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10,000 University of South Florida students call for divestment from occupation-linked firms

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Students for Justice in Palestine members paint a wall at the University of South Florida calling for divestment. (Photo: Facebook/ USF SJP)

Students for Justice in Palestine members paint a wall at the University of South Florida calling for divestment. (Photo: Facebook/ USF SJP)

Student activists from the University of South Florida (USF) pressed their school’s foundation this month to heed a 10,000 person-strong petition and divest from companies linked to the Israeli occupation.

For months, members of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at the school have collected signatures urging divestment from companies like Caterpillar, which sells bulldozers to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and G4S, a private company which operates prisons where Palestinians are confined.  The group says the petition, which came after a stymied drive to put the issue to a student referendum, is the largest ever from a Florida university–and that the signatures represent about 25% of the whole student body.  The effort has garnered favorable media coverage from Tampa Bay Times columnist Bill Maxwell.

On May 5th, during a meeting with the USF Foundation, which oversees the university’s investments, SJP members urged the creation of a committee to make socially responsible investments and to divest from corporations profiting from contracts with the Israeli military.

“It’s appalling that our university does not have a policy requiring investment only in ethically-sound companies,” the SJP chapter president, Ahmad Saadaldin, said in a statement announcing the meeting.  “This gives us students the impression that our school values profits over our duties as global citizens.”

Speaking to Tampa-based radio station WMNF about the meeting, SJP member Malak Fakhoury said that foundation officials told the group’s members they would explore the information they were given by SJP. “It wasn’t a meeting where we could measure the progress of any success because it takes gradual steps to achieve anything real in this regard but it was definitely a success to speak to them,” Fakhoury told the radio station. “There was really no emotion so it’s hard to judge what they were thinking.”

It promises to be an uphill battle at the school.  The effort has faced opposition from Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, the head of the school’s Hillel, who told the Tampa Tribune that SJP has “gone overboard” and that “this is anti-Semitism.” As USF SJP member Omar Erchid reported for Mondoweiss, the school’s president, who condemned the American Studies Association boycott of Israel, is co-manager of a foundation that invests in Israeli banks that finance West Bank settlements.  And the USF provost went on a trip to Israel this year to explore bolstering links to Israeli universities.

The pro-divestment petition drive was launched after an effort to have the student body vote on the issue faltered in 2013.  While SJP says the majority of students voted in favor of divestment, the student government decertified the results.

The USF debate over Israel comes at the end of an academic year punctuated by repeated efforts to get student governments to endorse divestment.  While most student government bodies voted down proposals to divest, a measure did pass at Loyola (before being vetoed) and at the University of California, Riverside. 

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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17 Responses

  1. bilal a
    bilal a
    May 20, 2014, 6:27 pm

    BDS is making some people form armed militias: Notice the Israeli insignia:

    Armed with Holocaust memory and guns, L.A. Jews aim true
    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/1.591753

  2. Kay24
    Kay24
    May 20, 2014, 7:24 pm

    Nothing like a skewed poll, to make these people feel afraid, and teach their children to use guns. Wow. If these were Muslims organizing militias in the US, Pamela Geller and other lunatics would be howling, and protesting, outside every Mosque, doing the chicken little routine.

    I am glad that these students are working hard for the rights of the Palestinian people, and that these movements are starting to grow. Good luck to them all.

    • jon s
      jon s
      May 21, 2014, 4:11 am

      Kay24,
      Here’s a partial compendium of the terms you’ve used recently regarding Israel and Israelis:
      Evil
      Sadistic
      Nazis
      Inhuman
      Murderers
      Brutal
      Terrorists
      Gnats
      Izzywood
      Parasites
      Devil
      monster

      Of course, you’re “passionate about human rights”, and not an Anti-Semite.

      • Kay24
        Kay24
        May 21, 2014, 3:10 pm

        I am amused that you are keeping track of my comments.
        Correction: I certainly am not anti-semitic, simply anti Israel occupation, hate injustice, and will continue to criticize Israel’s crimes. The terms may sound harsh to you, but then then it is not harsher than the treatment these poor Palestinians keep getting daily by the IDF. Clear now?

      • jon s
        jon s
        May 21, 2014, 3:39 pm

        Kay24, I’m not amused, because it looks like you’ve got nothing but hatred, and that’s sad.
        OK, you say you’re not an Anti-Semite, and I suppose you’re not, in your own mind. But do you realize how many of those terms echo classic Anti-Semitic formulations?

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        May 21, 2014, 4:03 pm

        “OK, you say you’re not an Anti-Semite, and I suppose you’re not, in your own mind.”

        Good lord, if you’re going to slander her, then at least have the character (and guts) to do it, and don’t employ this weasely attempt at making her self-censor.

        “But do you realize how many of those terms echo classic Anti-Semitic formulations?”

