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News / Northwest

Gonzaga students ask university to cut financial ties to Israel

By Garrett Cabeza, The Spokesman-Review
Published: May 2, 2024, 7:40am

SPOKANE — Arrests, encampments and some violence marred recent pro-Palestine protests across the country, but a Wednesday afternoon demonstration at Gonzaga University was short, peaceful and without a police officer in sight.

More than 100 students, faculty, staff and community members chanted, “Free Palestine,” and, “Divest now,” as they marched through campus calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

They also called on Gonzaga to disclose the university’s investment portfolio, withdrawal from the Inland Northwest Consortium, end study abroad programs in Israel, cut all ties with Boeing Co. and to divest from arms manufacturers, defense stocks and all companies that support what protesters called “Israeli apartheid,” according to a news release from the “GU Community for Justice in Palestine,” which led the protest.

In recent weeks, students across the country, including from Washington State University and the University of Idaho, have demanded their universities disclose their investments and divest from corporations with financial ties to Israel and who protesters feel are complicit in the killing of thousands of Palestinians.

Latinos en Spokane also marched Wednesday in downtown Spokane as part of a “May Day March” that celebrated immigrants, workers and called for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The Inland Northwest Consortium sports a massive list of about 50 contributing organizations that range from elected bodies, like the cities of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, educators like Gonzaga University and Spokane Public Schools, and manufacturers, such as Boeing, Lochkeed Martin, Raytheon/Collins, Avista and Advanced Thermoplastics Composites (ATC) Manufacturing.

The organization’s stated goal is to have the region named one of the 20 Tech Hub designations that would open it up to $500 million in federal funds that were authorized in 2023 through the Economic Development Administration. The Tech Hub regions are those that provide development and production of advanced aerospace materials with a stated goal of reducing American reliance on foreign-produced composites, according to a Gonzaga news release in 2023.

Kevin Pinkelman, a Gonzaga sophomore and organizer, said Gonzaga has connections to Boeing, which has manufactured products arming Israel for years, through academic programs and investments.

In response to the protest, the university said in a statement: “In keeping with the Mission Statement of Gonzaga University, it is the intention of the Investment Policy to promote the basic moral values of fairness, respect for human life, defense of human rights, care for the environment, and social justice. Members of our community have asked the Investment Committee to disclose the investment portfolio and divest from arms manufacturers and Israeli-backed corporations. The administration will share these requests with the University’s Board of Trustees and Investment Committee.”

Protesters started the demonstration by gathering in a circle at Herak Lawn.

Organizers read their letter of demands, led a moment of silence for the over 34,000 Palestinians who have died in the Gaza war and encouraged protesters to post a prewritten tweet, called a “Twitter storm,” demanding Gonzaga to “disclose and divest.”

Holding signs like “End all U.S. aid to Israel,” “Cease fire now” and “Gonzaga is not innocent,” protesters walked and chanted through campus before halting at College Hall, where President Thayne McCulloh and other administrators work.

Organizers handed a letter of the demands to Kent Porterfield, vice provost for student affairs, at the entrance steps to the building.

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Lucy Kramer, Gonzaga senior and organizer, said she was excited by Wednesday’s turnout.

“I hope that this means that the administration can take us more seriously,” Kramer said.

Juliana Maucione, a Gonzaga student who led chants on a megaphone, called the number of protesters “really inspiring.”

“It shows a large group of solidarity on campus and a growing pressure being put on administration to make these changes and make a stand for Palestine and peace,” Maucione said.

Pinkelman said they will continue to protest and make their voices heard until Gonzaga meets their demands.

“We’re supposed to be a Jesuit, social justice, humanistic institution, but the actions, especially the financial actions of the upper-level administration, couldn’t be more far divorced from the values they claim to uphold in the mission statement,” Pinkelman said.

He said he has confidence universities will divest from weapons manufacturers.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Gonzaga will divest,” Pinkelman said. “It’s not if, it’s when.”