Throughout the semester, members of USF’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have been canvassing the campus, collecting signatures for a petition to bring to USF administrators.
They hope to ask the university to withdraw some of the USF Foundation’s investments from management funds and re-invest them in more “ethical” corporations.
According to SJP, the petition has now received more than 9,500 signatures from USF students, faculty and staff.
Just shy of its goal of 10,000 students, the petition will seek to make the USF Foundation stop investing in various management funds, which then invest them in individual corporations involved in what USF SJP President Ahmad Saadaldin said were human rights violations against the Palestinian people.
These corporations, such as Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, G4S PLC, Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grunman Corporation, are suppliers for weapons in technologies used in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, Saadaldin said.
“Every country has the right to self-defense, so for (these corporations) to provide weapons to a country wanting self-defense, this is not the problem we have,” he said. “Our question is should our university be investing millions of dollars in these companies that produce this kind of equipment that essentially kills people.”
Saadaldin said the petition also asks for the formation of a committee to issue public reports to educate the community on how the endowment is invested.
“We’re asking for transparency in the endowments so that it’s easier to locate human rights violations elsewhere and also establish this human rights and environmental investment stream,” he said.
Through more transparency, Saadaldin said he hopes they can find if USF is investing in other corporations that are part of human rights violations and divest in them.
“We recognize the Palestinian people have been oppressed and they are having their rights violated and we found our university is linked to in an extent by investing in companies and corporations which are committing the acts against Palestinians,” Malak Fakhoury, an SJP member and a sophomore majoring in psychology, said. “We decided that divestment would be the most practical approach in having a useful effect in ending the problems.”
Fakhoury said 9,553 signatures had been collected on paper as of Sunday night.
“Hopefully 10,000 – one-fourth of the student population – is significant enough to listen to,” she said.
Fakhoury and Saadaldin said SJP worked with a number of student groups on campus, starting in early February, and organized petitions online as well as creating a two-minute video illustrating USF’s investments and the need for divestment.
Last spring, SJP tried to have a similar opinion voiced by the university through a referendum on the ballot for student body general elections. Though the referendum was added to the ballot after 2,500 students signed a petition in favor of it, it was not approved and removed by SG after the election ended.
“It was just awful for us and all the students who signed it,” Saadaldin said. “I’ve lost entire faith in our Student Government. It’s not so much whether you agree with the movement or not, but give us the right to speak.”
Before the results of last year’s general election were announced, former student body president Brian Goff sent an email to students stating the referendum was “not advertised” properly to students and was SG’s decision to remove it.
“Our Student Government hasn’t, and won’t, take a stance on international politics that is well beyond our means,” he wrote.
According to an email regarding the removal of the referendum sent last spring, Associate General Counsel Joanne Adamchak said at the time, the referendum violated Florida statutes which outline prohibited political activity, such as attempts to “to coerce, command and advise any such officer or employee as to where he or she might purchase commodities.”
Adamchak did not reply to The Oracle’s requests for interview regarding this year’s petition, but USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman sent an email stating she was not available for an interview and “there is nothing additional to add at this time.”
In another email, Freeman responded on behalf of USF Foundation spokesman Jay Wilson, stating the Foundation can’t respond to the petition before it is received.
“If and when a petition is presented to the Foundation, we will review and consider it,” the email stated.
Fakhoury said SJP members plan to present the petition to the USF Foundation Board of Trustees before a board meeting on June 3.