While I’m sure the open letter that the Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J. sent to the student body last week went in and out of most recipients’ inboxes in seconds, for those of us who care deeply about an important global conflict, it is a very serious matter.
I am in a unique position as someone who has no nationalistic, ethnic, religious or familial “horse in the race” as far as the Israel-Palestine debate. I have never been to the region; I have no family that has been affected by the conflict; I have no personal history or background that informs my stance on the conflict. I like to think of myself as an objective observer with a secular humanist perspective.
From this perspective, I have studied the history of the conflict, doing the best I can to understand and empathize with every perspective. I have heard many arguments, and I have seen many debates. And I have concluded that because the Israeli army has killed vastly greater numbers of civilians than Palestinian militants, I have deep sympathy for Palestinians and I wholly understand why Hamas was democratically elected. If you were a Palestinian, you likely would have voted for them too.
It is great to go to a university where I can say this. It is great to live in a community where one can have this opinion openly, as several do at Loyola. And it is nothing short of wonderful to attend a university that is so well-informed about this debate that the student government has voted to oppose Israeli dominance of Palestine in a peaceful and creative way. By patronizingly vetoing divestment measures, Garanzini has become part of the problem.
I will highlight all of the flaws in Garanzini’s argument.
First, Garanzini argues that the vote itself was inconclusive. He wrote, “One can claim the resolution had a majority, but the 16–15–2 vote could easily be interpreted the other way: that 17 students did not accept the resolution.” This is true, but let’s also acknowledge the vote could be interpreted in yet another way: 18 students refused to strike the bill down, while only 15 did. If the idea of one person, one vote, means anything anymore, the vote was in fact conclusive.
Next, Garanzini goes on about the hurt feelings of those on the losing side of the vote. He wrote that “the fact of the matter here is that we have within our community students on both sides of this issue who feel torn, who feel oppressed by those who see the matter quite differently, and even some students who feel threatened by others given the vehemence with which the topic is being discussed and debated.”
Let us set aside the irony of those opposed to the measure feeling “oppressed” for a moment, and focus on the debate itself. Garanzini seems to think that the heat of the debate is in itself a pitfall. Divestment measures are, however, a symbol of opposition to policies that have certainly killed loved ones of many Loyola students. Why on earth would this debate not be heated? It is in many ways a matter of life and death. Now, I will admit I am not involved in student government, and I was not present for the debates. However, my sense is that the legislation was not presented for a vote at gunpoint. Heated debate is the result of conflicting interests on important issues, and that fact is being used against those who won the vote.
Garanzini argues that divestment measures are a mistake, and instead we need students to engage in “thoughtful and open discussion.” My question is: How would the legislation have reached a vote, let alone won, without months of thoughtful and open dialogue? How would one propose divestment from certain corporations without hours of research and careful planning? The discussion has already happened; the dialogue has already occurred; the verdict has already been reached.
All of these arguments are red herrings, intended to distract students. I think Garanzini vetoed the bill because he, like every American in a position of power, is afraid to truly criticize the Israeli government. Let’s face it, he’s not stupid. He saw what happened to author and professor Steven Salaita.
How many congresspersons have taken a hard stance against the Israeli lobby in Washington? Not even the most progressive voice in Congress, Bernie Sanders, will criticize Israel for fear of losing campaign sponsorship.
If divestment measures were put into place, would Loyola suffer financially? Most likely, yes. Should the university president think with a checkbook as opposed to his conscience? Should he be complicit in occupation, humiliation and mass murder because it is financially viable?
The decision to veto divestment measures is a slap in the face to student government, the student body it represents and democracy itself. Maybe this issue does not matter to every Loyola student, but it should. So stand up for yourself. Stand up for student government. Don’t be afraid to stand up to Garanzini. Don’t be afraid to speak truth to power. Divest.
Hank Stillwell is a contributing columnist