April 10, 2014

Student Assembly Tables Resolution to Divest From Pro-Israeli Companies

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After a 15-8-1 vote, the Student Assembly tabled Resolution 72 — which urged Cornell to to divest from companies that “profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories — at Willard Straight Hall Thursday.

Upon the S.A.’s decision to table the resolution, many students applauded while others left the crowded room, shouting expletives.

“We’re walking out. This is bullshit,” a student said. Another student who left the room shouted, “You wanna celebrate 65 years of genocide?”

Other audience members, however, clapped for over a minute in support of the S.A.’s decision.

After the vote, the S.A. opened the floor to a general discussion. However, the first nine speakers who had put their names on the list for general discussion left the room before their names were called.

A point of discussion was whether the S.A. should have discussed such a contentious political issue and should have instead focused on issues that would have an impact at Cornell.

“It’s a lot like the S.A. circa 2006 when we were debating whether the Iraq War was right,” said Geoffrey Block, S.A. vice president of finance. “The S.A. does its best work when it acts in the interests of the Cornell community. We are not elected for our positions on Iraq, we are not elected for our positions on Israel. The overwhelming majority of the student body has no interest in these issues.”

Others refuted the claim that the S.A. should not have voted on controversial political issues.

“[The] decision to indefinitely table the resolution, with or, as in this case, without discussion, only denies the division on campus and denial of an issue only exacerbates it. The issue won’t go away,” said Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, English. “The issue won’t go away. The fact that the resolution was tabled without discussion only adds insult to injury.”

Sponsors of the resolution said that they were “disappointed” that the S.A. decided to table the resolution and “blocked student discussion.”

“The sponsors of this resolution came to the table wanting to inspire peace in the Middle East and end decades of continued killing,” said Nicholas Vasko ’14, undesignated at-large for the S.A. and a sponsor of the resolution. “The assembly choosing to table this resolution silenced the voice of a group that’s been silenced and marginalized on campus for so long.”

Members of Cornell’s Students for Justice in Palestine echoed similar sentiments that the S.A. had blocked the democratic process.

“We were hoping that the S.A. would … allow for positions both supportive and critical of the resolution to be discussed publicly,” said SJP spokesperson Dan Sinykin grad.

Vasko acknowledged that the students who put together the resolution did not reach out to involved groups like Hillel and Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee before the resolution was publicly released.

“The reason that SJP did not reach out to CIPAC and Hillel is because discussion has been exhausted as a method for solving the conflict. History has shown that Israel uses the pretense of discussion to maintain and extend settlement building and the occupation,” Sinykin said.

Rachel Medin ’14 and Claire Blumenthal ’14, co-presidents of CIPAC, said they were “pleased” with the outcome of the S.A. meeting.

“We firmly believe that discussing Resolution 72 in the S.A. arena would cause harm and isolation among our student community,” they said in an email. “We aim to engage in a constructive dialogue to foster cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian student groups on campus, and hope that through dialogue, rather than public debate, we can seek outcomes to encourage peace both on campus and in the Middle East.”

Though the S.A. tabled the resolution, students from both sides of the issue plan to discuss the issue further.

“We, meaning all Cornellians, need to work together with people of all perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to talk about how we can support peace,” Vasko said.