On Tuesday night, the student government at the University of Toledo in Ohio approved a resolution to divest from companies which profit from Israeli violations of Palestinians’ rights. The resolution passed with 21 student senators in favor and only four against.
This comes just two weeks after a divestment resolution hearing was muzzled and ruled “unconstitutional” by the student government’s judicial council at the university. On Tuesday night, the judicial council reconsidered its original decision and found that the divestment resolution was indeed constitutional.
“The differences were stark between what happened this week and what happened [on 19 February],” said Derek Ide, co-founder of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of Toledo (UT-SJP), in an interview with The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday morning.
Ide said that students led a strong campaign over the last two weeks to demand transparency and democratic process from the student government and the university administration.
Before the initial hearing on 19 February, the university administration had insisted that discussions on the resolution be conducted in a secretive manner. During that meeting, students supporting and opposing the resolution were prevented from hearing each others’ viewpoints.
These processes were heavily criticized by students, activists and legal advocates with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support as violations of open democratic process and students’ first amendment rights.
A petition supporting students’ right to hold a divestment hearing was circulated via the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and garnered more than 5,400 signatures.
During Tuesday’s hearing, students from a diverse array of groups and communities on campus were allowed to deliver personal testimonies in favor of divestment.
“It was a very liberating experience,” Ide said. “The UT Divest team had a beautiful coalition of human beings who put together articulate, very powerful arguments that swept the opposition away.”
Hillel, a nationwide network of campus centers for Jewish students which opposes boycott and sanctions efforts against Israel, brought in the Jewish Federation of Toledo to help crush support for the resolution. The group is affiliated with a national network called the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
In 2010, JFNA and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs launched the “Israel Action Network,” described as “a multimillion-dollar joint initiative to combat anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns” and to fight “the delegitimizing of the State of Israel.”
Students affiliated with Hillel repeated “the same canned speeches from two weeks ago,” Ide explained. Those speeches, he said, included claims that passing a divestment resolution would “increase anti-Semitism.”
“But none of the senators bought it,” Ide added. Listen to the interview with him via the media player above.
During the initial hearing on 19 February, several student senators repeated claims touted by Israel-aligned organizations that the divestment resolution could inspire “discrimination” toward Jewish students on campus.
Opponents of the resolution this Tuesday night asserted that the resolution unfairly “singled out” Israel, another allegation repeated by Israel-aligned organizations which is designed to defeat student divestment campaigns.
Speaking to the campus newspaper, the Independent Collegian, Ide said that “It is not us [SJP] who singles out Israel. It is Hillel and AIPAC and every other defender of Israeli crimes who wants Israel to maintain a special status, a status that places them above international law and unaccountable to the norms and standards of justice.”
Barbara Harvey, a Detroit-based attorney active in the National Lawyers Guild and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, told The Electronic Intifada by email that “the rehearing of SJP’s divestment resolution was an object lesson in the power of free speech and fair play, when justice and humanity are on your side.”
Harvey said that students speaking in support of the resolution “told of moving personal experiences, ranging from direct contact with the occupation, close up, to discrimination in the modern US, explaining their own commitments to justice for Palestinians. The opposition’s responses by Hillel and the local Jewish Federation rested on a foundation of guilt-tripping accusations of discrimination and sometimes wildly inaccurate factual assertions, fairly characterized as verbal thuggery.”
“The ball is now squarely in the university’s court,” Harvey noted. “Will the trustees show the same courage as SJP and the student government in considering whether to implement the resolution?”
“Collapsed” to pressure
Ide told The Electronic Intifada that although the administration has not reached out to SJP about the ways in which democratic process was subverted two weeks ago, the student government leaders “tried their best to rectify what happened [when they] completely collapsed [to pressure from the administration].”
He added that the student government leaders “did as much as they could last night to make the debate last night as open and transparent and as democratic as possible, given the structural constraints of student government.”
The entire divestment hearing was recorded on YouTube:
- University of Toledo
- Derek Ide
- Students for Justice in Palestine
- Jewish Federation of Toledo
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- Palestine Solidarity Legal Support
- Jewish Federations of North America
- Jewish Council for Public Affairs
- Barbara Harvey
- National Lawyers Guild
- Jewish Voice for Peace
- Northwestern University
- Stanford University