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Activists continue protests following MSU's decision not to divest

April 12, 2024
Three students carry a large flag urging the MSU Board of Trustees to divest funds from Israel during a protest at the Hannah Administration Building on April 12, 2024.
Three students carry a large flag urging the MSU Board of Trustees to divest funds from Israel during a protest at the Hannah Administration Building on April 12, 2024.

The months-long call for Michigan State University to divest from Israel and weapons manufacturers reached a turning point in February when the Board of Trustees promised to conduct a review of the university's financial holdings.

But at this morning's board meeting, trustee and board finance committee chair Sandy Pierce announced a new twist: the committee will review its financial investments but will not consider "divestment of any kind."

The update did not surprise or stop the dozens of student and faculty protesters from continuing their activism during and after the meeting. 

Dozens of students throughout the meeting held signs reading "DIVEST NOW," at one point erupting in a chant. Over a dozen students, faculty and alumni addressed the board during public comment to call for divestment.

After the meeting ended, roughly 30 students marched to the Cowles House to continue their protest.

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Waseem El-Rayes, an associate professor in James Madison College, told the trustees that 28 of his family members in Gaza were killed by Israel's bombardment and several others he had lost contact with.

"Some likely remain under the rubble of their homes, like the thousands of missing Gazans who are not counted among the dead," El-Rayes said.

He admonished MSU for the money it has invested in Israeli bonds.

"Astonishingly, our own university also profits from the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza," El-Rayes said.

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As of June 30, 2023, MSU has $218.1 million invested in three BlackRock funds: BlackRock Emerging Companies, BlackRock Strategic and BlackRock Systematic China Absolute Return, according to the MSU list of investments. Advocates for divestment argue that those investments, alongside an additional $363.8 million invested in BNY Mellon, are funding weapons manufacturers involved in the Israel-Hamas war. 

Additionally, MSU has $236,114 invested in Israeli aid as well as $479,006 invested in weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin. 

MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion said that while MSU does own U.S. treasury bonds that were issued to fund Israeli aid, "the university purchased these bonds in March 2023, well before the current conflict."

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But even if MSU did decide to pull out of the Israeli bond, doing so would be "chaotic," Assistant Vice President of Financial Management Jeff Rayis told The State News in February.

Financial experts say the complex web of outside asset managers and contractually-bound investments put the university in a bind — without much control over its own endowment.

President Kevin Guskiewicz told reporters after the meeting that the university is "doing everything to protect the endowment and our financial investments from any political influence."

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Jesse Estrada White, a comparative culture and politics junior and organizer with Sunrise MSU, said that not divesting is a political choice of its own.

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"All money has a political nature to it," Estrada White told The State News. "There is funding genocide, and there is not funding genocide. And they're making the active choice to keep funding genocide."

Rylee Warner, a chemistry junior, said the board’s initial decision to review its investments gave "fleeting hope."

"But when you decided not to divest, I felt a lot of emotions: shame, frustration, hopelessness," Warner said. "But I realized I wasn't surprised that you let us down again."

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Hadeel Rass, environmental engineering senior, told the board it was profiting off of deaths in Gaza.

"Every dead body in Gaza is a return on your investment," Rass said. "So when we say divest, now we are not asking you, we are warning you. Because as quickly as those stocks rose, they will fall even quicker."

Salah Hassan, director of Global Studies in the arts and humanities, called on the board and provest to "consider creating educational initiatives that focus specifically on Palestine, that are based on Palestinian perspectives and experience and come from the students in the faculty who have expertise and knowledge in these areas."

He said there's a belief that MSU's Arab and Muslim community poses a threat to faculty and students.

"In fact, we live under a constant threat that we will be attacked and may lose our jobs if we speak out on this issue," Hassan said, referring to Gaza. "We're seeing people get killed and then we're being accused of being the threat."

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