Monday, May 20, 2024

Activists support Strike for Rafah movement, call for divestment

May 10, 2024
<p>Demonstrators hold Palestinian flags, banners and signs during the Spartan Strike for Rafah in East Lansing on May 10, 2024.</p>

Demonstrators hold Palestinian flags, banners and signs during the Spartan Strike for Rafah in East Lansing on May 10, 2024.

MSU faculty members and student organizations gathered in downtown East Lansing Friday morning in support of the Global Strike for Rafah movement and to continue to call for MSU to divest from Israel. 

The rally was organized by the Hurriya Coalition of 20 organizations. The group marched through campus to the Hannah Administration Building, where activists assembled on the steps of the building and called for divestment. 

Comparative cultures and politics senior Jesse Estrada-White said the demonstrators made the decision to move the rally to the Hannah Administration Building in order to get the attention of University President Kevin Guskiewicz, as well as other MSU administrators. 

“We're not going to let the Board of Trustees continue business as usual until they divest," Estrada-White said.

Associate Professor of Sociology Stephen Gasteyer said the activists rallied in support of the Global Strike for Rafah movement. 

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The strike encourages people to participate in an economic boycott, according to an email sent out to members of the coalition: 

“The global strike asks people of conscious around the world to do the following:

  1. Do not work 
  2. Do not purchase any goods or services
  3. Do not make any transactions on your debit/ credit card”

“What brings us out is concern about a humanitarian crisis that is perpetrated as a result of a war campaign against the people of Gaza,” Gasteyer said. 

Associate Linguistics Professor Brahim Chakrani said “devastation has already displaced refugees” to Rafah.

“We have to understand that the people that are right now in South Gaza are already refugees; they've been refugees. Now, their houses are being bombed — the houses are obliterated right now,” he said. 

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Gasteyer said the group is marching as a part of Global Support for Rafah, but the protest “does come in the context of the push to try to get Michigan State University to divest.” 

“The reality is that, right now, all of the money that is funding Michigan State University is tied up in investments that are literally fueling the armaments that are perpetuating this conflict and perpetuating this genocide,” Gasteyer said. 

According to the MSU Investment Office, the University currently has $236,114 invested in Israeli aid.

As of June 2023, MSU also has $218.1 million invested in BlackRock funds and $363.8 million in BNY Mellon, which Estrada White said “is helping to fund the genocide right now.” 

The MSU Faculty Senate previously voted against a proposal to divest from Israel with a 33-16 vote in mid-March. 

According to previous reporting from The State News, Assistant Vice President of Financial Management Jeff Rayis said MSU does not alter investment manager’s portfolios and the funds in Israeli bonds are not used for military purposes. 

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Gasteyer said that “it is scary for financial managers to try to think about how to get money no longer wrapped up in these things” and that “there is a natural fiscal conservatism that leads institutions to be hesitant about divestment.” 

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He said there has been a precedent of MSU divesting from South Africa in 1978, however. 

“Michigan State University has a beautiful history of being the first major public institution to have divested from the apartheid system in South Africa,” Gasteyer said. “We could either maintain this proud tradition as a university that became celebrated across Africa for standing up for what is right, or we can continue to be complicit in a genocide that is happening before our eyes.” 

Chakrani said that the purpose of their protest is “to have the University align with the conscience of the international community.” 

“We want the University to not have any type of relationship with this genocide and not to be part of it or not to contribute to it in any way, shape or form,” Chakrani said. 

Estrada-White said the group is focused on putting pressure on local forces. 

“We are best in solidarity with the Palestinian people, when we are pushing our local elected officials, our local politicians and our local institutions to actually take a stand against apartheid and genocide,” Estrada-White said.  

He said the turnout for this rally was “almost unheard of” after the end of the spring semester and the activists plan on calling for divestment at an upcoming Board of Trustees meeting in June. 

“We’re energized,” he said. “There's momentum right now, and we’re going to keep the momentum going.” 

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