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Boycott & Divestment Efforts Proliferate on Campus RULE Divestment & Boycott on Campus Since Gaza

Posted: April 8, 2009

Divestment & Boycott on Campus Since Gaza
Hampshire College Controversy
The U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel
Background on Divestment

Campuses nationwide have seen an increasing amount of boycott and divestment activity targeting Israel in the wake of Israel's military action in Gaza. Through petitions, resolutions and other efforts to promote boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel, students and faculty have attempted to steer university and public support away from Israeli and Israel-affiliated institutions.

For the most part, these efforts have been unsuccessful in their demands for divestment efforts or large-scale boycotts. Many, though, have garnered significant support and media attention, in some cases emboldening students and faculty elsewhere to launch new initiatives.

In addition, Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual weeklong series of events that is held on many colleges campuses in the U.S., consistently features events that focus on boycott and divestment efforts against Israel.

The following is a sampling of colleges and universities dealing with new or revived efforts to divest from Israel, Israeli companies and companies that may have ties to the conflict in Gaza:

  • University of Arizona (UA), Tucson, AZ: The Students for Justice in Palestine is campaigning for the university to divest from Caterpillar and Motorola, which are described by a pro-divestment activist at UA as guilty of "perpetuating grisly crimes" against the Palestinians. Student and faculty-led human rights groups are also involved and have framed the issue as an intrinsic part of a larger effort to emphasize socially responsible investing at the university. A UA student at the BDS conference at Hampshire College in fall 2009, noted that pro-divestment students envision that "divestment from the Israeli occupation is the first step" towards stressing the importance of social responsibility and human rights in the business world.

  • University of California, Berkeley (UCB): In March 2010, the Associated Students of UCB approved a resolution calling on the UCB administration and the UC Regents to divest from two companies, General Electric and United Technologies, because of their business dealings with Israel. The resolution claimed that the materials sold to Israel were used to "perpetrate war crimes" against Palestinians. The ASUC president vetoed the resolution on March 24, 2010, and subsequent attempts to override the veto failed to garner enough votes.

  • University of California, San Diego: Members of SJP and the Student Sustainability Collective proposed a divestment resolution in April 2010 that was virtually identical to the one proposed at UC Berkeley. It was debated on April 28 and the ASUC decided not to vote on the resolution in its current form because of its divisiveness. Instead, the ASUC proposed that a joint committee of students who support and oppose divestment seek a compromise resolution. 

  • University of Michigan, Dearborn: In January 2009, students called for the University of Michigan's Board of Regents to create an advisory committee to examine the university endowment's investments in companies that may support or profit from the conflict in Gaza. In February 2010, after the Board of Regents failed to act on the issue, the student government approved another resolution calling on the Board of Regents to investigate. The resolution pledged that the student government will "urge this committee to recommend immediate divestment from companies that are directly involved in the ongoing illegal occupation."

  • Columbia University, New York, NY: The Columbia Palestine Forum (CPF), which formed at Columbia in March, maintains that Israel is an apartheid state and advocates for boycott and divestment efforts against Israel, modeled after those against apartheid South Africa. The group has called for increased disclosure of university finances to establish that Columbia funds are not being used towards "maintenance of the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank," and advocates divestment of university funds from any companies that profit from what it describes as the "continued occupation of Palestinian lands, the maintenance of illegal Israeli settlements and the walls being built around Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem."

    CPF outlined its demands to a university representative during a March 5 demonstration. The prior day, it held a panel discussion featuring multiple Columbia faculty members who have been supportive of the group. Gil Anidjar, a religion professor, advocated boycott as an appropriate "exercise of freedom," while anthropology professor Brinkley Messick indicated that Columbia President Lee Bollinger had agreed to meet with the faculty to discuss the demands for divestment. One CPF member described the group's goals in a March 3 article for Columbia's newspaper, stating that "by divesting from companies that do business with the occupation, we can put global pressure on the Israeli government to end it."

    In an article published January 12, Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia, advocated for boycott efforts targeting both individuals and institutions: "The divestment campaign that has been far more successful in Western Europe needs to be reinvigorated in North America – as must the boycotting of the Israeli cultural and academic institutions… Naming names and denouncing individually every prominent Israeli intellectual who has publicly endorsed their elected officials' wide-eyed barbarism, and then categorically boycotting their universities and colleges, film festivals and cultural institutions, is the single most important act of solidarity that their counterparts can do around the world." Dabashi also likened Israel to an apartheid state, accused Israel of committing war crimes and ethnic cleansing, and defended Hamas as the "legitimate and democratically elected representative of Palestinian people." Dabashi is on the advisory board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel .
  • Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, VA: During an event on March 25, David Hosey, a speaker from US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USCEIO), called for grassroots boycott and divestment efforts against Israel as a means of changing irresponsible corporate policies, according to the school newspaper. The paper also reported that an initiative aimed at getting EMU and other Mennonite institutions to demand that their mutual funds make "morally responsible investments" was underway.
  • Emory University, Atlanta, GA: An organizer with a student group called Emory Advocates for Justice in Palestine (EAJP) wrote an article for Emory's student newspaper on February 23 in which he argued that the tactics used against segregation and apartheid in the past, including boycott, divestment and sanctions, are among the most effective ways to counter Israeli "apartheid." The article pointed to the recent NYU actions to advance EAJP's divestment agenda, claiming that NYU students were "demanding a cessation of relationships between NYU and Israeli institutions."
  • Georgetown University, Washington, DC: During a January 22 panel discussion, Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director of USCEIO, promoted boycott against companies that "contribute" to Israeli crimes, citing Caterpillar and Motorola, among others. Ruebner also charged that the U.S. Congress is under the control of the pro-Israel lobby, and advocated for a redistribution of U.S. funds currently scheduled to go to Israel.
  • New York University (NYU): Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a campaign to sever NYU's relationship with Tel Aviv University and organized a panel discussion on March 3 about the schools' so-called "partnership in occupation." During the discussion, NYU professor Andrew Ross advocated for a BDS campaign against Israel.

