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Sunday, December 21, 2014

GPSA divestment resolution polarizes students

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@ChloeHenson5

The Graduate and Professional Student Association passed a resolution calling for the University to divest from companies associated with human rights violations in Palestine.

The resolution, which passed during a GPSA meeting on Saturday, was endorsed by members of Students for Justice in Palestine, Students Organizing for Peace and other organizations.

According to the resolution, GPSA calls for UNM to divest in companies that “directly profit from the ongoing violations of international law and human rights, and have an economic stake in the continuation of these violations.” The document cites companies associated with the Israeli government’s involvement in Palestine as examples of institutions the University should not invest in. “International corporations have been complicit in these severe and ongoing human rights violations systematically committed by the Israeli government, and their involvement has been documented by human rights organizations,” the resolution states. The resolution also calls for financial transparency and a committee with student representation to review, evaluate and monitor socially responsible investment by UNM.

“We’re not saying that UNM is invested (in these companies),” said Elisabeth Perkal, a graduate student and member of SJP


. “We’re saying that if it is, we are calling on them to divest.”

Perkal said a resolution with similar goals was passed in the 1980s to protest apartheid in South Africa.

“As in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa, students have often stood at the forefront of movements for social change,” she said. “We need to embrace this powerful legacy.”

Earlier this month, a similar resolution was voted down by the Associated Students for the University of New Mexico. Members of student association Lobos for Israel attended the ASUNM meeting to protest the resolution.

Lobos for Israel President Sarah Abonyi said members of her organization were not present at the GPSA meeting Saturday because the meeting’s agenda was not available online, so they were unaware that the resolution would be debated. She said that before the ASUNM meeting, she was notified by a senator about the resolution.

“(ASUNM senators) were very proactive in making sure that they understood the full side and that other students were represented,” she said.

Abonyi said Jewish students were also unable to attend the meeting to oppose the resolution because Saturday is the day of rest for the Jewish religion.

She said her group protested the passing of the resolution through ASUNM because it specifically targeted Israel and could encourage divisiveness on campus.

“I think it will further the very anti-Israel climate that is at UNM, and it creates an avenue for students and faculty to antagonize pro-Israel and Jewish students on campus,” she said.

Some council members did express concerns over the resolution during the debate. Council Member Daniel Gray said he believes both sides should be present for the decision.

“There’s no two parts,” he said. “We have the one side against it, but where’s the other side? ASUNM was given that opportunity. We were not given that opportunity and I feel we should have both sides.”

Council Member Matthew Rush recommended tabling the resolution and forming a working group to redraft it. He said while he supports SJP, he was concerned about the wording of the resolution and its potential to ostracize certain groups of people, such as the administration.

Rachel Levitt, a graduate student who came to support the resolution, said the language in the resolution was strong in accordance with the magnitude of the human rights violations in Palestine.

“We use strong language because injustice and death and dismemberment and dislocation are things that are happening. We’re talking about material conditions,” she said. “The issue becomes, ‘do we care about what happens to people, communities and bodies, or are we more concerned with potential alienated feelings?’”

Abonyi said the resolution wasn’t necessarily just about human rights because it specifies Israel.

“We know that every country violates human rights in some way,” she said. “It’s very obvious that they singled out a very specific country.”

Abonyi said she will express her concerns about the resolution to members of GPSA and the GPSA president.

“I’m very disappointed in the way this resolution was brought about and the way it was passed without anybody presenting an opposite opinion,” she said.