Divestment Disagreements

The Israeli-Palestinian divide is still a contentious issue for Stanford’s student body. The most recent campus wide movement has been the campaign for divestment, spearheaded by Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI). On April 14, the movement launched its official campaign.

SCAI hopes that Stanford will divest from companies that it says “are profiting from human rights violations associated with Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land.” The group focuses on what it argues is the illegality of the Israeli occupation and the institutionalized discrimination in the region.

It evaluates companies based on four factors. A company should not facilitate “acts of collective punishment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” resulting in demolition, land confiscation or other violations of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Second, a company should not “operate within Israeli-only settlements in the Occupied territories.” They argue that such an act violates Article 49 of the Convention, which concerns movements of people between territories.
Third, companies should not support the “separation barrier” constructed by Israel.
Lastly, companies should not “engage in practices that institutionally discriminate against people of a particular race, religion, or ethnicity in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

SCAI has chosen to target a large number of companies, including Ahava, Motorola, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Riwal, Roadstone Holdings, Mekorot Water Company, and Veolia Transport.

Omar Shakir ’07, one of the leaders of the SCAI campaign, hopes that other campus groups will join the group’s call to action. He emphasized, “By no means is the initiative a Muslim one or an Arab one. SCAI is not a nationalistic or religious group by any means.”

The divestment campaign at Stanford is still very much in its early stages. This campaign continues the efforts of a previous campaign launched in 2007. Divestment campaigns can be controversial, as some have labeled them anti-Semetic.

In February 2009, in reaction to Hampshire College’s divestment from Israel, Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, wrote a strongly worded article in the Huffington Post.
Of the divestment group’s campaign, he wrote, “This divestment campaign has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. It is motivated purely by hatred for the Jewish state.”

Dershowitz cited New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote that “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vial. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanctions — out of proportion to any other party in the Middle East–is anti-Semitic and not saying so is dishonest.”

Shakir insists that the SCAI divestment campaign is not anti-semetic.

“The principles of anti-Semitism violate the very principles of the campaign,” he said. “The group named apartheid has as its primary concern social justice and human rights.”

He also insisted that the SCAI campaign is not about the Jewish state. Rather, it targets companies that specifically violate human rights. He noted the presence of a Jewish professor and representative from a Jewish peace organization at the launch meeting.

The president of the movement was also an Israeli. Many of the most active members of the campaign in the past were members of “Jews for Justice in Palestine,” a group that split from campus Jewish organizations during the 2007 initiative.

Justin Hefter ‘11, a member of the Stanford Israeli Alliance, noted, “divestment purports to be about a few companies, when in reality it is tied to a more destructive international movement with the goal of boycotting and sanctioning the entire state of Israel.” He said that the Stanford Israeli Alliance has not mounted a defense against the divestment campaign.

According to Hefter, “the goal of the Stanford Israeli Alliance is not to engage in divisive campaigns, but rather to educate people, which is why our events focus on how Israel is a pioneer in civil and human rights, so that when students hear people campaign against Israel, they remember the reasons why the United States and Stanford University support Israel.”

Ultimately, both sides of the debate encourage students to become engaged with the subject, for without dialogue, there can be little hope for resolution.

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