Western U president suggests divestment from Israel not possible as encampment continues – London | Globalnews.ca

The president and vice-chancellor of Western University in London, Ont., has issued a statement roughly three weeks into a pro-Palestinian encampment on university grounds, in which he suggests that a principal demand from protestors is not feasible.

Protestors under the group Western Divestment Coalition, like their counterparts at campuses across North America, have been calling on Western to divest from Israel-connected funds in light of the ongoing conflict in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

President Alan Shepard said in the open letter to the entire Western community that the institution’s investments are publicly available and that it does not invest directly into companies but rather through pooled funds curated by external fund managers.

“Assuming divestment was possible, many experts have argued that this approach would have limited to no impact on the issues at hand – while at the same time requiring organizations like universities to dismantle their entire investment model to address a very small percentage of assets,” Shepard writes.

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“At the same time, Western’s longstanding commitment to responsible investing grows stronger each year and in 2023 we became a signatory to the United Nations-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), joining a global initiative to advance responsible investment practices.”

Click to play video: 'Tensions rising over Canadian campus protest encampments'

Tensions rising over Canadian campus protest encampments

The Western Divestment Coalition, however, points to the PRI as well as the university’s own Policy 2.26 which includes a section on responsible investing that outlines that while engagement is preferred over divestment, “divestment will be considered where engagement has failed or is not feasible.”

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In regards to partnerships with other academic institutions, Shepard’s letter states that Western “will not hold academic colleagues accountable for the decisions of their government.”

Shepard also noted that universities typically do not take unilateral stances on political or social issues because  “by our very nature, universities do not speak with one voice.”

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The coalition noted that just two years ago the university issued a statement in solidarity with Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Shepard’s letter states that the university’s goal is to “end this unlawful encampment safely and soon” and that amnesty will be provided to students participating in the encampment, provided they “respect the bounds of peaceful and lawful protest.”

Click to play video: 'McGill encampment: university holds graduation ceremonies off campus'

McGill encampment: university holds graduation ceremonies off campus

If organizers agree to end the encampment and to refrain from disrupting convocations, Shepard said Western will: agree to a meeting with three or four student representatives; continue its commitment to investment transparency; implement a process for Western community members to express investment concerns; develop and educational speaker series on Israel and Palestine; create a committee to develop a framework for international partnerships; increase its Global Students and Scholars at Risk Program financial support; and use central communications channels to feature stories of students impacted by war.

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The letter ends by condemning encampment participants who have “crossed the line” by intimidating visitors, harassing campus community members, committing acts of vandalism and engaging in “assaultive behaviour” towards staff.

In a response posted to Instagram, the coalition argues that the proposals “fail to address any of the critical concerns expressed by students” and that none of the seven components “contain any mechanisms for accountability.”

It also calls Shepard’s allegations of protestor behaviour as unfair and “in direct contradiction of testimonies by the broader community” but adds that the coalition remains “open to dialogue.”

— With files from Alessia Simona Maratta

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