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After five hours of tense debate, USG passes divestment resolution in secret vote

Sophie Chang speaks during a January General Assembly meeting. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Following more than five hours of hearing deliberation from the public and Undergraduate Student Government senators, a controversial divestment resolution was passed late Wednesday night in a secret vote.

Despite public opposition, USG  approved the divestment resolution, which will allow student government to create a committee of senators to investigate Ohio State’s investment in companies that might be linked to domestic human rights violations.

The opaque nature of the passing, however, was an issue for some.

The General Assembly passed the resolution by way of “secret ballot,” meaning the vote count will not be released to the public.

“The secret ballot was done so people could hide their vote and vote for something they knew was wrong and their constituents, and the general undergraduate student body, made clear they didn’t want multiple times,” said Nick Davis, a fourth-year in natural resource management.

Davis, in a text message, said students deserve to know the vote count because they are being represented by the senators.

“There are no ‘secret ballots’ in actual government,” he said. “If we’re going to act as a governing body we should follow it 100 percent. It’s shameful.”

The vote count will be released in the USG meeting minutes, Sophie Chang, the vice president, said.

According to USG’s standing rules, if a senator motions for this form of vote, the method must be “recognized and carried out by the presiding officer.” So, once a senator requests a stringent method, Chang must carry out the request.

A preliminary version of the resolution included language asking the university to sever financial ties with specific companies thought to have committed various human rights violations, but the language ultimately proved too controversial to stand.

This is not anti-Semitism disguised as a USG resolution. Suggesting those who are a part of it are part of a global conspiracy against Jewish people is insulting. –  Emma Meersman, fourth-year in public health.

As the senators debated the bill, it seemed as if the resolution was on track to fail. But Maria Humayun, a second-year in international studies and public affairs, proposed a compromise to remove all parts of the resolution that reference international affairs, making the committee research purely focusing on domestic human rights violations.

The motion, now less explicitly linked to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, passed easily.

More than 40 students from the general public gave their thoughts about the resolution, with the majority speaking against it and many citing its anti-Semitic undertones.

“Supporters of this bill will tell you that they are simply asking a committee to be created,” said Jeremy Cronig, a second-year in public policy.It is not simply that. I have looked at this, and it is intentionally dishonest.”

Co-sponsors said they were disappointed the resolution was thought to be anti-Israel.

“This is not anti-Semitism disguised as a USG resolution,” said Emma Meersman, a fourth-year in public health. “Suggesting those who are a part of it are part of a global conspiracy against Jewish people is insulting.”

Ben Kanas, a second-year in public affairs and international studies, was skeptical of this assertion.

“The sponsors state that this resolution is not BDS, then why are you using organizations, as a source, that support BDS?” Kanas asked, referencing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which says its goal is to end what it believes is Israel’s violation of international law.

Before going into final voting for the resolution, Ezequiel Herrera, a third-year in communication and psychology, proposed an amendment to the resolution that said, “USG condemns BDS and all that it stands for.”

The motion failed.

USG is supposed to represent student voices on campus. Tonight, 80 percent of the students who spoke opposed the resolution. – Max Littman, asecond-year in political science

The first round of voting cast by secret ballot resulted in a revote because more votes were cast than senators present. When asked, USG offered no explanation for the discrepancy. This is the first instance in which the 2017-18 General Assembly used the secret voting method, Davis said. Chang said she could not recall whether this was the first time.  

As the clock struck midnight after another round of voting, Chang announced that the resolutions passed.

Why would we continue to push something so controversial when there is such a clear message of opposition on this campus? There has been for the last three years. – Ben Kanas, second-year in public affairs and international studies

After the resolution passed, two senators — Davis and Anthony Long, a second-year in political science began a verbal argument threatening to fight each other on their way out of the Ohio Union.

Davis disputes this occurred.

Although the resolution passed, some USG members were displeased with the outcome, including Max Littman, a second-year in political science, who was acting as an alternate senator.

