Divestment: a strategy to end the Israeli occupation in Palestine

by Gilad Isaacs and Glen Pine| Published April 13, 2011 | NYU News


WSN’s recent coverage of NYU Students for Justice in Palestine’s rally and mock wall (“Students for Justice in Palestine rally for divestment from Israel,” on April 6, 2011) raises some interesting questions.

The NYU SJP divestment campaign has received an overwhelmingly positive response. In last week’s two afternoons of tabling, SJP collected over 200 signatures for a general public petition. Before the campaign even went public, over 70 faculty members had signed an open letter to Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association — College Retirement Equities Fund CEO and president, Roger W. Ferguson, arguably among the most political acts by NYU faculty in recent years.

Throughout the week students appeared from nowhere who wanted to join NYU SJP and become active, and additional faculty and staff contacted SJP daily asking to join the campaign. All this has taken place on a campus not known for its activism and with an allegedly strong anti-Palestinian presence.

How, then, is this campaign generating such a positive response?

We think the answer to this question is threefold.

First, the issues could not be more unambiguous. Pension giant TIAA-CREF, the United States’ 86th largest corporation, has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in predominately U.S. corporations that actively facilitate, profit from and perpetuate the illegal and morally unjustifiable occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Caterpillar’s bulldozers illegally demolish homes and uproot olive trees; Elbit System’s drones bomb and kill innocent civilians; Motorola’s equipment is used on the illegal Separation Wall and at illegal checkpoints and illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and deep within the West Bank; Veolia invests in Jewish-only transportation; and Northrop Grumman’s weapons systems kill Palestinian civilians.

The occupation, settlements, checkpoints and Separation Wall are all illegal under international law. The products of these companies are therefore being used to perpetuate crimes. The companies mentioned above both provide the tools that make the occupation possible and profit from it. It is precisely to these companies that TIAA-CREF, one of two pension funds available to NYU faculty and staff, is funneling NYU employees’ earnings.

NYU SJP, together with many other national organizations, is calling on TIAA-CREF to divest funds from these corporations and others like them.

One of the reasons, therefore, that the campaign is gaining such widespread support is because few would argue that the money of NYU faculty and staff should be invested in criminal behavior. Few people, for example, want their retirement savings to help produce bombs that kill children or support surveillance that denies the right of freedom of movement.

The second reason is that supporters of Palestinians’ rights — that is, supporters of equal rights for all — are fed up.

The so-called “peace process” has, by design, gone nowhere for many years, and the Obama administration has been unwilling to apply meaningful pressure on Israel.

The release of the Palestine Papers confirmed that Israel has consistently rejected Palestinian peace offers, likely because it is able to occupy Palestinian land and exploit Palestinian resources at minimal political cost to itself — thanks largely to unwavering U.S. support.

What are supporters of Palestinian rights to do? Wait patiently for the Israeli state to end its occupation, now in its 44th year? Of course not.

This brings us to the third reason for the initial success of SJP’s campaign: the strategy of divestment. Divestment is a non-violent, peaceful tactic aimed at bringing about the end of the occupation and the full realization of civil, political and socioeconomic rights for all who live in the region.

It aims to raise the cost of doing business with the occupation.

It is targeted, in this case, at predominately U.S. corporations whose products make the occupation possible. Withdrawing this material support challenges Israel’s ability to violate international law and thereby oppress millions of Palestinians.

The power of the NYU SJP campaign is in part due to its broad appeal; not every signatory needs to share the same politics. All it requires is a commitment to basic human rights and dignity — in this case, a commitment to withdrawing material support, as best we can, from an ongoing illegal and unjust occupation. For most of us at NYU, it is simple choice.


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