    From February 18-20, Take Back NYU!, a coalition of groups and students at New York University with a wide range of goals and demands pertaining to transparency, accountability and institutional democracy within the university, organized a two-day "Occupation" of the campus' Kimmel Center to advance its agenda. Several of the group's demands pertained to Gaza/Palestine; one urged the formation of a student-elected Socially Responsible Finance Committee, which would among its first orders of business conduct "an in depth investigation of all investments in war and genocide profiteers, as well as companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories." While the group urged socially responsible investment decisions, it did not state outright that it advocates divestment from Israel.
  • Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA: An online petition launched in January called for the school to divest from its Israel-related holdings, listing among its targets: "U.S. companies doing business in Israel; companies that manufacture or sell military equipment used by Israel; Israeli companies; and any other holdings that financially support or sustain Israeli state sponsored apartheid."
  • Temple University, Philadelphia, PA: As part of an effort to launch a divestment initiative at Temple, SJP organized a March 5 telephone conference teach-in with two organizers from SJP at Hampshire College. Adam Horowitz, an organizer with USCEIO who spoke during the teach-in, advocated BDS campaigns as a tactic of the broader "solidarity" struggle, according to reports. SJP is a campus anti-Israel group with chapters across the U.S. that has been committed to urging divestment from Israel since 2001.
  • University of California, Berkeley: During Israeli Apartheid Week, SJP organized events that focused on alleging that Israel's legal system is set up to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and advocated for BDS campaigns against Israel.
  • University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC): During a March 5 talk on BDS campaigns, organized by SJP and featuring Kevin Clark, an International Solidarity Movement volunteer, Clark insisted that BDS would be effective in changing Israeli policy just like it worked to end South African apartheid. He also cited Hampshire College and promoted several boycott and divestment efforts currently underway, some by USCEIO.
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst: A non-binding divestment resolution at UMASS was passed by the Student Government Association on March 25. Although references to Israel and Israeli business in the original draft of the resolution were stripped from the final version, the resolution contains a clause calling for "an investments committee that can screen for socially responsible investments and divest from companies that make their millions off the suffering in all countries facing war and occupation." Articles published in support of the initiative in the school newspaper, claimed that "Divestment pressure… will push Israel into unlocking peace" and asserted that the resolution would "protect the Palestinians from being besieged."
  • University of Michigan, Dearborn: In January, students called for the University of Michigan's Board of Regents to create an advisory committee to examine the university endowment's investments in companies that may support or profit from the conflict in Gaza. The Board of Regents does not appear to have taken any action on the issue.
  • University of Minnesota (UM), Minneapolis, MN: Teachers Against Occupation (TAO) was co-founded by Simona Sawhney, a professor at UM in late December 2008 in response to Israel's military operation in Gaza, which TAO refers to as "Israel's brutal blockade and bombardment of Gaza.' TAO describes itself as an initiative "to coordinate various efforts by scholars and teachers to critique and resist military occupations worldwide." The group intends to work on strategies to oppose the Israeli "occupation," including boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, according to its Web site.
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC): Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at UNC delivered a letter to the Chancellor on February 25 demanding that UNC divest from Israel. The letter reportedly stated that "Divestment and boycott will be a powerful message to those who continue to oppress and occupy the Palestinian people," and outlined several demands, including disclosure of university investments, and divesting from and refusing to sell products made by companies profiting from Israel's "occupation of Palestine." The university does not appear to have acted on the letter.
  • University of Rochester (UR), Rochester, NY: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a pro-divestment group at UR, has been actively promoting divestment from Israeli companies and companies that profit from Israeli action in Gaza at events and in op-eds in the campus newspaper. Prior to a day-long student "occupation" of a campus building on February 6, held in solidarity with Gaza, SDS issued letter demanding that UR adopt "a peaceful investment policy to the university's endowment which includes divestment from corporations that manufacturer weapons and profit from war."  Following the action, the Dean of Students reportedly agreed to hold a public forum with UR investors and the community on the university's investment policy and its investment in Israel, but the school does not appear to have taken any action on the issue since.
  • University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA: David Lloyd, a professor of English at USC, wrote an article in the school's newspaper on February 17 in which he argued that the pro-Israel lobby has undue influence over the U.S. political process and that the U.S. maintains policies towards the Middle East that are "to the detriment of its reputation and in isolation from the rest of the world." Lloyd, who is active in the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, urged a boycott of academic institutions, stating, "We believe that the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions still can influence Israel's public opinion and avert a catastrophic outcome."
  • University of Texas (UT), Austin: In January, the Palestine Solidarity Committee announced the formation of a boycott and divestment campaign against Israel. The campaign intends to identify companies in UT's investment portfolio that "contribute to the occupation," assess those companies' "illegal conduct," and encourage the university to move their investments from those "existing violators," according to the group. UT does not appear to have taken any action on the issue.
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW): In a March 24 opinion piece in UW's newspaper, a member of a student group called Student Progressive Dane wrote that student organizations have been calling on the Board of Regents to divest from companies that profit from or enable "human rights violations in the Palestinian territories," naming among those companies Caterpillar, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman and Raytheon. The article concluded, "The first thing we can all do is wash our hands of the occupation by demanding our university commits to divesting from companies which profit from it. The next thing we can do is demand that our government does the same."

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