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Pro-Palestinian protestors are calling for UNM to “disclose and divest” from its investments in Israel, but what would that look like?

A chalk message written by Pro-Palestine protestors on the University of New Mexico campus reads, "
Nash Jones
/
KUNM
A chalk message written by Pro-Palestine protestors on the University of New Mexico campus on Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024.

Pro-Palestinian protestors on college campuses have taken up “Disclose and divest” as a rallying cry.

The ask is for universities to stop sending money to entities that stand to profit from the war in Gaza, and to make more information about their finances public so it’s clear what those investments are.

KUNM’s Megan Myscofski spoke with Ernesto Longa, a University of New Mexico law librarian who is helping to organize faculty and students calling for divestment. He says that there’s precedent at UNM for this.

ERNESTO LONGA: In 1985, the University of New Mexico made a commitment to a complete divestment from apartheid South Africa. It was supported by a coalition of students and community organizations.

But probably more importantly, it was supported by the UNM president at the time, Tom Farer. He was a human rights attorney, and had served on the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and he suggested a standard to inform considerations of divestment at the time.

Amongst those considerations, where do our investments foster violations of fundamental human rights or violations of international law? And further, he asks, do our investments support regimes that practice apartheid or commit genocide?

And so following the lead of President Farer, the regents directed its finance committee to look into UNM investments in South Africa. Quickly afterwards, the regents unanimously adopted a divestment resolution.

This divestment resolution serves as the kind of basis and informs the current ask of divestment. Ultimately, UNM completed its divestment from South African apartheid in just 13 months.

KUNM: Tell me more about what's being called for here, now in terms of divestment from Israel. 

LONGA: I think, similar to the divestment from apartheid South Africa, the hopes are for a kind of complete divestment. What the investment is, is the challenge.

It's the Board of Regents that are charged with management and control of the university. Investment decisions are governed by an investment policy that's approved by the Board of Regents. So, the Board of Regents has the capacity and the authority to consider proposals for divestment.

I can tell you what we know right now – it doesn't take us very far in terms of the endowment funds, investments. Some of this material is readily available on the foundation's website. Details of the foundation's investments include a kind of distribution across categories. So, for example, we know that half of its investments are in domestic and international equity.

The foundation has provided a list on its website of all the funds, for example, mutual index hedge funds, and such, that they're invested in by these categories. But what's not reported on their website is exactly what our financial links are beyond, you know, our ties to those funds.

So, to companies and governments that support Israeli apartheid or occupation, and its other violations of international law, that we cannot get at simply by the records that have been provided to date by the foundation.

KUNM: Can you talk a little bit about what those companies are? Like, for example, here in New Mexico, we certainly are no strangers to weapons manufacturers, that's part of our economy. Is that also part of this? 

LONGA: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, certainly, there's some really decent lists online, the the American Friends Service Committee has a really thorough and detailed list of, you know, US-based corporate entities, as well as other international companies that are thought to be directly supporting through weapons manufacturing or other means.

This goes back to the issue about the need for transparency. And maybe I'll shift gears a little and just talk about more broadly, what we believe is the necessity at this time for institutional leadership rather than the position that our current leadership has advanced, which is one of institutional neutrality.

Institutional leadership, we believe, would necessitate the convening of a public forum or some kind of special regents meeting to discuss UNM investments policy. This will require a kind of commitment to radical transparency, a willingness to convene a public forum or special regents meeting to answer questions like, what are UNM’s financial relations to Israel, in companies that support Israeli apartheid occupation and now, according to the International Court of Justice, a plausible genocide in Gaza.

UNM holds KUNM’s license but has no input on our editorial content. This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Megan Myscofski is a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.
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