Looking back at Loyola’s controversial Measure 352
By: Samuel Israel
When you picture student government, you probably think of noncontroversial responsibilities such as event planning and creating budgets for student organizations. But when Loyola’s student government passed a recent measure to encourage the university’s administration to divest from corporations associated with Israel, it created a fissure on campus that unnerved students within the Loyola student body.
Looking back on it all, Zahra Nasser, an executive member of Students for Justice in Palestine, which put forward the measure, and a refugee of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, recalled the whole event with a tone of fatigue and conviction.
“When it passed unanimously we were all surprised, but to say the least we were happy and we were relieved,” Nasser said. “We were proud, we were definitely proud.”
It’s an interesting thing to watch a conflict unfold with two sides believing that they are in the complete right. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an issue that is considered both sensitive and complicated, the Loyola student body heard more discussion than usual about the issue in March.
When word got out that the student government’s senate had passed the measure, editorials, blog posts, and social media comments flooded the web extolling the possibility of Loyola University Chicago becoming the first campus in Illinois to possibly divest from Israel.
The measure, known as Measure 352, was designed to urge the Loyola administration to divest from corporations associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as Sodastream and Caterpillar. Some student senators felt like they did the right thing by passing the measure, while others felt like something went awry.
“People have been hurt by this legislation,” said student Senator Matthew Kugler. “Everyone wants justice, but this has alienated a significant part of the Loyola community.”
Due to this backlash, Loyola’s student government President Pedro Guerro decided that it would be best to use his executive powers to veto the measure and give it more thorough discussion.
His action allowed representatives of the student body to speak in front of a packed audience, something that is quite the rarity.
Students both for and against the measure packed the Senate’s March 25 meeting, when an aura of passion and tension could be felt in the Loyola University Student Union. While the meeting lasted for more than four hours, watching the two sides argue their points was simultaneously nerve-wracking and beautiful.
“I define justice as being able for both sides to determine their own destiny,” said Loyola University Chicago student and former Israeli Defense Force Member Talia Sobel.
Sobel was one of six students who spoke on the measure. As the students gave their opinions both for and against the resolution to divest, audience members smiled in approval or snickered in disgust as arguments were opened up and comments were traded.
“It took a fearless group of people to stand up for what they believed in.” said a speaker in favor of the measure. “Just because the bill has generated controversy doesn’t mean it should be ignored.”
But to many within the student body, this measure felt like an offense to their religion and culture. Because the writers of the measure were not even aware if Loyola had any money within these corporations to begin with, some felt like this was a blanket condemnation rather than a move toward responsible investing.
“The resolution did not encompass other countries doing human rights abuses. And that was the whole point of this resolution, that this was a human rights abuse,” said Loyola student, and member of Hillel, Adam Mogilevsky. “However, both Israel and Palestine are not doing right things. I don’t want anybody representing me who feels that this is not an attack on Israel, because it is.”
After weeks of debate, on April 1 a divided student senate retained Guerro’s veto. Some students called the decision cowardly, while others called it justice.
Despite the massive student campaign around this measure, everyone knew that the university officials wouldn’t put it into effect from the beginning.
The day after the bill passed, a rushed university board sent an email to every member of Loyola staff stating: “Loyola University Chicago has not adopted a resolution calling for the University to withdraw or refrain from investing in certain companies providing products and services in Israel.”
With such a message being set in stone, executive members of Student for Justice in Palestine were discouraged, but still hopeful.
“It’s disheartening,” Nasser said with a sigh. “It’s disappointing, especially when you hear your administration tell you that this will never be adopted even if Senate passes it.”
While the measure was a non-binding proposal from student senators, perhaps its greatest impact on campus was the conversation it started and is still continuing.
Right after the measure passed the student senate, social media began crawling with statements both for and against this measure, some using the hashtag #loyoladivest on their Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses.
“There are short-term goals and there are long-term goals,” Nasser said. “Our short-term goal was to bring about awareness and to bring about discussion, and there hasn’t been a single class where I haven’t heard the word divestment come up. Our long-term goals, not yet.”
While Nasser’s comments and disappointment signaled that discussion on this issue would be far from over, I couldn’t help thinking that both of us breathed a sigh of relief.
For weeks, I listened to the participants on both sides of the debate with a definite bias. With a father who served in the Israeli Defense Forces and a twin sister who is on her way to serving in the IDF as well, my first intention was to stand up in protest of this measure. I did not want Loyola to have a measure that insinuated that my twin sister was a monster.
However, I knew that writing an editorial about why Israel should be unquestionably supported would not help enhance the discussion concerning divestment at Loyola, nor would it help bring peace to the Middle East. I decided that it would be best not to write an opinion piece, but to challenge myself to present a story that illustrated what happened at Loyola.
In retrospect, I have come to truly believe that all parties involved in the creation and eventual dissolution of the measure had the intent to do good. In particular, a conversation has begun that challenges all of us to listen to the voice not heard and reflect upon what social justice really means to each of us. I hope that what I have provided here not only gives an explanation of this complicated and emotional conflict, but also brings a bit of space for us to breathe and to think about what happened here on our campus.