution asked UTIMCO to divest specifically from Alstom, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble and United Technologies because of “human rights violations,” according to the resolution. 

University-wide representative Santiago Rosales said he voted against the resolution because he thought it was too divisive to support.

“I do not mean to say that either side is divisive in itself but rather that the approach of [the resolution] is divisive in nature,” Rosales said. “This student government has taken unified approaches of bridging differences in this campus, bringing students together to bring meaningful change.”

After the vote, many students who had lobbied in support of the resolution protested outside of the Assembly room, voicing opposition to the decision. University of Texas Police Department officers came to monitor the scene.

English junior Josephine Lawson, a co-author of the divestment resolution, reacts with other students after the Assembly did not pass the resolution. Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

UTIMCO CEO and CIO Bruce Zimmerman said the company makes investment decisions solely based on the financial interest of the University and so would not have taken the resolution into consideration even if it had passed.

“The current policy is not to take into account political and social considerations,” Zimmerman said. “That’s a long standing policy, and it’s a policy supported by staff.”

Mohammed Nabulsi, SG law representative and an author of the resolution, said the authors wanted to pass the resolution despite UTIMCO’s stance on divestment based on political and social issues.

“What we’re doing with this resolution is saying, irrespective of what [UTIMCO has] already said, our student body continues, continues, continues to support divesting from human rights abuses,” Nabulsi said. “This is just following in line with other resolutions Student Government has
already passed.”

The 2010–2011 SG Assembly passed a resolution asking UTIMCO to revise its policies to include consideration of social policy. The divestment resolution also cited precedent from the 2014–2015 SG session, during which the Assembly passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies that facilitate genocide in Sudan.

The resolution was based out of a national boycott-sanctioning-divestment, or “BDS,” movement started by Palestinian human rights groups. Nabulsi told the Texan on April 9 that Unify Texas, a student organization opposing the BDS resolution, does not understand the BDS movement.

“Unify Texas relies on a mischaracterization of BDS and our goals here on campus in order to make a straw man argument,” Nabulsi said. “BDS is a step towards leveling the negotiating playing field so that the Israeli government is forced to take Palestinian demands seriously.”

Earlier Tuesday, 17 former SG presidents and vice presidents sent a letter to the current Assembly, asking them not to vote in favor of the resolution.

“As our former student body presidents have said — the people who care most about our University — it is not our place to support this philosophy,” University-wide representative Kallen Dimitroff said. “The alienation it would cause certain groups on campus, the stance and precedent it would set for student government, would be very detrimental.”

Carmel Abuzaid, a international relations and global studies freshman and supporter of divestment, said passing the resolution would specifically recognize the oppression she and other UT students have experienced in Palestine firsthand. 

“Passing this resolution would not only recognize my experiences as valid but would also unify the University against injustice and oppression,” Abuzaid said.

Maya Russo, an international relations and global studies sophomore who spoke in opposition to the resolution, said she felt personally targeted. 

“This is not a human rights legislation, nor is it one that promotes justice. This is an anti-Israel legislation,” Russo said. “This hateful rhetoric that is directed at my people and at me personally is one-sided. … This is a step in the wrong direction toward the ultimate objective — peace.” 

 

At a meeting Thursday, an SG committee voted down three proposed amendments to a resolution that asks UTIMCO to stop investing in corporations that aid in Palestinian oppression.
Photo Credit: Aaron Torres | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Legislative Affairs committee voted down three proposed amendments to a highly-discussed divestment resolution Thursday and subsequently sent the resolution to a vote by the full assembly.

The resolution, which has gained widespread support and opposition from different student groups on campus, asks the University of Texas Investment Management Company to stop investing in corporations that, according to the resolution’s authors, “aid in the oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.”

The first proposed amendment at the meeting asked for a broadening of language, specifically calling to alter a clause that currently refers to “Palestinian rights” and would have been changed to “human rights.” The amendment failed after no SG representative seconded the amendment proposal.

The second proposed amendment called for the removal of a clause containing a quote by Nelson Mandela from the legislation. The representative who proposed the amendment said the quote, which referred to divestment’s success in helping South Africa reach the end of apartheid, was not relevant to the legislation.   

Mohammed Nabulsi, law school representative and an author of the legislation, said the quote is relevant because he believes the allusion to the effectiveness of divestment is a crucial detail in the resolution’s argument. The amendment also failed after no SG representatives seconded the proposal. 

University wide representative Kallen Dimitroff proposed a third amendment to remove the specificity of Israel from the legislation, because she said she believes referring explicitly to Israel targets the country and causes a division within the University community.

“I think it’s divisive because it’s only advocating with one group,” Dimitroff said. “I just don’t think differentiating is the [proper] way.”

Removing any mention of Israel from the legislation would dilute the document’s intentions, Nabulsi said.

“The resolution does not aim to target Israel, but aims to target Israeli policies in Palestine,” Nabulsi said. “We don’t want to erase Palestinian suffering.”

The third amendment was also not passed. 

Walker Fountain, a government junior who spoke at the meeting, said he believes SG should not attempt to regulate UTIMCO’s business.

“The Permanent University fund, the largest [UTIMCO] fund, is not drawn from tuition,” Fountain said. “So first, I must ask if this resolution is relevant to students.” 

