To divest or not to divest?

The 2015–16 Associated Students of Portland State University Executive Committee was unable to come to full clarification of the writing of the resolution to divest from companies profiting from human rights violations in Israel when it was introduced in spring 2016. The resolution was carried over to the 2016–17 board members.

On Sept. 26, 2016, during ASPSU’s first Senate meeting of this academic year, a revised resolution was read and sent back for revision.

On Oct. 10, 2016, during its second Senate meeting of the year, the executive committee of the ASPSU held a fourth “first reading” of the resolution.

The first amendment of the resolution defines outcomes which, if passed, promote PSU’s divesting from any companies “found to profit from human rights violations against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli government.”

A second amendment calls for “the University to put in place an internal investment screen which prohibits investment in any company that provides weapons or equipment used for violent acts that target either Israeli or Palestinian civilians; provides equipment used for the displacement of Palestinians from their homes or the construction and maintenance of illegal and unethical Israeli government authorized settlements; or supplies equipment used for the construction or maintenance of the Separation Wall in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

The resolution calls for a screen to divest from all companies found to profit from human rights violations in either of the two countries, but specifically names Caterpillar Inc., G4S, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise—as they have now split—and Motorola.

Of these four companies, the resolution states:

–Caterpillar, Inc., as part of the U.S. military aid to Israel, sells D9 bulldozers to the Israeli military, which “are equipped with armor and weapons by Caterpillar Israel,” and that “[one] of these armored bulldozers was responsible for crushing to death Evergreen University student Rachel Corrie in 2003, while she stood in front of a Palestinian home to prevent its demolition.”

–That G4S “[provides] security systems and services to all branches of the Israeli government” including “detention and interrogation facilities,” and that “[although] the company stated in 2014 that it would not renew some of its contracts, as of today, no change in company operations has been registered on the ground.”

–That “HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise were contracted (when still a single company) to maintain a biometric identification and scanning system that is used by the Israeli military at checkpoints throughout the Palestinian Territories,” and that “HP Inc. is the sole supplier to the Israeli military of computer servers and laptops, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise manages the Israeli population registrar,” which enables “systematic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israeli.”

–That Motorola Solutions profits by providing communication systems, including surveillance systems and radar fences, to the Israeli military, which “make vast areas of the West Bank inaccessible to Palestinians even when they are the legal owners of the land.”

Not at this or any other time has it been confirmed that PSU holds investments in any of these companies.

No opposition at the meeting was made toward the resolution goals specifically; instead the language used to justify the need for divestment was the main point of contention.

In opposition to the naming of these four companies in spring 2016, a PSU student who gave only their first name, Ariel, distributed a document to the ASPSU stating that some of the companies sell to both Israel and Palestine and that G4S currently had no contracts with Israel, among other historical inaccuracies.

ASPSU executive meetings are open to all students as well as the public. Persons in attendance who wish to express their views on any resolution in consideration are allotted two minutes to speak.

The first speaker at the Oct. 10 meeting, a person of Palestinian descent, stated, “The democratic process seems to have been stalled. My family, the Palestinian side, is not able to return to their home. This fills me with a deep sadness. Passing the resolution may not bring comfort to the suffering of others, but it would be momentous.”

“I have read many history books, but I still don’t see the description that was in my grandfather’s eyes. Democracy has to take place,” said another student, an indigenous Palestinian whose family was dispossessed in 1948.

Jennifer, wife of Ariel, is in her final term at PSU. Last year she was on the board of the Jewish Student Union as well as co-president of CHAI—the Cultural and Historical Association for Israel. She said, “I do not deny the violence, but the resolution has many historical inaccuracies.” Her position is that Caterpillar and Motorola sell to Israelis and Palestinians.

“The resolution talks about the companies—and quickly moves into what Israel has done. There are people dying on the Israeli side, there are people dying on the Palestinian side. Instead of blaming people, we need to teach people to come together so we can share the land,” Jennifer said.

PSU Professor Patricia Schechter questioned whether the resolution was historically sound and responsible.

“How does divestment help the election of fair government in Israel and Palestine?” Schechter asked.

Nathan Claus, of the PSU Judicial Board, was concerned about procedures used in formulating and writing the resolution. He invited interested parties to come to the Judicial Board for help and to access Robert’s Rules of Order. Claus said he understands that bureaucratic process can be seen as slowing the resolution’s progress.

“What about democracy?” Claus asked.

Meanwhile, the public audience created its own argument, with one person storming out in anger and another person making “tssking” and exclamatory lip-smacking sounds.

The motion to send back and rewrite the resolution again was defeated 4-18.

Senator Bhaskar Venkataramaiah of the International Affairs Committee was involved in the resolution at its initiation in spring 2016.

“My biggest concern is to not make it target any individuals or groups on campus because it would create tension and disturb the harmony of the campus,” Venkataramaiah said. “We have tried our best to listen to both points of view and tried to put in every line in there from some credible source. This is a great learning opportunity for us as leaders to think about—and how to handle issues and conflicts.”

“It will pass on a message to the community and to the organizations that PSU does not invest in those companies,” Venkataramaiah continued. “It is a symbolic representation [of] solidarity with victims, and a stand against human rights violations.”

The next Senate meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 24, 2016. At that time the resolution will undergo a second reading, without another rewrite, and the final vote is expected.