When Campaign Restore Hope (CRH), a student group urging Stanford to divest from companies committing human rights abuses in Palestine, aimed to push a bill through the Undergraduate Senate, Stanford Israel Alliance co-President Lexi Shechtel ’10 explained, “Students perceived the bill as anti-Israel.” Even though CRH has since withdrawn its plans for a bill and planned educational events with a Stanford Israel Alliance initiative, the Stanford community should continue to view their efforts with caution – because their plans remain anti-Israel.
CRH supporters can counter that urging Stanford to divest from human rights violators is not about Israel, but our values as a community and our respect for human dignity. That view is naïve. The four companies CRH originally targeted were all involved in Israeli efforts; two were Israeli companies and the Egyptian company made cement that built the Israeli wall. If it was about a general stand against human rights violations, why not talk about genocide in Darfur? Female genital mutilation in Africa? Human trafficking here in California? Even any combination of the above, or so many others?
The answer is that CRH is the direct heir of Stanford’s last student divestment campaign from 2007, which caused great distress among Stanford’s Jewish community by using inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric to push a bill for a vote in the Senate. That campaign accused Israel of racism and apartheid, ignoring the complexities of the situation between Israel and Palestine. Students pushing divestment were willing to sacrifice the well-being of our own Jewish friends and neighbors in exchange for severing ties with businesses overseas.
Stanford’s experience alienating its Jewish community is not unique. Earlier this year, the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley Senate narrowly failed to overturn a veto by its student body president on a bill to sever investments with General Electric and United Technologies for allegedly supporting the Israeli war effort. Meetings dragged well into the night, drawing hundreds of people, some delivering impassioned remarks, others sobbing, but all dividing the school. Meanwhile, their Senate ignored their budget and other basic functions just to vote on divestment.
Now that Campaign Restore Hope has discovered that Stanford does not invest in any of the four companies originally targeted, it intends to review around 530 companies and demand that the University divest from those committing human rights violations. Even if CRH has withdrawn its Senate bill, it’s a good bet that the next wave of recommendations will continue to revolve around Israel. As long as CRH continues to look for fault in Israel and nowhere else, it will continue to harm Stanford’s Jewish community.
In the end, many problems with CRH come down to their negative means of addressing any human rights violation. Only divestment, a rebuke through the act of taking away, can offend an entire group of people. Investment, on the other hand, offers a positive message by rewarding and reinforcing moral actions. Invest for Peace, an initiative of Stanford Israel Alliance to invest in companies aiding impoverished Palestinians, is now partnering with CRH to plan educational events. But Invest for Peace will not take part in CRH’s recommendations for divestment from 530 companies. When CRH issues its next demands for divestment, the Stanford community should be aware of its potential to recreate the proven division from past divestment campaigns at Stanford and Berkeley.
*— The Editorial Board *
*Because of his participation in Invest for Peace, Executive Editor Alex Katz did not take part in this opinion due to a conflict of interest. *
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