SG Senate approves divestment again

During the Student Government Senate meeting Tuesday night, senators voted 32-15 in favor of passing a new divestment resolution. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

The Student Government (SG) Senate approved a new divestment resolution under a different categorization, which does not require the signatures of the executive branch leaders.

The new document, also called “In Support of Student Voices,” only requires signatures by Senate President Kristen Truong and Senate President Pro Tempore Danish Hasan. 

The resolution calls for the USF Foundation Board of Trustees to end investments in companies associated with human rights violations against the people of Palestine.

Though the Senate originally passed an identical resolution on Jan. 19, Student Body President Andy Rodriguez and Vice President Michael Malanga vetoed it, stating that it was not within the best interest of the student body. 

During all discussions of the resolution, Hasan presided over the meeting because Truong stepped down.

In an email to the Oracle, Truong explained the conflict of interest that led to her decision not to preside over any such discussions.

“I recommended to remove the resolution and did not accept the motion to add a discussion to override the veto of JB [R] 56-008,” she wrote. “As Senate President and leader of the Legislative branch, I do not believe that Senate is the proper forum to be discussing this topic.”

After failing to override the veto, Sen. Hala Alkattan presented a Senate resolution to the floor also titled “In Support of Student Voices” — written by herself and Sen. Muhammad Imam. 

While this second resolution is identical to its predecessor, it’s new classification as a Senate resolution means that it doesn’t need to go through Malanga or Rodriguez in order to take effect. 

“If 10,000 student voices doesn’t represent an accurate student voice, then what does?” Sen. 

AlaEldean Elmunaier said during the meeting. 

“Let it be known that this is the biggest petition of all the universities in Florida … this resolution is only a non-binding resolution to respectfully request the Foundation to create a transparency committee.”

This passed with a Senate vote of 32-15. However, members of the campus community are still speaking out against the resolution.

“None of this should apply to us on campus – we’re in Tampa,” Sylvie Feinsmith, program director at USF Hillel said. “The only way this should apply to us or be in our lives on campus is in a lecture hall where students are learning both sides, all sides. 

“There’s more than two sides. What’s going on in our senate is the exact opposite of that.”

Feinsmith works with Hillel and has talked with many Jewish students on campus, which has allowed her to get an understanding of how they feel. She and her students heard of the resolution and found it meets the definition of Anti-Semitism as defined by the federal government: delegitimizing, creating double standards and demonizing the Jewish population.

“I saw — our students saw — all three of those things happening in our senate,” Feinsmith said. “So what does a student do? They go, they listen, they bear witness, they share their opinions. Our campus is not a campus that promotes hate. Our campus is not a campus whose values include bigotry.”

SG senator and Vice President of the Student Board at Hillel Jesse Davidson has stood up against the resolution since it was first introduced in the senate meeting on Jan. 19 and has vocally defended his position.

“The reason that this is so polarized and has gotten so much attention, obviously isn’t the part of the resolution that calls for a socially just investment policy, because anybody in their right mind would stand for that,” Davidson said. 

“The reason this is getting so much heat is because it’s focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it’s taking a side whether it means to or not.

The resolution is part of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, regarding which the Florida House passed a resolution against this year. 

That resolution stated the increase in BDS campaigns on college campuses has caused an increase in confrontation, intimidation and discrimination against Jewish students. 

“But in reality, this has degenerated into a conflict between two student organizations and their representation on campus,” Davidson said. “It’s unfortunate because our Student Government is great and shouldn’t be embroiled in something like this, but it is.”

According to the veto, Malanga and Rodriguez believe SG exists to enhance the student experience by providing an opportunity for all students to be heard and represented. 

They said the resolution serves only to divide students and it is not SG’s role to interject into international politics or investment policies.

“I stand by President Rodriguiz’s veto,” Davidson said. “I’m not against a socially just investment policy, I’m not against the voice of the 10,000 students but this is a lot more complicated than that. That’s why I will do everything that I can, every opportunity that comes up, I’m going to advocate against this.”