Following a contentious proposal brought before the Associated Students of Madison March 29 calling for divestment from companies conducting business in the U.S. and Middle East, the possibility of consensus between the legislation’s supporters and opponents is uncertain.
The resolution calls for the University of Wisconsin to break ties with 20 companies that conduct business in Israel, the U.S. and Palestine they say contribute to human rights violations both in the Middle East and domestically. Those companies include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
Students for Justice in Palestine, who led the proposal’s creation, believe divestment will continue to be a goal moving forward despite the failure of the recent legislation’s failure. Vanessa McHale, secretary of SJP at UW, said the group is in the process of drafting a new version of the proposal and hopes to have it before ASM prior to the semester’s end.
“We expect legislation to pass in the near future, and we will continue our divestment push next year if we are able to,” McHale said.
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McHale said the new piece of legislation will be shorter, more focused and include more voices, particularly of SJP allies. She also said the group hopes to introduce the proposal via an ASM member who voted against the first draft to show significant changes were made.
But members of Badgers United Against Hate, the most vocal opposition to divestment that has emerged on campus, said meetings between ASM representatives, groups in support of divestment and Badgers United Against Hate have not amounted to any meaningful compromise.
Zach Urisman, a junior at UW and BUAH member, said despite finding some common ground with members of SJP, their talks “weren’t as productive as [they] had hoped.”
“I saw a draft [of the new proposal] and raised my objections, but my objections were not heeded,” Urisman said.
Urisman said he is not hopeful for the divestment proposal’s new draft. Fellow member Deeba Abrishamchi said in the case of an act of bias on campus, BUAH will “stand against” that.
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Though divestment discussions are just beginning at UW, similar activities on campuses across the country suggest the struggle over divestment is far from over.
Student efforts to divest from companies judged to be complicit in human rights violations have been ongoing at schools across the country since at least 2009, when Hampshire College became the first college or university to divest due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, students pushed for more than two years to pass a similar resolution through their student government. It eventually passed unanimously in March, though the resolutions of student government only function as “recommendations” for the Michigan Board of Regents, Susan Janin Yaseen, president of SJP at Dearborn, said.
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“I’m aware that divestment is unlikely and that we maybe have 10 more years to go,” Yaseen said. “But I believe we planted a seed, and [the movement] is going to continue to grow.”
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently voted on its own divestment proposal but was unsuccessful in passing it, according to the UIUC Divest website.
Meanwhile at UW, McHale said SJP does not have plans to introduce proposals that call for divestment from any additional companies. But divestment from the original 20 companies will remain a goal.