Student Palestinian advocacy groups call for Marquette to divest funds

Photo+via+MU+Divest

Photo via MU Divest

A student group at Marquette has been advocating for the university to divest funds from companies criticized for violating human rights in Palestine, but the movement has gained strong opposition from Jewish students on campus.

Rawan Atari, president of Students for Justice in Palestine and a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the campaign, called “MU divest,” has been in the works for about a year. It includes a proposal for Marquette Student Government to pass legislation as a recommendation to the university to screen and divest from companies.

“It calls on the university to pull out its money from companies profiting off of human rights violations,” Atari said. “We are focusing specifically on those human rights abuses in Palestine.”

Ahmad Murrar, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and author of the legislation, specifically calls out three companies: Caterpillar Inc., United Technologies Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Caterpillar and HP have been criticized by Palestinian advocacy groups for violating human rights by demolishing homes and restricting movement of Palestinians. United Technologies similarly has been under fire for building fighter jets and Black Hawk helicopters used in bombing in the West Bank.

The proposal, however, has met with resistance from MUSG legislators, including senator Seth Haines, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He said MUSG should not support legislation that makes any group of students feel marginalized due to their race, religion, gender or ethnicity and called the legislation a one sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As a Jewish student on campus, I can personally say that the Divestment Legislation has made me feel threatened, unwelcomed and utterly unwanted at Marquette,” Haines said.

Anna Goldstein, another Jewish student and sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, also said she does not support the legislation because it only calls on divesting from Israeli based companies.

“I personally find that many students are not aware of the extremely one-sided viewpoint that this proposed legislation holds,” Goldstein said.

SJP Vice President Leean Othman, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the campaign is controversial because of misconceptions.

“This isn’t about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Othman said. “We are not asking students or senators to take a stance. That is why we are asking Marquette to divest its money because investing in one side in not remaining neutral.”

Murrar argued that the legislation was an important step in the campaign’s process, bringing more credibility and increase pressure on university administration while addressing student voices.

Murrar and Atari said their legislation is co-sponsored by over a dozen student organizations. Students for Justice in Palestine also has a petition that has gathered over 700 signatures from students who support divestment.

Murrar also pointed to a divestment resolution recently passed last month at the University of Loyola-Chicago that included specific language about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, although the Marquette legislation does not include the language.

“We want to keep it specific to Marquette, not about the conflict,” Murrar said.

The Loyola legislation barely passed after the speaker of the student senate broke a 15-15 tie in favor of the resolution, but the university issued a statement that it would not adopt the students’ proposal.

University spokesperson Brian Dorrington said in an email that the university invests in a large number of mutual funds and stocks, but not in individual companies.

He also said leaders from the Division of Student Affairs have met with the students with concerns and are appreciative of the students expressing various viewpoints on important international issues.

“We also recognize that one group’s interpretation of socially responsible investing may differ from another group’s perspective,” Dorrington wrote in an email. “As a university, we emphasize an equal measure of respect for all students.”

Dorrington emphasized that the university follows the investment guidelines of the Wisconsin Province, in addition to guidelines established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Representatives from each Jesuit province, including the Wisconsin Province, form the National Jesuit Committee on Investor Responsibility,” he said. “The NJCIR advocates for socially responsible corporate behavior by coordinating shareholder advocacy initiatives at both the province and national levels.”

Atari said she hopes the legislation is passed because it would help set up a screening process for Marquette’s investments.

“Marquette doesn’t have any ethical screening for their investment work,” Atari said. “This could set that kind of committee or process to look at companies first before placing investments through stocks or bonds.”

Murrar explained that the Business and Administration committee of MUSG has already denied the legislation once. The recommendation must pass through the B&A committee before it can reach the senate floor.

Murrar said the B&A committee cited problems with the language of the legislation and requested more documentation and footnotes.

Business and Administration committee chair Cameron Vrana, a freshman in the College of Business administration said his committee is dedicated to working with the authors and concerned students regarding this legislation.