Tags: Anti-Israel | Movement | Grows | America's | Campuses

Anti-Israel Movement Grows on America's Campuses

Wednesday, 08 May 2002 12:00 AM

This week the group identified $614 million of Harvard’s endowment that it is targeting, including IBM, General Electric and McDonald's.

The campus anti-Israel movement, around since the beginning of the latest Palestinian uprising in September 2000, took a dip just after Sept. 11 and now appears to be cresting.

A student group at the University of California at Berkeley was the first to board the divestment bandwagon. It demands the university’s board of regents dump more than $6.4 billion invested in companies that deal with Israel, including Raytheon, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, AOL Time Warner and Microsoft.

At Princeton, Students for Progressive Education and Action want the university to off-load at least $100 million in investments involving similar companies, including Johnson & Johnson.

Harvard’s divestment protest involves a petition signed by faculty and students from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At a protest "teach-in" this week, MIT professor Noam Chomsky called for re-examining the U.S. supply-line of weapons to Israel’s military.

Chomsky called the Israeli military’s defensive movement into Palestinian territories a "terrorist crime not mitigated in the least by the fact that it was to prevent a worse terrorist crime.”

The newly minted Harvard-MIT Divestment Campaign sponsored the divestment petition and the teach-in, which attracted about 350 people.

"The signatories of the petition want Harvard and MIT to divest from Israel’s illegal and immoral 35-year-long occupation of Palestinian and civilian areas,” said Harvard Law School student Najeeb N. Khoury, the president of Justice for Palestine and a protest organizer.

One of those signing the petition was philosophy professor Richard G. Heck. "I tend to think that Harvard should have a socially responsible fiscal policy with regard to its investments. What bothers people is that a large amount of U.S. money is going to support violence.”

Some of those involved in the divestment moves against Israel draw a parallel with Berkeley’s 1986 campaign to divest itself of $3 billion in companies that did business with white-ruled South Africa.

However, the Harvard Crimson staff disagrees. In an editorial this week, the staff argued: "The Israeli legal code does not discriminate against Arab Israelis the way that the Apartheid laws discriminated against black South Africans. In Israel, the law provides for the equal treatment of all of its citizens, both Jewish and Arab.

"Divestment was all the more appropriate in South Africa because it penalized companies that were using the racist laws to their advantage. Many companies exploited the Apartheid system by using cheap black labor.”

But philosophies aside, the pragmatics of modern endowments may augur against any repeat of the great anti-Apartheid crusade of two decades ago.

Unlike the 1980s, when endowment investments were often made directly in companies doing business with South Africa, universities such as Harvard and Berkeley now channel the lion’s share of their dollars through index funds that spread investments across a wide range of companies for the greatest return.

Additionally, these days divestment potentially involves more money invested in more complex ways. For example, Berkeley’s portfolio has grown from $9 billion during the South Africa campaign to $54 billion today. Furthermore, those dollars are directly tied to pension funds for 136,000 employees of the University of California, as well as operating funds for a myriad of research facilities.

Last month students at more than 30 schools, including Columbia, Georgetown and the Universities of Massachusetts and Washington, planned a national "day of action” to kick off the divestment movement.

The movement has also taken root on campuses with little history of political activism: North Carolina State, Duke and the University of North Carolina.

"We call for Penn State University to begin a divestment campaign to all companies that support Israel,” Djamila Harouaka, a Penn State junior and Arab-American, recently shouted to a crowd of about 100 supporters. "[Money] translates into bullets, and those bullets transfer into blood!”

Students in the Penn State gathering shook signs such as "Stop the illegal occupation of Palestine!”

Organizers on the campuses report that they are successfully recruiting from the ranks of sweatshop opponents, supporters of racial set-asides and campaigners for a "living wage.”

However, Jewish and pro-Israel student groups still outnumber the pro-Palestinian organizations on most campuses, and the boards of regents under assault have not raced to humor the campaigning students – the majority remaining silent in the face of protests and petitions.

Berkeley spokesman Trey Davis says the regents routinely field divestment calls from such divergent sources as Tibet, Burma, pharmaceutical companies and health care organizations. He says that in most cases they have chosen not to act. And that, so far, is the case with the calls to undermine Israel.

"Their goal is to get Israel to be disliked, to see it as this racist, horrible, Nazi regime,” David Livshiz, a senior at Michigan and a member of American Movement for Israel, recently told the New York Times.

"It has become a trendy cause, and that’s unfortunate. To a large degree it’s because they are using this language of human rights; they make themselves very appealing. Because they’re so much louder, they get support.”

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This week the group identified $614 million of Harvard's endowment that it is targeting, including IBM, General Electric and McDonald's. The campus anti-Israel movement, around since the beginning of the latest Palestinian uprising in September 2000, took a dip just...
Wednesday, 08 May 2002 12:00 AM
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