This week, students at DePaul University are voting on a referendum urging the university to withdraw investments from corporations profiting from Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine.
The ballot measure is part of a greater campaign organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and at least fifteen other campus groups who wish to end DePaul’s complicity in further endangering the rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Dozens of students and allied community members have canvassed DePaul’s campus since the weekend. However, in what was expected to be a week of fair and honest campaigning, opposition to the referendum has grown — not in size but in hostility.
According to multiple reports from organizers and onlookers, opposition members actively impersonating members of the pro-Palestine community and proclaiming to represent the Palestinian community at large have deceptively spoken on behalf of Palestinian organizers and falsified information about the DePaul Divest campaign to convince students and campus community members alike to vote no on the divestment issue.
The spread of misinformation can be traced back to the previous week when sources within the opposition made a series of vicious accusations against SJP members and other DePaul Divest organizers. Among the accusations include the allegation that DePaul Divest seeks to cut funding to Jewish student organizations, and that the referendum itself is based on fabricated evidence of the university’s investments. Supporters of DePaul Divest, Palestinians and Jews alike, responded to the allegations through public statements as well as with a feature op-ed in DePaul’s campus paper.
But to SJP organizers, these libelous tactics only serve to distract them from campaigning. Some opposition members have reportedly gone as far as attempting to shame Jewish students for their support of divestment.
The malicious misrepresentation of their campaign isn’t the only thing SJP members and their allies have had to face. Whereas DePaul Divest is a grassroots effort depending entirely on student, alumni, and community member support, opposition to the referendum largely stems from a core of nearly three dozen paid members from StandWithUs, a national advocacy group known for its virulent anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim stance. In 2009, it was publicly revealed that StandWithUs received funding from identifiably Islamophobic organizations.
Considering the stance StandWithUs takes on Palestine, it came as no surprise to DePaul Divest organizers when opposition members confronted and, in some cases, verbally harassed pro-divestment canvassers. One DePaul student, who we have chosen to keep anonymous to protect her identity, was told that the Israeli-executed massacre that depopulated her family’s village in Palestine in 1948 simply did not happen, despite documented evidence that it did.
Other intimidation tactics are less verbal and more physical. Numerous students have complained of anti-divestment canvassers tailing them with cameras, taking down DePaul Divest displays and posters, and intentionally defacing sidewalk “chalked” advertisements drawn by SJP organizers.
Each of these strategies is explicitly designed to marginalize Palestinian voices on campus and to intimidate the public into voting against the student referendum. Students and campaign organizers call on the university to investigate these matters further.
Despite the sabotage attempt, SJP organizers report that their efforts have been well-received on campus. On Tuesday, DePaul Divest held a public sit-in at DePaul’s Schmitt Academic Center. Professors, students, and supporters were invited to lead teach-ins on the occupation of Palestine, the depopulation of over 400 Palestinian villages between 1947 and 1949, and current efforts to challenge Israel’s continued settlement building in defiance of international law.
The following day, allied students and community members were met with loud applause after they unrolled a 70-foot long Palestinian flag from the top floor of a campus building to show their support for the DePaul Divest campaign.
Both sides of the referendum vote will continue canvassing throughout the evening and into Friday.
To learn more about DePaul Divest, visit their Facebook page.