Earlier this month, the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) made history by successfully passing an expansive disinvestment bill through the student government.
The bill, which passed 35-17-7, calls for CWRU to “fully divest its assets in Israeli apartheid, the international military-industrial complex, and the international prison-industrial complex”. It goes on to describe the apartheid conditions Palestinians are subjected to, including the forced displacement and subsequent establishment of illegal settlements in the militarily occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the blockade of the Gaza Strip that severely limits the movement of vital goods, and the unjust detention, torture, and killing of much of the population. It also points to recent reports from mainstream human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, and Israel’s own B’tselem as support.
According to a source closely involved with the bill, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, a major factor in its success was its sponsorship by a large coalition of campus clubs. These included environmentalist clubs, feminist clubs, identity-specific clubs such as the Black Student Union, and more. To build this coalition, SJP gave presentations to various clubs and then asked if they would sign on as a sponsor.
“Of course it’s important to focus primarily on what Palestinians have been saying for 74 years,” said the source. “Which is that they’ve been living under a segregationist apartheid state that’s ethnically cleansed them from most of their homeland, but the use of other voices is also very helpful in passing these bills because people tend to sweep the voices of Palestinians under the rug.”
The CWRU SJP has been trying to pass similar bills since at least 2018. In their first attempt, SJP failed to get the bill up for a vote. In 2021, the bill went up for a vote but failed to gain a majority. Opponents proposed their own bill and spent the time allotted for discussing SJP’s bill discussing their own, leading to confusion when it came time to vote.
Following their prior defeats, SJP made multiple changes to the original bill. One change included the addition of calling for disinvestment of companies involved in the international military and prison-industrial complexes as opposed to focusing solely on companies operating in illegally occupied Palestine. This helped to preemptively counter the common zionist talking point that Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) bills “unjustly single out Israel”. Another change included calling for the school to conduct an investigation into whether companies it works with are complicit in war crimes, private prisons, or Israeli apartheid prior to disinvestment.
The day after the vote, CWRU President Eric Kaler condemned the resolution by calling it naive, claiming that many of its clauses were irrelevant, claiming it “undoubtedly promotes anti-semitism”, and smearing the members of the student government that voted in favor of the bill as conducting “aggression towards the Jewish members of our community”. Kaler’s statement was swiftly condemned by the editorial board of CWRU’s student newspaper The Observer, which called the remarks “reckless and ill-considered”. The Cleveland chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, also condemned the president’s statement as being “dishonest, dangerous and defamatory”.
The fight for divestment at CWRU is far from over, given the administrations clear aversion to democracy.
As socialists, we must stand in solidarity with the students of CWRU, and of people everywhere, who speak out against colonial crimes. We must rigorously oppose all attacks on this solidarity, no matter if they come from powerful members of our communities or from within the socialist movement itself.
From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!