Israeli divestment bill seeking to boycott HP, Boeing vetoed at USF

An Israeli divestment bill at the University of South Florida (USF) was vetoed by the student body president and vice president shortly after its passage last week.

The student senate’s joint resolution called on the university to divest from corporations that the resolution says “are continuously and knowingly complicit in violations of Palestinian rights.”

The resolution asked that the university divest from corporations such as Caterpillar, which USF’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter claims supplies the Israeli army with bulldozers that destroy Palestinian homes.

“These bulldozers demolish Palestinian homes, construct the separation wall and create settlements on Palestinian lands, and cause civilian casualties,” the resolution stated.

Other companies on the list included: Hewlett-Packard, G4S PLC, Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman Corporation, and Lockheed Martin, which they say provides weapons “used in war crimes against Palestinian civilians.”

This resolution was just the most recent step in an over two-year process by SJP to pressure the university into divesting from corporations providing aid and materials to Israel.

SJP circulated a petition in 2014 that generated over 10,000 signatures calling for the university to divest from these corporations. It has the most signatures ever obtained on petition at a Florida university.

When the petition was brought before the USF Investment Committee the SJP website claims they “were shut down in under 15 minutes, because USF leadership doesn’t want our message heard.” They claim they weren’t allowed to make a presentation to the USF Investment Committee.

However, Lara Wade-Martinez, the Director of Media Relations at USF, told Campus Reform that SJP did in fact get to present to the CEO and Foundation Board Chair for over an hour.

Wade-Martinez explained that after the presentation the petition and accompanying materials were then circulated to the members of the Investment Committee, which then passed a resolution and issued a statement declaring “The USF Foundation will not divest investments or alter the investment policy or process based on requests from individuals or groups.”

Since the issue was already taken up and considered, Wade-Martinez says it will not be taken up again or voted on at future meetings.

“The USF administration has worked every step of the way to interfere with student voices. It’s time for the USF administration to step back and allow the student voices to be heard,” said Muhammad Imam, a student senator who sponsored the resolution, in an interview with Electronic Intifada.

Along with the petition and resolution, SJP also released a video in 2014 telling students how USF’s money allegedly goes to companies who make fighter jets that bomb Palestinians. In the video, these cartoon fighter jets drop bombs labeled “made 2 kill” on the Gaza strip, with the resulting explosions also exclaiming “kill!”

SJP has over 126 chapters at universities across the US that routinely initiate boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) campaigns against corporations and individuals that do business with Israel. SJP chapters have accused Israel of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

Executive Director of Hillels of the Suncoast Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, who oversees all the campus Hillel organizations in the Tampa area, told the Tampa Tribune that the, “Members of [SJP] are trying to de-legitimize the state of Israel through falsehoods, half-truths and blatant lies. This has gone beyond political discourse. This is anti-Semitism.”

Imam told Campus Reform that the petition was endorsed by Jewish Voice for Peace

“We strongly believe that divestment demonstrates Jewish values of justice and healing the world,” the organization said.

And Imam isn’t deterred by the recent veto of the SJP resolution.

“The movement at USF is growing. More and more students are speaking out,” Imam told Campus Reform, “Our efforts have opened up discussion of these issues in our academic communities and beyond. The world has been astonishingly silent during decades of Israeli occupation, and much of America still does not dare to raise any criticism of Israel. The charge of anti-Semitism serves to deflect attention away from Israeli governmental actions.”

Student Body President Andy Rodriguez explained in the Executive Memorandum that vetoed the resolution that “[w]e believe that bringing a topic as polarized and politically driven as this into the realm of student government serves only to divide the student body and to disparage students with opposing viewpoints, instead of uniting our students.”

“We are steadfast in our belief that it is not the role of student government to interject into international politics nor investment policies,” Rodriguez said.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @brianledtke