SJP resolution ruled ‘unconstitutional’ by University of Toledo SG

Jessica+Moses%2C+a+fourth-year+exercise+science+major%2C+gave+a+speech+on+behalf+of+Hillel+in+opposition+of+Israeli+divestment+after+Student+Government+decided+not+to+vote+on+the+issue+on+Tuesday%2C+Feb.+17.+
Jessica Moses, a fourth-year exercise science major, gave a speech on behalf of Hillel in opposition of Israeli divestment after Student Government decided not to vote on the issue on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Jessica Moses, a fourth-year exercise science major, gave a speech on behalf of Hillel in opposition of Israeli divestment after Student Government decided not to vote on the issue on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Abigail Sullivan

Abigail Sullivan

Jessica Moses, a fourth-year exercise science major, gave a speech on behalf of Hillel in opposition of Israeli divestment after Student Government decided not to vote on the issue on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Colleen Anderson, Associate News Editor

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Disappointment, relief and shock were just some of the emotions evident throughout the room after the divestment campaign resolution was declared unconstitutional during a special closed-door Student Government meeting.

The resolution proposed a divestment, or a withdrawal of investments, by UT from any company who “provide direct support for and directly profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The five main companies named in the resolution were Cemex, General Electric, Hewett-Packard, Proctor and Gamble, and Rolls-Royce.

Their involvements were explained in an eight-page resolution written by members of UT’s Students for Justice in Palestine’s steering committee, and sponsored by SG senators Nadine Sarsour and Sam Aburaad.

SG steering voted to have a closed session during the portion of the meeting concerning the resolution, which vice president Ali Eltatawy said was mainly out of concerns for student safety.

In addition to the closed session, Eltatawy said there would be up to ten officers present. At least eight officers were visibly present for the meeting, divided between the main room and the two rooms set aside for other students and community members to view the session via livestream.

“We do want to ensure above all else the safety of University of Toledo students but also, in the same time, to the best of our ability, uphold the democracy and transparency which we are based off of,” Eltatawy said.

During the meeting itself, both those in support of and those against the resolution were given ten minutes to speak during open floor.

Jessica Moses, a senior majoring in exercise science and Jewish student who opposed the resolution, centered her presentation around being “Pro Israel, Pro Palestinian, and Pro Peace.” She focused on her concerns for both the safety of Jewish students and a desire for open dialogue.

“As we have seen on other campuses, once resolutions like this are passed, or even just introduced, we see a rise in intimidation towards Jews,” Moses said. “Today is my opportunity to show everyone what I believe and what I stand for, which is peace, an open dialogue, and an understanding between the different students on campus.

Supporters of the proposed resolution heatedly discuss the Student Judicial Council's narrow 5-4 decision to declare it unconstitutional.

Jared Hightower
Supporters of the proposed resolution heatedly discuss the Student Judicial Council’s narrow 5-4 decision to declare it unconstitutional.

Shahrazad Hamdah, a steering member of SJP, spoke in support of the resolution, focused on both a previous divestment campaign by UT from South Africa in response to apartheid, and Israel’s current treatment of Palestinians.

“The Palestinian people are subjected to a system of ethnic segregation, discrimination, violence, and military occupation by the state of Israel, and in seeking divestment from these corporations, UT Divest joins a movement of students across the United States who refuse to accept their tuition dollars funding oppression,” Hamdah said.

Several schools, including DePaul University, San Diego State University, University of California at Davis, and Ohio State University have experienced divestment campaigns on their campuses, according to electronicintifada.net.

The decision was not ultimately voted on by the senators; the Student Judicial Council ruled the resolution unconstitutional by a vote of 5 to 4 after hearing debate. Justice David Manor gave the affirming opinion, and resigned shortly thereafter for reasons unspecified.

Justice Christopher Miller, who voted in favor of declaring the resolution unconstitutional, said he felt the resolution violated the section of the SG constitution dedicated to protecting against discrimination.

“We felt that because there was an opposing viewpoint on this proposal, that it [the resolution] wouldn’t necessarily protect against discrimination within the student body,” Miller said. “We felt that they [the opposing viewpoint] definitely expressed their opinions early on that they felt it would lead to their discrimination.”

