The student council at a major public university called on administrators to cut ties with companies tied to human rights violating countries, such as the United States and Israel, during a heated debate that left Jewish students seeking campus police protection.
The University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) student council voted to recommend divesting the school’s $2.3 billion endowment from several companies, including Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, and Caterpillar, for aiding the United States, Great Britain, and Israel.
The document singles out America’s “drone attacks in foreign countries that have killed between 2,700 and 5,000 people, torturing prisoners and keeping them indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, and NSA's mass surveillance” as reasons to divest. “Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, G4S, Lockheed Martin, Foxconn, Elbit Systems, and Boeing” were singled out as particularly troubling companies to invest in.
Chloe Schofield, a senior studying sociology and a member of the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of People with Disabilities, said the resolution was originally focused more tightly on Israel.
“This resolution became fairer and more accessible to all UIC students,” she said. “I am very proud to have played a part in the changes made to this resolution from one that singled out Israel and by association Jewish students, but also one that all students can relate to in one way or another.”
Schofield said Jewish students were “harassed” during debate over the resolution.
“There were anti-Israel chants in the room along with Jewish students being harassed to the point they needed to be escorted by campus police to safety” following Monday’s vote, she said. She remains confident in the student government despite those events.
“No student should ever feel unsafe on their campus but through the passage of even this neutral resolution, it has happened at UIC. People can find ways to spin the facts to support messages of hate, but I will always be proud of the work that was done. And, done by students this legislature was intended to intimidate, but were instead the ones who created something positive out of it, even if the other groups don't want to acknowledge that,” she said.
The resolution is the latest episode of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement, which aims to hurt Israel economically to encourage the small country to surrender territory to Palestinian authorities. Schofield said that while she was impressed with the document, she would not support it.
“It is something I cannot fully support because of how closely this resolution is tied to the BDS movement, the changes that were made to it were nothing short of incredible,” she said. “The BDS movement is so closely linked to anti-Semitism through it's singling out of Israel.”
The resolution originally singled out Israel, but broadened its scope after weeks of negotiation and a nearly four-hour meeting between various student groups on Feb. 10.
Amitai Loew, a fifth year senior and former board-member of campus Jewish group Hillel, helped to draft the new document. She emphasized that the council’s “choices of examples were not intended to call for divestment from the countries that are mentioned, but rather to be illustrative of the breadth of the corporations' complicity.”
She said that the final product was more balanced because of the broadened scope.
“Without a doubt, the original document was blatantly pointed at Israel. Myself and another student were able to get the original writers of the resolution to come to a meeting with USG members and a member of the administration where we discussed the Jewish and Pro-Israel communities' concerns about the resolution, and heavily edited it to not single out Israel, make no mention of the BDS movement, and focus it on the core qualities I outlined above,” she said.
Dean of Students Linda Deanna, UIC’s associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said that she did not hear “any anti-Semitic language” during those negotiations and praised the students for civil discourse.
“This is a very volatile subject on college campuses. I was glad to see that our students on both sides involved in drafting the resolution were able to do so in a civil and respectful kind of way,” she said. “Civil discourse is highly valued and I think our students did engage in civil discourse and had thoughtful dialogue … I am hopeful that it was an educational experience.”
The resolution must be approved by a higher university body, such as the Board of Trustees or Faculty Senate, in order to take effect. The student council will discuss which body to send the resolution to at its next meeting on Monday.