Campus, News

Divestment resolution engages campus support and distress

The Senate chambers were filled with people sitting on the floor, crowding in the foyer and outside to show their support or opposition of a resolution at the most recent Associated Students, Inc. Senate meeting. This resolution to divest from Israel has left the Cal State Long Beach campus divided and in passionate debate for the past several weeks.

The resolution, titled “Socially Responsible Investing: Companies Complacent in and Profiting from Palestinian Oppression,” or SR #2017-37, calls for the divestment of 49er Foundation funds in seven specific companies: Raytheon, G4s, Veola, Caterpillar, General Electric, Northrop Grumman and Hewlett-Packard Company.

It’s one of three resolutions for socially responsible investing, with the other two focused on profiting from LGBTQ+ oppression and private prisons.  

One of the resolutions four authors, Senator-At-Large Yasmeen Azam, said SR #2017-37 is in response to a broader resolution that was past last year calling for socially responsible divestment.

After that resolution was passed, senators at the time, including some of the new resolution’s authors, met with Vice President of Finance Mary Stephens and she told them the request was too broad.

“I explained that a very broad request to divest is difficult to implement because a significant portion of the Foundation’s investments are large, mixed portfolios,” Stephens said in an email. “I noted that the more specifically defined the issue, the more likely the Board of Directors could evaluate the request to determine how they could respond while still fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility.”

Azam, who was not a senator at the time, said the senators then determined three topics they were personally passionate about and the most well-versed in.

“What we’re doing is going the next step,” Azam said “ … It doesn’t violate the [first] initiative, it just enhances it.”

President Jane Close Conoley wrote a letter to ASI and the Daily 49er the day before SR #2017-37’s first reading in ASI Senate, encouraging senators to vote no on the resolution, stating that the campus is already working towards socially responsible investing and that it would fuel more anti-Semitic acts on campus. She also cited other college campuses who have passed similar resolutions and had experienced an increase in anti-Semitic acts after.

“I think on campus, the ramifications are real, they’re not theoretical, like: ‘students at Cal State Long Beach said x.’ The truth is, that’s not going to make much of a splash on the international scene, but it has already had some impact on our local situation,” Conoley said. “And our local situation is the one I’m responsible for.”

Azam said the goal of the resolution was not to alienate one group of students. She noted that the Jewish community isn’t all in agreement on this resolution or how they feel about the state of Israel and there are some Jewish students who support the resolution as well.

“In no way can we invalidate [how Jewish students may feel]. That’s how that individual feels,” Azam said. “… This isn’t about making [Jewish students] feel uncomfortable, this is about confronting a human rights, social justice framed issue, not a religious one, or an ethno-national one … It’s unfortunate, but there are also Palestinian students that nobody is really talking about that go to this campus that also are really bothered by the way people are responding to this.”

Tali Shaddaie, a former ASI senator and a member of Beach Hillel, disagrees with the resolution, stating that it would hurt Palestinians more than help, because the companies ASI is calling for divestment from also employ Palestinian citizens in the West Bank.

“I’m not an anti-Palestinian individual, I’m for human rights, I’m for everyone getting treated equally, but I feel like this resolution does more harm than good,” Shaddaie said. “Passing this resolution won’t change the conditions in Palestine, it’s just going to damage our campus.”

Shaddaie said that Jewish students are already experiencing anti-Semitism on campus. She reported that she witnessed, at last week’s ASI meeting, a peer speaking out against the resolution was called a “terrorist” by another person who had been speaking in support.

“It’s marginalizing a whole community because it’s only mentioning Israel and nothing else – it’s talking about how it’s advocating for human rights, but it doesn’t mention that human rights are for all humans, and it’s only specifically directing it at one population,” Shaddaie said. “It’s essentially giving human rights to Palestinians but not Jews. And it makes mention of how we must assure the well-being of Palestinian students on campus, but it doesn’t provide the same respect to Israeli or Jewish students on campus.”

Supporters of the resolution say that it is not meant to be construed as anti-Semitic.

“The discussion has been so polarized to kind of de-center the content of the resolution and have to go to saying, ‘We’re not anti-Semitic, I swear!’ and we’re constantly trying to operate within this frame of trying to defend that,” Azam said.

A criticism by Conoley and others opposed to the resolution is that it only focuses on divestment from Israel and ignores similar countries with gross human rights injustices.

“That is the classic ‘All Lives Matter’ argument, that we’ve heard time and time again,” Azam said. “… You need to confront certain issues, especially the ones that are not being addressed … People need to recognize that this is a precedent for further action. There are also several other countries that we could be talking about. The work doesn’t stop here. I don’t know how starting with one invalidates beginning another one.”

Although that is the intent of ASI, Shaddaie worries that they will never follow up with further resolutions.

“No other campus has written any other resolution to address any other population in the world after the passing of divestment or BDS resolutions,” Shaddaie said. “While they say this is just a starting point, we’ve seen it happen on some other campuses across the U.S. and it’s really not.”

Both sides note the importance of dialogue and deep awareness and knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I think everybody, wherever you stand on that spectrum, is feeling a little bit marginalized. But that tension is important because it means there’s this critical thought on what’s happening,” Azam said.

If the resolution passes, it would be up to the university administration to implement the changes to the university’s investment portfolio.

“[The resolution] is a very strong ask,” Azam said. “… If it passes this Wednesday, it’s going to be huge because despite the very vocal and publicized opposition to it, and it still passes, it makes students understand the weight of their opinions in changing certain realities.”

The third and final readings of the resolutions are planned for today at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate chamber.

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