Chief Justice Sebastian Wright gave the dissenting opinion of those who had voted the resolution was constitutional, and said he felt the senators should have been allowed to vote.

“I believe that this resolution should have been brought up to the floor, so that the senators, the representatives of the students, should have been able to vote on it,” Wright said. “We should be able to listen to everything the student body throws at us. We shouldn’t table it indefinitely because we’re scared, because the controversy, for some reason, seems to be against what we really want.”

Derek Ide, member of the SJP steering committee, said he was disappointed by the decision, and went on to say that SG members had privately told SJP of administration’s involvement in the proceedings.

““This is a fundamental travesty and injustice, and we reject this decision completely. It’s a mockery of democracy,” Ide said. “This has been a complete facade, a charade, and this is a reflection and manifestation of administrative pressure, undoubtedly. They’ve had their hands in this thing from the beginning, and we have heard this from multiple student government sources.”

Kaye Patten Wallace, senior vice president for student affairs, said the administration was not involved in the reaching of the decision in any way.

“This was a Student Government meeting. Our role as administrators is not to impact the meeting in any sort of way.” said Patten Wallace. “We have absolutely no input in terms of how Student Government runs their meetings or the decisions they make.”

Several members of SJP and senators alike, including Sarsour and Aburaad and SJP steering committee member Eman Alhana expressed disappointment with the ruling.

However, several SG senators, including Joel Robbins and Senator Ronald Phiels, said they agreed with SJC’s decision.

“I guess the only thing I have to say to SJC is thank you,” Phiels said. “I understand that you guys [SJP] still want to have your resolution put forward, but at the end of the day, democracy, you know, prevailed, and that’s the way it is done in the real world.”

SG President Clayton Notestine said he would have liked to have provided more structure to the actual debate and arranged for more time for speakers on both sides, as well as having more discussion with SJC about the possibility of the resolution being ruled unconstitutional.

“I knew that option was always out there, but being a senior member of Student Government, I was under the impression it would not be deemed unconstitutional,” Notestine said. “I was very surprised.”

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9 Comments

  • mxm123

    The fix was in. How is it that student bodies of major universities could vote on such resolution but it is now unconstitutional. Huh ?

    The Justice Department has ruled on multiple complaints by pro-Israeli supporters that debating Israel and its treatment of Palestinians does not violate any Federal Civil Rights laws.

    Time to file a Federal Civil Rights complaint against the Senate. Democracy did not prevail.

    [Reply]

  • JackPumpkin

    Don’t be too disappointed, folks. At a place like UT, there was little chance of winning this battle through institutional means. There are exceedingly few universities where the officially sanctioned student “government” can be counted on to advance social justice.

    Use this experience as a launching point for a broad, creative campus campaign to make university constituents aware of Israel’s behavior and UT’s relationship to it.

    [Reply]

  • JoelReinstein

    I was present to support #UTDivest from Ann Arbor. I have never witnessed such an undemocratic, confusing and racist hearing. At every step of the process, Toledo’s student government behavior was patently absurd and treated predominately Arab students advocating for human rights as somehow dangerous and criminal. It lied to and insulted these students with nonsensical rationalizations for its cowardly behavior. The student government president and members of the SJC should be impeached.

    [Reply]

  • Janice Flahiff

    in my humble opinion,the only discrimination is against the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. This is not a religion issue, but a human rights issue.

    [Reply]

    Reynny Reply:

    OK, it’s a human rights issue. How can you ignore the fact that the group you’re sympathizing with doesn’t acknowledge the other’s right to exist and attacks them accordingly?

    [Reply]

    mxm123 Reply:

    Whose right to exist is being actively destroyed currently ?

    [Reply]

    Reynny Reply:

    Israel’s, by people who absorb misinformation and give support to those who are trying to destroy it.

    If Israel were trying to exterminate the Palestinians it would’ve happened already. If the powers were reversed, Israel would be gone along with everyone in it. That’s the difference.

    YourMom9999 Reply:

    Yawn….

  • Jay

    Please, there was no fix here. Justice was served to a group that talks about the rights of Palestinians and conveniently ignores their suffering in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt by only wanting to divest from Israel. Their discrimination, tactics and threats were thrown out by SGA. Well done Toledo. You all should be proud!

    [Reply]

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SJP resolution ruled ‘unconstitutional’ by University of Toledo SG