“USG is supposed to represent student voices on campus. Tonight, 80 percent of the students who spoke opposed the resolution,” Littman said.

Although the senator Littman stood in for was a co-sponsor of the resolution, he decided to vote against it.

Similar divestment resolutions have been discussed three times in USG, but none were successful. A referendum was placed on the ballot in March 2017 that lost by 250 votes, so senators questioned why they are still trying to bring up the same resolutions.

“Why would we continue to push something so controversial when there is such a clear message of opposition on this campus?” Kanas asked. “There has been for the last three years.”

Savannah Sockwell, a sponsor of the bill, clarified earlier in the evening that this was not the same referendum presented during the 2017 vote, citing more research was put into the resolution after Ohio State declined to reveal the companies they invest in.

“[OSU] told us to come up with a more holistic human rights bill. And that’s what this is,” Sockwell, a third-year in public affairs, said. “We researched. This is a whole new bill.”

The resolution for a committee will have to pass through the University Senate before it can move forward.

Update, 1/25 at 9:31: this article has been updated to include Davis’ disputed account.

Update, 1/26 at 2:22 p.m: this article has been updated to include information on the vote count being made available to the public in USG meeting minutes. 

18 comments

  1. “The sponsors state that this resolution is not BDS, then why are you using organizations, as a source, that support BDS?” – Kanas

    Interested that out of the forty plus citations, and issues pertaining to private prisons and Saudi bombings of Yemeni civilians, the anti-BDS drones that flooded the room with non pertinent sob stories ONLY focused on the source discussing human rights violations of Palestinians (as an example). Why is it that the Palestinians on campus must constantly prove their humanity time and time again? Why do they have to deal with hivemind like armies whose soul purpose is to vehemently vomit emotionally-led stories and baseless accusations of anti-Semitism? Do they not grasp that Jews support this resolution?

    The truth of the matter is this: If the Zionists on campus believe that Israel does not commit human rights violations, then why are they so scared of an apolitical senate committee that will investigate all of OSU’s ethical and nonethical investments?

    • -The committee is not apolitical
      -Students are completely under qualified to evaluate the University’s investments
      -Ohio State won’t even allow student’s to see the investments
      -If students were to somehow force OSU to divest from companies, it would hurt the most vulnerable students through loss of scholarships

      PS: Palestine is run by a terrorist organization

  2. “USG is supposed to represent student voices on campus. Tonight, 80 percent of the students who spoke opposed the resolution,” Littman said.

    LOL. I saw all 40 of these people rally near US Bank where they handed out pre-written and laminated speeches like candy for their drones to rehearse. If any of them read the resolution instead, maybe they wouldn’t have been trapped in the same useless cycle of argumentation.

    I’m glad that justice for humanity prevailed. Not surprised that this article is so one-sided, though. One of the many repercussions of speaking truth to power, it seems.

    Last thing: There was no mention of a fight or threats. It was only this loose cannon, Nick Davis. He got triggered after the passing of the resolution, so he decided to run outside and punch the door on the way out like a neanderthal. That’s it. I’m glad he didn’t hurt anyone though.

    • Hi Ed, thanks for your reply to my quote. In fact I was at the rally before and know exactly what happened, students wrote speeches for themselves and all met up together to talk as a group and oppose this together. There is nothing wrong with that and they weren’t in any cycle, they were unique and touching speeches against a terrible resolution.

      Also as someone who was there in the aftermath Nick Davis is by no means a loose canon, he was trying to leave and was being hounded by the pro-BDS crowd who had been jeering him, and me, and yelling at us for hours.

  3. I will legitimately not understand why this is USGs job. This is clearly political, it was defeated last year and Ohio State is not going to divest from Israeli companies. Maybe if they spent more time and resources into things like campus safety and affordability they’d actually accomplish something tangible and make students lives a better place. The fact that they would not pass an amendment saying Israel BDS is not what this is about shows the true spirit behind this bill. The fact is that they claim this is apolitical is insulting to our students intelligence.

