The Student Government of Loyola Chicago passed a resolution to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. After more than an hour of public comments and almost three hours of Senate debate, the Senate vote was a 15-15-2 tie. After a pause, the speaker of the Senate, Danish Murtaza, broke the tie with an affirmative vote.
The Loyola vote came a month after Chicago neighbor Northwestern University narrowly passed a divestment measure 24-22-3.
During the long debate, Sen.Ryan Kelley emerged as the primary voice of opposition, while Senators Melinda Bunnage, Grant Bosnich and author of the legislation Nashiha Alam were the most vocal advocates.
A large body of Students for Justice in Palestine (SPJ) supporters, many in maroon “#divest” shirts, filled the right side of the auditorium. They wiggled their fingers in the air in solidarity with those speaking in support of the divestment measure. Students against the measure filled a few rows on the left side of the auditorium.
The public comments section of the meeting was tense, and speakers both favoring and opposing the bill were not afraid to raise their voices. Students on both sides described scenes of violence they or family members had experienced in Israel. The attorney general called “Point of Order” many times as he saw comments leaving the topic of the bill.
Most of the students who oppose the resolution described feeling alienated by the bill, and some saw it as anti-Semitic.
Nicole Constantine, a 21-year-old anthropology and history double major, showed up to voice opposition to the bill, saying, “We view this bill as targeting a specific country and a specific group of students on campus.”
She later said, “I don’t wake up every morning thinking about how I can fight divestment … No one gets to tell me that my passion for Israel is wrong. It is so limiting to be pro-Israel on campus. Will I be welcome on campus if I am vocal about supporting Israel? I’m concerned.”
Many supporters of the resolution with Palestinian roots identified themselves as a marginalized nationality.
“My Palestinian voice is constantly being silenced … The so-called peace process has only seen more Palestinians being killed,” said one speaker.
Other students described the bill as “creating a divide” and “shutting down dialogue.”
“It’s making us politicized as Jewish students … Because of this resolution, within the last two weeks, we have seen students sit inside Hillel and ask for interviews,” said Adam Mogilevsky, vice president of Hillel. “Students are refusing to come into the space … Student government is supposed to ensure safety and welfare for students.”
Some saw a more direct threat to Israel, such as one speaker who said, “The real aim of BDS [a Palestinian organization the legislation is based on] is to bring down the state of Israel.”
A Jewish man supported the bill, saying, “As a Jewish person of great privilege, I have the responsibility to criticize the country. Israel is not above criticism.”
Nadine Darwish, SJP president, said, “When St. Ignatius said, ‘Go forth and set the world on fire,’ he did not mean go forth and invest in corporations profiting from the oppression of the Palestinian people.” She also tried to make a distinction between the violence occurring in Palestine and the fear of violence that Jewish students described, saying, “There’s a difference between feeling unsafe and being unsafe.”
Around 6 p.m., all of the students who were against divestment had spoken. In order to keep an equal number of speakers on each side, the general attorney closed the public comment section. The Senate then opened the floor to discuss extending the time so that those who had not spoken (all of whom were pro-divestment) could speak.
They voted 68 percent in favor of extending the time until 7:05 p.m. and allowing students who had already spoken to go again in order to prevent the time from being filled solely by divestment supporters. Ultimately, the public comments section continued until 7:10 p.m.
After the Senate debate began, fear of possible violent repercussions for the bill came up often. Some of this opposition referred to one woman’s public comment that gave an account of receiving bomb threats and rape threats after opposing the divestment resolution last year. The Senate voted to make votes on the resolution anonymous.
Much of the opposition to the resolution was concerned with possible ramifications on campus, such as the alienation of Jewish students and an increased divide between student groups. Sen. Natalie Pine represented this view in her speech of negation, citing a difference between “intent and impact.”
Alam, author of the resolution, read a list of 20 organizations endorsing it, some of which are Loyola groups. She emphasized the inclusion of Jews for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Alam personally responded to every speech of negation and made a motion that the bylaw limiting senators to two 10-minute speeches be lifted due to the complex nature of the issue. The motion did not pass.
In a speech of affirmation, Sen. Jack Santy said, “I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine … Through this legislation we challenged corporations. We challenged our university.”
Kelley objected to the resolution by asking the Senate whether it could make a properly informed decision without having lived in Israel.
Near the end of her debate-concluding speech, Alam said, “We are representatives of the student body, so when our students ask us to do something, we do it,” citing the many who had attended the vote and the 1,245 signatures collected by Loyola Divest.
Bunnage, the chair of the Senate Justice committee, said, “I’m voting in favor of this legislation because I believe it’s about human rights and I think that it’s really important for us to speak out about human rights violations happening at a systemic and corporate level.
“I think that a lot of the people who feel hurt by this legislation are only some voices from the Jewish community and not all, and I hope today everyone sees a diversity of Jewish voices.”
A prepared victory press release from Loyola Divest stated, “This is just the beginning. It is now the responsibility of the entire student body to ensure that Loyola’s administration fulfills the demands of its students.”