ASUNM divestment resolution fails after hours-long debate

The legislation would have called upon the University to be transparent in its investments, and it specifically urged UNM to pressure companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar contributing to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The debate also included comments from several student organizations. About 70 students, teachers, alumni and others packed the gallery, which was clearly divided into supporters and opponents of the resolution: specifically, Students for Justice in Palestine, who authored the resolution, and Lobos for Israel and their respective allies who opposed it.

Andrew Balis, president of Lobos for Israel, said his group’s main concern was what the resolution implied about their country.

“(The resolution) serves that Israel must be dismantled. It will foster an environment of hostility on campus,” he said. “Instead of adopting a resolution that seeks to harm a country politically, ASUNM should foster discussion.”

Elisabeth Perkal, a member of SJP, said that neglecting to put focus on Israel would contradict the group’s objective.

“The reason we wanted to talk about Israel is because it’s important to us that we call out the racist and colonialized policies of that country,” she said. “It doesn’t target a student group, it addresses the state of Israel and these corporations.”

There were multiple points of contention contributing to the length and climate of the discussion, but the dividing line was between senators who prioritized the safety of Israeli students on campus and those who supported Palestinian students and the occupation in their home country first and foremost.

Many senators, including Kyle Stepp and Alex Cervantes, felt that the resolution should fail so that a more complete legislation focused on general transparency can be brought before ASUNM in the future, without alienating certain groups.

Stepp said bringing in more student organizations, as well as focusing on a more globalized picture instead of only a handful of companies to divest from, would make the resolution even stronger.

“Right now this room is divided, but imagine if this room was together, with every single person behind a resolution saying that we want to divest from companies that commit human rights violations in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, in America,” he said. “That’s what we can do if everyone came together.”

Still, some senators believed that it was common sense to immediately support those living in a Palestinian warzone. Sen. Udell Calzadillas Chavez said delaying the resolution would do more harm than good.

“This is something that must be addressed now,” he said. “If we wait, people are going to be dying, people are going to be suffering. We live in a globalized society, and we cannot look to the side when atrocities are being made.”

Sen. Tori Pryor said it was a problem that the resolution didn’t focus on the climate at UNM and the potential impact the resolution would have domestically.

She cited previous resolutions, such as legislation condemning Islamophobia and supporting undocumented students, as ones that were successful because they did not “shift the climate of fear” from one group to another, as she and many senators believed Resolution 12S would if passed.

“You have to value perception more than, if not just as much as, you value intention,” she said. “We want safety for everyone. We listen to our Palestinian students; should we not listen to our Israeli students?”

ASUNM senators weren’t the only ones contributing to the dialogue. On multiple occasions they yielded time for additional comments from those in attendance.

The conversation eventually turned into a debate, and then came to resemble a court case, each organization pleading its side, directly addressing the other group and leaving the floor to raucous applause from supporters.

Several backers of the resolution pointed to its urgency, insisting that it was something that simply could not wait. Izzy Mustafa, a Palestinian-American and member of SJP, said that the senators’ concerns were minute in comparison to those who must live in the occupation.

“I will not tolerate people ignoring the plight of our existence,” she said. “There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable on campus and not knowing if you’re going to have a life when you go back home.”

Mustafa was among the most vocal supporters, saying it was imperative the resolution pass, and reciting several anecdotes of human rights violations and cruelty she had witnessed in her home country.

“Think about the people who are closest to you and think about not knowing if you’re ever going to see them again,” she said. “UNM is like home to me, and I don’t want home for me to affect another home.”

Alex Rubin, a senior majoring in economics, said that although the resolution does not claim to target individual students, its direction is implied nonetheless.

“If this vote were to pass, I would no longer feel safe,” he said. “I would no longer feel comfortable as a Jewish student.”

Calzadillas Chavez, one of three senators who sponsored the resolution, proposed an amendment removing two clauses referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that UNM must take part in, citing that as the main source of contention.

It passed, but Balis and Lobos for Israel were not swayed.

“No matter what you strike, the thing is the same,” Balis said. “It’s still calling for BDS even if you don’t talk about it. For that reason we still can’t accept this.”

Sen. Nadia Cabrera eventually expressed her disappointment in how the discussion between senators had gone, questioning the ways they were arriving at certain conclusions.

“I think we’re letting the politics of the people in this room cloud our judgment,” she said.

The resolution had to be called into question six times, meaning the Senate was ready to vote on it, though it usually only takes one or two tries. The vote to call into question requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and multiple times it failed by only one affirmation before the resolution was finally voted on around 9:45 p.m., nearly four hours after the meeting began.

Soon after the vote, SJP’s twitter account, @UNMSJP, tweeted “Divestment resolution failed. 4-14-2. We’ll be back next semester, with an even stronger coalition! #UNMDivest.”

After the vote, Sen. Rebecca Hampton, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, resigned from ASUNM.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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