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UNLV president: No plans to divest from investments in Israel

Updated June 4, 2024 - 7:35 pm

UNLV President Keith Whitfield in a statement Sunday refuted earlier assertions that UNLV was considering releasing details about the university’s assets invested in firms with ties to Israel and divesting from them.

“I met with several groups near the end of the spring semester regarding the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza to hear their concerns and perspectives,” Whitfield said. “Some have criticized me for my open-door policy. And some have made assumptions and misrepresentations in the media or elsewhere.”

“This includes an (incorrect) assertion that UNLV will disclose our investments with any ties to Israel or that we would consider divesting from those investments,” he stated. “We will not. I will not.”

‘Intent of deception and to mislead’

Whitfield also criticized a May 11 commencement speech. The student speaker at UNLV’s morning commencement that day changed the speech from the one that had originally been submitted in advance of the ceremony.

“I am disappointed by what I believe was an intent of deception and to mislead,” Whitfield stated.

The new speech described the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza as a “genocide” and made remarks some claimed were antisemitic.

“I understand that the words spoken during the commencement ceremony were hurtful to some graduates and others in attendance, and I want to make it clear that this speech does not represent the views of this university,” Whitfield said in the statement.

Although Whitfield did not mention her by name, he was alluding to UNLV psychology graduate Yvette Machado-Tuinier, whose 10-minute speech at the commencement ceremony at The Thomas &Mack Center stoked controversy.

Machado-Tuinier, echoing the views of pro-Palestinian protesters on college campuses throughout the country this spring, alleged that Israel’s aim was to destroy the Palestinian people in its invasion of Gaza and killing of Hamas troops and civilians in retaliation for the Oct. 7 invasion of Israel by Hamas.

Some graduates in attendance cheered her mention of “genocide” and “Palestinians.”

Machado-Tuinier, in the speech, praised protesters supporting Palestine whom she said were “bullied by media, legislators, and even their own universities simply for opposing war crimes and having the audacity to engage in their First Amendment rights” and their demand for “disclosure of their university’s investments, and divestment from apartheid, and weapons, and funding of an ongoing genocide.”

Whitfield to review speaker selection process

Soon after that speech, UNLV issued a statement saying a student speaker at the May 11 commencement changed the originally submitted speech. That statement also noted that words spoken during the speech were “hurtful to some graduates and others in attendance and do not represent the views of the university.”

Members of the Jewish community were also upset with Machado-Tuinier’s speech, which they felt mentioned familiar antisemitic inferences and failed to accurately describe Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Whitfield stated that in light of the controversy, “I will be reviewing our process to select our student speakers as well as other university policies to ensure that we maintain the celebratory spirit of commencement for our graduates and their families and friends.”

In a May 23 email to the Review-Journal, Machado-Tuinier stated that she offers “love and solidarity for those experiencing the harms of oppression.”

“The arguments made based on the misinterpretations of my words are riddled with logical fallacies,” the email said. “At no point does my reverence and love for humanity, or my stand in support of oppressed peoples, represent violence or hate.”

On May 26, lawyers for a Jewish student at UNLV filed a federal lawsuit against the university, the Board of Regents, Whitfield and several pro-Palestinian groups, claiming that the student suffered from on-campus antisemitism and discrimination and that the faculty and the administration failed to do anything about it.

Las Vegas Review-Journal efforts to reach a representative for Nevadans for Palestinian Liberation, one of the student organizations that took part in recent UNLV demonstrations, were unsuccessful Sunday.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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