Melissa Smyth, graduate student in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said she believes student contribution to the University gives UTIMCO’s actions relevance to student affairs.

“An institution we work for, pay tuition to and carry with us is implicitly justifying these acts of oppression,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re opposing.” 

The SG Assembly will vote on the legislation as it stands Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Student-led movement UTDivest will propose legislation to Student Government asking for the University of Texas Investment Management Company to pull investments from corporations the group believes facilitate the oppression of Palestinians. 

Unify Texas, another campus movement, has expressed disagreements with UTDivest and has garnered support through social media and an online petition. UTDivest, which the Palestinian Solidarity Committee founded, is part of a larger boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement started by Palestinian civil society organizations.

Katie Jensen, SG graduate student representative, sociology graduate student supporter of UTDivest, said the movement is fighting for human rights and equality.

“I don’t want my tuition money going to the corporations that have produced the infrastructure that enables the segregation, inequality and painful uncertainties that subjugate Palestinian people,” Jensen said.

Brandon Mond, government senior and one of the founders of Unify Texas, said divestment divides pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups and cuts off dialogue.

“Dialogue and the free exchange of ideas is sacrosanct at a university,” Mond said. “Where the people who are bringing this divestment movement refuse to engage in dialogue with groups that have opposing ideologies, we think that’s wrong, and we oppose that.”

Mohammed Nabulsi, SG law school representative and supporter of UTDivest, said Unify Texas does not understand the BDS movement.

“Unify Texas relies on a mischaracterization of BDS and our goals here on campus in order to make a straw man argument,” Nabulsi said. “BDS is a step towards leveling the negotiating playing field so that the Israeli government is forced to take Palestinian demands seriously.”

The BDS movement has gained traction at other American universities, such as DePaul University and University of California-Davis. Student groups at these schools have been successful in passing student legislation asking for the divestment of their universities from corporations that the groups believe help to oppress Palestinians. 

Nabulsi said UTDivest plans to introduce its legislation in support of divestment at the SG Assembly meeting Tuesday. The legislation states that investing in corporations which, according to UTDivest, participate in illegal activities or facilitate in oppression of the Palestinian people compromises the University's core values.

“The University of Texas fails to uphold its values of ‘improving the human condition at local and global levels through programs that advance equality’ by investing in companies that facilitate and profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine and systematic human rights violations,” Nabulsi said. 

Mond said their cause has no political affiliations.

“You don’t have to be of a certain mind-set to oppose BDS in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Mond said. “We have pro-Israel students who are against it for obvious reasons. We have pro-Palestinian students who are against divestment also because they don’t think it’s the place of Student Government to decide this.”

University spokesman J. B. Bird said the Office of the President is aware of the two groups, although they have not been approached about the situation. The UT System Board of Regents would make the ultimate decision to divest, according to Bird.

“We have not been formally approached about this question, and we do not have any formal response,” Bird said. “It hasn’t been brought up, so we don’t have a position on it.”

Correction: This article has been amended since its original publication. UTDivest's proposed legislation says investing in corporations that participate in illegal activities or facilitate the oppresion of Palestinian people is contrary to the University's core values.

Professor Barbara Harlow and Professor Snehal Shingavi speak on the similarities between Ferguson, Missouri and Gaza, Palestine.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

The Palestine Solidarity Committee held a panel discussion on campus Wednesday, in which professors and students discussed the links between oppression in Ferguson, Missouri, and Gaza. 

During the event, which was co-sponsored by the Association of Black Psychologists and the Pre-Law National Black Law Students Association, assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi said the purpose of the event was to highlight the connections between the conflict in Gaza and Ferguson after police broke up protests over the shooting of African-American teen Michael Brown. 

“That would be the presence of massive militarized forces in dense urban settings and unarmed people fighting back with rocks and sticks against it,” Shingavi said. 

Elan Kogutt, co-president of Texans for Israel, criticized the event in an email as it was held at the start of Rosh Hashanah and said no members of Texans for Israel were in attendance. 

“Rosh Hashanah is a time for reflection and goal-setting for the coming year,” Kogutt said. “Rather than bringing our two communities closer to peace, this event serves as a regressive step away from dialogue and education, comparing two very distinct instances and failing to acknowledge the loss of innocent Israeli life and suffering of millions of Israelis under rocket fire this summer.”

Mohammed Nabulsi, first year law student and member of the committee, said his organization was not aware that Rosh Hashanah was that night and that the scheduling was not intentional. 

“We don’t plan our activities around holidays,” Nabulsi said. “As far as the Texans for Israel goes, the problem that the Palestine Solidarity Committee has with groups like this is that the ideology that they operate under is Zionism, and we can’t work with Zionism.”

Nabulsi said he thought the reason the struggles had been linked by both Palestinians and people of Ferguson is that they see a common humanity. 

“I think the most important thing said tonight is that the struggles for both Palestinian rights in Palestine and Israel and the struggle for rights of people of color in the U.S. are commonly linked by the fact that we are all human,” Nabulsi said. 

During the discussion, Shingavi said he was not arguing that the situations in Palestine and Ferguson were identical, but he wanted to discuss activism using the analytic tools of an academic context. 

“What I am going to be arguing is that if you are outraged by what the police did in Ferguson, you might want to get a closer look at what routinely happens in Palestine,” Shingavi said.

This article has been updated since its original publication.