        Do you realize how many logical fallacies you are employing? Your argument is the same as “The Nazis spoke German. Albert Einstein spoke German. Therefore, Albert Einstein was a Nazi.”

      • Kay24
        Kay24
        May 21, 2014, 5:09 pm

        Lighten up Jon, first and foremost the ” Izzywood” was in response to one of your buddies calling the video of two innocent kids being killed by the IDF, a “Pallywood” production.
        If you take care to read my comments, I do not criticize, or insult, Judaism or it’s follows, but definitely do so when it comes to Israel, and it’s brutal armed forces. Do note however, that I do not get intimidated by accusations of being antisemitic, and none of the terms I have used in over 400 comments, can be associated with being anti-semitic. It is as ridiculous as calls for boycotts, and the word “apartheid” being labelled anti-semitic. We have heard ad nauseam the lame accusations from apologists recently, in response to such words.

      • adele
        adele
        May 21, 2014, 6:49 pm

        Jon,
        have you ever thought that we are just so sick and tired of how Israel mistreats human beings (you know, the Palestinians who are horribly treated for being the wrong religion)? Have you????? Instead of resorting to the tired anti-semitic canard, for once in your life look at this from another perspective, step outside your narrow confines and see what we see. I know, it must be a revelation for you to think it is not about hatred of the Jews, it is about the Palestinians and defending their land and human rights. Get it now? It’s not that complicated.

      • annie
        annie
        May 21, 2014, 7:00 pm

        jon, do you think the person who executed those boys in cold blood had “nothing but hatred” too, or do you just sling around that accusation to the other side? how come you don’t talk like that about tthe killers in the iof? too moral for you to accuse them of hatred?

      • eljay
        eljay
        May 21, 2014, 7:36 pm

        >> But do you realize how many of those terms echo classic Anti-Semitic formulations?

        It’s not at all surprising that Zio-supremacists are far more concerned about echoes of classic formulations than they are about ON-GOING (war) crimes being committed by their supremacist state.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        May 21, 2014, 3:33 pm

        jon s,

        If one said the same thing about the regime of the Kims in North Korea (replace the “Izzywood”* with an equivalent), would you then assume that the person has a irrational hatred of Koreans as an ethnicity??? No, of course not. One would have to be insane to do that. You would recognize that the speaker is rightly condemning the acts of people who happen to be Korean.

        Your failure to use that same rationality when it comes to Israel strikes one as a bit of bigotry-akin-to-racism on your part.

        [* Funny you never seem to get around to dressing down the Zionist who use the blood libel (and much more common) “Palleywood”… Only so many hours in the day, huh?]

      • Kay24
        Kay24
        May 21, 2014, 5:16 pm

        Thank you for your very clear, and logical responses. I appreciate it. :))

      • jon s
        jon s
        May 22, 2014, 11:00 am

        In reply:
        1. My point to Kay24 is that when he/she uses terms like “monster”, “devil”, “parasites” – it activates the sensitive Anti-Semite Detector among many Jews, even if wasn’t meant that way. Not to mention “nazis” -which is a sure way to end any possible dialogue or discussion. ( I realize that he/she may not be interested in a dialogue).
        2. I don’t know who my “buddies” are. My comments reflect my personal observations and opinions. I’m not part of a group here, though naturally I sometimes agree with other posters. I’ve never used the term “Pallywood” regarding faked videos.
        3.I will never condone, and always condemn, deliberately targetting innocent people. In the case at hand, it looks like those boys were not engaged in any violent or threatening activities, which is why I said that the incident should be investigated, and those responsible prosecuted and punished. That goes not only for the individual who pulled the trigger, but also whoever gave the order.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        May 22, 2014, 11:15 am

        You’re welcome.

  3. hophmi
    hophmi
    May 20, 2014, 8:26 pm

    “As USF SJP member Omar Erchid reported for Mondoweiss, the school’s president, who condemned the American Studies Association boycott of Israel, is co-manager of a foundation that invests in Israeli banks that finance West Bank settlements. ”

    You’re willfully distorting the truth here. The foundation is a family foundation. It has an endowment of well over $4 million dollars and $10,000 (1/4 of 1 percent) in the Industrial Development Bank of Israel. The notion that her position is driven by this is a transparent lie.

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      May 21, 2014, 4:18 pm

      Again, you don’t know where the other $3.99M is invested, and the foundation donated $300K in 2012 to a school in EJ built illegally on land taken from the Palestinians.

      Maybe the Israeli bank doesn’t invest in WB settlements (doubtful), but the foundation itself does. The truth is actually worse than that statement. It means that the university’s president actively and directly invests in illegal WB activity.

  4. Krauss
    Krauss
    May 20, 2014, 11:47 pm

    Interesting news, Alex, and here’s more that has flown under the radar:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4520060,00.html

    Happened this week.

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