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April 12, 2016

As Vote Approaches, Push for Divestment Continues

U of C Divest, a coalition calling for the University of Chicago to divest from ten multi-national companies that do work with the Israeli Defense Forces, continued its campaign yesterday and over the weekend in advance of a possible vote on its College Council (CC) resolution tonight.

An info session Sunday was pitched as an opportunity for students to learn about the coalition from student groups and RSOs that have endorsed its campaign. Yesterday, the coalition held an event featuring four alumni speakers who presented their case for the University to divest.

The coalition’s resolution for divestment has been endorsed by Al Sharq: Middle East Meets West, the Chicago Justice Initiative, the Fight for Just Food, Friends of Washington Park, Hyde Park Pagans (HPP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Latinx Students Association at SSA (LSA), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Phoenix Survivors Alliance (PSA), Queers United in Power (QUIP), the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance (SDA), Students for Health Equity (SHE), and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

The coalition was disappointed not to receive the endorsement of J Street UChicago, an RSO in favor of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and opposed to the Israeli occupation. J Street came out against the resolution in a Facebook post and a Letter to the Editor last week.

“J Street agrees that the occupation is bad, but I just don’t really understand why they would oppose divestment from these companies…that are directly complicit in those sort of human rights violations, without also really advocating anything that I think would credibly address the occupation,” said fourth-year U of C Divest leader Sara Rubinstein at the info session on Sunday.

“We want to encourage an open, rigorous, inclusive conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not polarize the issue to a point where there is no potential for engagement and cooperation,” the J Street UChicago Board wrote in its letter.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, U of C Divest said that four posters it had put up on the quad were removed.

“We have reported the incident, and hope that the administration will help us to find the individuals who vandalized our installation and get the signs returned,” reads the Facebook post.

“It’s really frustrating and disappointing,” Rubinstein said.

University spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus confirmed in an e-mail that the Office of the Associate Dean of Students in the University for Disciplinary Affairs received a complaint about the removal of signs from an installation on the Quad. The University is investigating the complaint, Sainvilus added.

Last Tuesday, U of C Divest presented its resolution to College Council (CC) in an extraordinarily long meeting. The meeting, which started at 7:30 p.m., was ultimately tabled after several hours of debate around 10:30 p.m.

Asked whether members of U of C Divest expect to see a vote on the resolution at its meeting tonight, Rubinstein, who presented the resolution to CC last week, said that they are optimistic: “We certainly hope so.”

In 2013, Stop Funding Climate Change (SFCC) successfully campaigned for CC to put a student referendum calling on the University to divest from fossil fuel–intensive companies on its ballot. Rubinstein said that currently, U of C Divest wants CC members to vote on the issue rather than put out a referendum.

“I think we might do a referendum in the future, but definitely not instead [of a CC vote], Rubinstein said. “We are going through CC now because they are representative of the student body…It’s very much our business where the University’s money is spent…This idea that you can look at the University within a bubble, as if it doesn’t have an impact on the outside world is really problematic, it is really damaging.”

Rubinstein added that the coalition has not planned its response to either a “yes” or a “no” vote but that the coalition will continue pushing for divestment either way.

“We definitely recognize and are prepared to continue these sorts of…campaigns in the future, because we know that if history is any precedent, even if this passes in CC, which we really hope it will, the University might not choose to divest, just because CC does it. So we will be continuing these types of campaigns and these kinds of events until we win.”

CC’s decision on the resolution is not binding to the University’s Office of Investments. Citing the 1967 Kalven Report each time, the University decided not to divest from South Africa during apartheid or from corporations affiliated with Sudan during the war in Darfur, and President Zimmer told The Maroon last Spring that it is unlikely to divest from fossil fuel companies.

CC will convene at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Stuart Hall for its weekly meeting.

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