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Friday, March 01, 2024

UW-Madison’s student government passes controversial divestment legislation

After a month of debates, walkouts and lawsuits, UW-Madison’s student government unanimously passed wide-ranging divestment legislation Wednesday—but an amendment naming Israel was once again the main point of contention.

The legislation calls on the university and the UW Foundation to divest from a variety of companies, including specific arms manufacturers, fossil fuel corporations and banks that “oppress marginalized communities.” Proponents of the legislation championed it as a way to recognize and help oppressed groups.

“I’m glad that communities of color and marginalized students had their voices heard,” Associated Students of Madison Rep. Katrina Morrison said after the vote. “They didn’t allow themselves to be silenced. This was a really needed resolution and it said a lot of important things, and it raised awareness to a lot of devastating issues.”

But while many in the room cheered the legislation and the added amendments, Rep. Ariela Rivkin—who walked out of the meeting early—said she felt blindsided when Israel was again brought up.

She said the amendments made the proposal too similar to the legislation that was indefinitely tabled a month ago, and this was the second meeting excluding the Jewish community.

“It was undemocratic to hold a vote knowing full well that people would not be there in attendance,” Rivkin said. “Nobody on this body gets to decide at what point that information stopped being relevant to the Jewish community. Nobody.”

Morrison said she, ASM Chair Carmen Goséy and Rep. Tyriek Mack drafted a one-page resolution in a scramble to introduce different divestment legislation before the 23rd session of ASM concluded.

Most of the speakers at the open forum said they support divestment, but were frustrated by this “watered-down legislation.” They urged representatives to expand the one-page document.

Shared Governance Chair Omer Arain, co-sponsor of the legislation tabled at the March 29 meeting, agreed with the concern, saying the new legislation did not “accurately acknowledge ... the affected communities that are actually suffering as a result of this.”

This was not a uniform opinion among the body, though. The amendment that included Israel in the divestment resolution not only led to Rivkin leaving, but also Rep. Diego Villegas.

“On a personal note, I think from watching what happened in that room tonight, it was quite obvious that they had individual targets, myself included,” Rivkin said. “I felt like my Jewish identity didn’t count—for anything. I take great pride in my Jewish identity. I definitely felt targeted as a Jew in that room, and that’s pretty shameful.”

University officials quickly released a statement after the vote, strongly condemning the legislation and emphasizing that it “will not result in a change in [the university’s] approach” for policies or practices.

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“We are concerned that the actions taken tonight appear to violate a ruling of the Student Judiciary; Jewish members of student government, who raised this issue with the Student Judiciary, walked out of the meeting after expressing concerns that the process was undemocratic and not transparent,” UW-Madison officials said.

Several ASM representatives and proponents of the legislation have already criticized the university's response on social media. 

Although many, including the university and Rivkin, viewed the divestment as a politicized issue, Arain argued that the legislation does not mean that ASM is taking a stance on any of these.

“This was really about transparency. We didn’t really know what UW foundations invest in and that’s first and foremost what needs to be done. It was kind of mentioned, if we’re invested in it, then we’re complicit,” Arain said. “I think that’s important to recognize that we’re not necessarily taking a stance on issues.”

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