    • Katie, maybe if you spent a little more time reading the Resolution you would realize the companies targeted were not even Israeli. They were all American. I personally met with some of the supporters behind this resolution and they in fact support investments in Israeli companies that help promote equality and peace in the region. Please put yourself in the shoes of these marginalized students. I’m sure if you knew your tuition money was being used to support the suffering of your own family and friends, you would supported this resolution in a heart beat.

  4. Since this is about “domestic human rights abuses” does that mean the issue of Israel won’t even be touched? So they’re gonna look at private prisons, maybe the keystone pipeline and …. anything else. That sounds like a rather broad and subjective category. Finding companies that OSU invests in that openly and unapologetically support or are involved in domestic human rights abuses sounds like a phishing expedition to investigate any company you don’t love.. I also don’t know what qualifies undergrads to investigate domestic human right abuses or Osu’s investment policy. That seems like a rather serious task for people that don’t even have a bachelors degree. I hope these committee meetings are going to be done in the open and not through secret votes and discussions. I actually want to know whether Israel is off the table because the BDSers were celebrating and I don’t know what they’d have to celebrate if the Israel Palestine issue is completely off the table. Congrats you created a pointless committee that will get nothing accomplished and it doesn’t even touch your sole issue.

    • This didn’t even create the committee, it asked the university for one to be created. The university will undoubtedly just ignore it.

    • They were celebrating because it’s still a win for their Black and Latino allies, who are mostly affected by the growth of Private prisons and mass incarceration. This is something everyone should be celebrating. Lol the sole issue of the resolution was never about Israel/Palestine. OSU Hillel made it seem that way, when it wasn’t. I still don’t understand why they sent dozens of students to oppose it. Pointing out American companies that violate Palestinian and Yemeni rights will not jeopardize the safety of Jewish students or the security of Israel. The resolution had nothing to do with that.

  5. This honestly makes me embarrassed to be represented through USG. Why vote through a secret ballot if you promised representation and transparency to your constituents….

  6. They are showing their lack of concern for the people.

  7. Campus hasbara squad is big mad today

  8. Why was this a secret vote?

    • I’m guessing to protect their own identity. Unfortunately, if you speak in support of human rights (particularly Palestinian) these days, you are targeted, harassed, called a terrorist sympathizer, and risk the chance of being put on a Blacklist which aims to damage these students’ futures. I don’t blame the senators for asking for a secret ballot. It’s for their own protection and they have the right to do so.

  9. Michael Weinstein, BS, 1991

    I always find it interesting when groups protest Israel and her actions, while completely ignoring human rights violations in places like Saudi Arabia, China, Syria and dozens of other countries. Singling Israel out gives the impressi N that it isn’t about human rights…at all.

    If you have ever been to Israel or even studied it, you would know that the issues are complex, compounded by bad actors on both sides. To blame Israel for all or even most of the problems flies in the face of common sense. Israel nor all Jews are completely innocent in this, however there have been many many moves by the Israeli government and people in order to solve this problem with no cooperation on the other side.

    To claim that this is not political is not intellectually honest.

    • Michael, your comment above indicates your lack of knowledge on the resolution that was presented. But I don’t blame you. The author of this article did a horrible job covering the entire story.

      The resolution did not single out Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. It in fact targeted companies that profit off of Saudi Arabia’s bombardment in Yemen too. And Human rights violations are STILL human rights violations regardless of which government is responsible whether thats Israel, China, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia. But these specific human rights violations were targeted because there are students at OSU that are directly impacted and concerned their tuition money is being invested in such companies. If Asian students, for example, are concerned their university is invested in corporations that profit of off human rights violations in their home countries, they have every right to present a resolution asking for divestment.

  10. Disappointed Alumnus

    I am extremely disappointed that this governing body would push through legislation that is so controversial and divisive. The senators who voted for this should ask themselves if this is really in the best interest of every student and if it will end up creating more problems than it solves down the road. What a shame.

  11. How will this create more problems? Sounds like a great accomplishment to me. Great job USG!

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