Uproar at Senate meeting over Palestinian-Israeli divestment presentation

Feb. 20, 2013, 12:46 a.m.

At a meeting that lasted over two and a half hours, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate approved 46 special fees funding bills, gave feedback to representatives of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE) and put a bill on previous notice that, if passed, will urge the Board of Trustees to reevaluate Stanford’s endowment investments.

Almost 20 visitors crowded into the Nitery meeting room to hear the Senate’s decisions on special fees groups and listen to a presentation by Omar Shakir ’07 J.D. ’13, who called for Stanford to divest from companies that “violated international law.”

The Senate voted on funding for groups that had received special fees the previous year and had not requested more than a 7.1 percent budget increase. It also approved several general fees, Publication Board bills and special fees budget modifications.

ASSU Assistant Financial Manager Stephen Trusheim ’13 M.S. ’14 questioned whether the entire Senate had read the funding bills before them thoroughly.

“How many of these have you guys read?” Trusheim asked. “You’re approving $1.9 million in funding right now. I just want to make sure no one is taking this lightly.”

Appropriations Committee Chair Nancy Pham ’14 responded that the six members of the Appropriations Committee had reviewed every funding bill, and noted that the bills were sent out to all senators prior to the meeting. Pham sent out the funding bills at 1 p.m. that afternoon.

All funding bills, with the exception of a $91,000 application from Sunday Flicks, were passed. Pham told senators that while the Appropriations Committee had previously recommended the application for Sunday Flicks, they reconsidered after examining the group’s $9,900 requests for officer salaries.

According to Pham, Sunday Flicks will petition the student body for special fees funding.

During the second half of the meeting, Ralph Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE), visited the Senate to discuss OAPE’s history and mission.

“The University is not at war with alcohol,” Castro said. “We’re at war with the behaviors of high-risk drinking and the related consequences. We’re at war with blackouts, with vomiting, with transports—with the things that people don’t want when they are using alcohol.”

Castro reiterated that the University does not want to completely eliminate alcohol use and that he personally has no issue with social drinking.

“I actually consume alcohol,” Castro said. “I am a successful social drinker. It’s something I’ve aspired to for my whole life, and I’ve achieved it, like nirvana.”

Castro, Assistant Director & Community Engagement Coordinator Angelina Cardona ’11 and Assistant Director & Outreach Education Coordinator Jarreau Bowen ’07 M.A. ’08 answered questions from senators about alcohol initiatives at Wilbur, substance free housing, the OAPE iPhone app and the summer session alcohol policy.

The meeting ended with a presentation by Shakir, founder and co-president of Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER).

Shakir submitted a bill to the Senate that called on the Board of Trustees to reevaluate University investments in several companies, including Riwal, Motorola, Ahava, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Veolia Transport, Mekorot Water Company and Cement Roadstone Holdings.

Shakir claimed that the companies “violate human rights and international law.”

“We don’t presume to be experts on investments and endowments,” he said. “We are not telling the Board of Trustees how to run its shop. Rather, we are calling on them to reevaluate investments in the four sets of activities we talk about.”

Jason Lupatkin ’13 contested Shakir’s assertions, arguing that Shakir lacked credible sources or expertise on the subject.

“If we are going to listen to a history lesson tonight and see maps, it would be in our best interest to have a list of sources,” Lupatkin said.

Shakir said that sources were available on SPER’s website and tried to continue the presentation before being interrupted again.

Other students at the presentation became involved in the argument, forcing Senate Chair Branden Crouch ’14 to call the meeting to order before Shakir could continue. Shakir finished the presentation—amid scoffs from several students dissenting from his claims about Israeli war crimes and discriminatory policies—by asking senators not to shy away from such a contentious topic.

“Sometimes changing significant things in society does lead to a pushback,” Shakir said, “but that doesn’t mean that the middle ground is the right ground.”

After Shakir finished speaking, Crouch allowed a more open student debate. More than 10 students took the opportunity to speak, and at several points Crouch had to remind them about the two-minute speaking limit and ask them not to interrupt each other.

Daniel Bardenstein ’13, who said that he was “pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli,” questioned the accuracy of Shakir’s presentation.

“Typically, that is how this conflict is being portrayed, it’s one side or another, but it’s not that way,” he said. “In terms of historical accuracy, I am embarrassed, as a Stanford student, after watching this [presentation].”

Alon Elhanan ’14, a former senator who said that he identifies with a pro-Israeli perspective, asked to give a presentation at the next Senate meeting before the Senate votes on the bill.

“The idea of divestment from specific companies, it sounds really good, but that was a false narrative,” Elhanan said. “Really, it’s just a global-wide movement to work against Israel.”

Elections Commissioner Brianna Pang ’13, who attended the meeting to observe special fees voting, asked anyone interested in the issue to present his or her concerns at a town hall forum hosted by the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility & Licensing on March 5.

“I think that would be a better forum for you to air your concerns,” Pang said. “I’m not really sure how productive a Senate meeting discussion really is. The advisory panel would love to hear any of these concerns.”

Director of Student Activities and Leadership Nanci Howe agreed and emphasized the responsibility of the investment committee to make a recommendation on the issue.

“I think this conversation is a really good conversation, although I think this issue is a community issue and not a student issue,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of discussion about these issues about divestment and investment, but I haven’t heard a lot of discussion from the Senate about how you want to move forward in looking at these issues.”

However, several students argued for the Senate to examine the issue as representatives of the student body, expressing concern about the lack of credibility that might affect the divestment campaign with a lack of Senate backing.

“We’re not going to get anywhere with the Board of Trustees without you guys,” Joshua Schott ’14 said. “This is why we feel this is the appropriate avenue to approach this panel.”

Though the meeting was closed at 9:30 p.m. because another group had reserved the meeting room, Senator Lauren Miller ’15 said that the discussion will continue in the future.

“I think we do have a lot to think about in terms of how the Senate is going to approach this issue over the next week,” Miller said. “This is something that I don’t think can be decided in the next hour or two to three hours, and I can assure you we will be thinking about this as a Senate over the next week and possibly even longer.”

Login or create an account