February 1, 2024

Student Assembly Rejects Israel Divestment Resolution

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Approximately 200 students gathered in Willard Straight Hall on Thursday to rally both for and against a resolution calling upon the Cornell Board of Trustees to divest from companies “complicit in committing morally reprehensible actions” in Gaza. The resolution was rejected by a vote of 16-4.

The Student Assembly heard comments from seven supporters and seven critics of Resolution 51, which stipulates that Cornell should not invest in companies that are “perpetrating plausible genocide, maintaining an apartheid state in occupied Palestine and perpetuating systemic cruelty to children throughout Palestine during the war.”

The resolution, which was sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, Cornell Young Democratic Socialists of America and Jewish Voice for Peace, among others, comes after months of turmoil on Cornell’s campus over the Israel-Hamas war. Last October, the S.A. was presented with a resolution that called for Cornell to contextualize the Oct. 7 attack on Israel “as a direct response to decades of Israel’s occupation,” which was ultimately not considered.

In response to the proposed resolution on divestment, Cornell Hillel issued a statement asserting that the resolution disregards the “hurt felt by students at Cornell over the last four months” and is unproductive to furthering a more united campus environment.

Cornell Hillel called on its members to attend the S.A. meeting at 3:15 p.m., an hour and a half before the official meeting start time, and created a petition condemning the resolution.

“We ask the Cornell S.A. to say no to Boycott, Divestment and Sanction and yes to a campus where Jewish students, and all students, are able to attend Cornell without intimidation or fear,” the petition stated.

Cornell Hillel argued that BDS resolutions, a movement that calls for boycotts, divestment and economic sanctions of Israel, “have historically deepened a climate of marginalization and intimidation of Jewish students on campus.”

A group advocating for the Palestinian cause, the Coalition for Mutual Liberation, however, released a statement condemning the University for how its “investments facilitate the ongoing genocide, apartheid and systemic cruelty against children committed by Israel.” Israel has denied that it is committing genocide in Gaza as it awaits a verdict from the International Court of Justice, which has called the charge “plausible.”

The group called upon Cornell University to “abide by [its] own divestment standards … [and] immediately liquidate all of [its] holdings,” in a list of condemned companies, referencing the 2016 Standard Guide to Divestment Consideration, which states the Board of Trustees “will consider divesting its endowment assets from a company only when the company’s actions or inactions are ‘morally reprehensible,’ constituting apartheid, genocide, human trafficking, slavery or systemic cruelty to children, including violation of child labor laws.”

“Arms companies complicit in the Israeli invasion of Gaza are guilty of morally reprehensible actions, and are thus subject to divestment in accordance with the 2016 Standard Guide to Divestment Consideration,” the statement attested.

In 2006, Cornell divested from Sudan in response to the Darfur genocide, during which the Sudanese government armed ethnic Arab militia groups to attack ethnic African groups. This precedent has fortified current pro-divestment arguments that claim that the Israeli government is committing comparable genocide in Gaza.

Students appeared to self-divide to sides of the room depending on their ideological stance on the divestment cause.

Several pro-Palestine advocates donned keffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf that has become a cultural symbol of Palestinian identity, while many pro-Israel advocates wore kippas, a small head covering traditionally worn by Jewish males for religious purposes, and distributed military-style dog tags which have been worn in solidarity with hostages after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Prior to the start of the meeting, pieces of paper displaying the word “KIDNAPPED” and including information about hostages held by Hamas were placed on seats.

While Resolution 51 was rejected, Resolution 50 was passed unanimously. This resolution would create a committee that would “draft a report on the University’s corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance policies related to the University’s endowment.”

During the comments portion of the meeting, Hasham Khan ’26, social chair for Students for Justice in Palestine at Cornell, urged the S.A. to represent the interests of students by approving the resolution — an interest Khan said was demonstrated through conducting protests, holding a “mock trial” of President Martha Pollack and occupying Day Hall.

“This resolution doesn’t threaten the livelihood of anyone in this room,” Khan said. “But the action of the corporations that Cornell funds does. It’s directly related to the morally bankrupt action of a state that refuses to view Palestinians as human.”

While officially introducing the resolution, Sara Almosawi ’25, co-chair of Cornell Young Democratic Socialists of America, clarified that the resolution was not intended to single out Israel but instead urged the University to follow the 2016 Standard Guide to Divestment Consideration.

“[The resolution] is not about Israel or Palestine, Israel or anti-Israel, Zionism or anti-Zionism, Judaism or Islam, nor is it about BDS,” Almosawi said. “This is about the University following its rules.”

While many supporters of the resolution including Almosawi argued the divestment proposals were not fundamentally anti-Israel — particularly due to targeting predominantly American weapons manufacturers — Zora deRham ’27, freshmen representative of the S.A., questioned: “If [the] resolution is not anti-Israel — not about Israel — then why is Israel mentioned 20 times?”

S.A. Dyson School of Business Representative Yash Moitra ’27 similarly said that he believes the University should not “actively invest our tuition money into a company that creates war,” but disagreed with the resolution’s sole focus on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“I recognize that the people in this room are hurting and with this resolution with this language, they will hurt more,” Moitra said. “I am hoping that you are open to the compromise of simply removing every specific reference to this ongoing conflict.”

DeRham also called the resolution’s focus on restricting research activities “academic suicide.” 

Resolution 51 proposed that Cornell should “establish a comprehensive ban on any research and development of technologies used by the Israeli armed forces at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.”

“Our faculty will leave [Cornell] because we threaten their life’s work,” deRham said. “We’re going to lose everything that makes this institution the privileged social currency you attend it for.”

In an interview with The Sun after the S.A. vote, Jonathan Emmanuel ’26, who presented the resolution at the meeting, said that the “uncomfortable” outcome reflects a larger issue of the S.A.’s lack of initiative to represent all sectors of the student body.

Emmanuel also rejected the notion that the resolution was anti-Israel.

“I feel CML supports the collective liberation of Israeli students and the voices of Jewish people,” Emmanuel said. “I just have a really deep vision that a lot of the conversation that was going on today was rooted at U.S. imperialism.”

Update, 2/3, 1:47 a.m.: This article has been updated to include comments from speakers throughout the Student Assembly meeting as well as quotes from a Sun interview with Jonathan Emmanuel, who presented the resolution at the meeting.

Dorothy France-Miller is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

Sofia Rubinson ’24 contributed writing.