Divestment Proponents Drop Bill

After weeks of building support, Campaign Restore Hope (CRH) no longer plans to push a bill supporting divestment from companies contributing to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the ASSU Undergraduate Senate. CRH’s divestment goals were consistently met with heavy resistance from Invest for Peace, an initiative of the Stanford Israel Alliance.  With no divestment bill, the two groups plan to work together to increase campus knowledge regarding the conflict.

Originally, CRH intended to push a bill through the Undergraduate Senate urging the University to divest from Elbit Systems Ltd., Hadiklaim Ltd., Tarifi Cement Ltd., and Dar Alnashr Lihaya’a Masria Iilijaz AlIlmi. Of the four companies, two are Israeli, one is Egyptian, and one is Palestinian, respectively.  After speaking with an unnamed University administrator, however, Fadi Quran ’10, a CRH leader, discovered that Stanford is not invested in any of these corporations.

Invest for Peace, on the other hand, wants to focus on investing instead of divesting by fundraising for two non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The group worked to persuade CRH to drop its goal to pass a divestment bill.

The website for Invest for Peace states, “We have chosen to invest in two NGO’s – one based in the Palestinian Territories and one based in Israel – both of which reflect our goals and work to improve economic conditions and the strengthening of civil society that lay the essential groundwork for the betterment of lives and the establishment of peace.”

Within weeks, talk of divestment produced heated discussion. Leaders from both groups wrote back-to-back op-eds in the Stanford Daily, and even faculty members have joined the conversation.

Professor Linda Hess, a Senior Lecturer in the Religious Studies department, submitted an op-ed promoting the discussion of divestment, maintaining, “…the debate can be positive and fruitful.”

In contrast, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Larry Diamond, urged senators not to make divestment a student government issue. In April, Diamond held a dinner for the senators-elect where he discussed the issue of divestment and why he believes it is an inappropriate strategy in Israel.

Lexi Shechtel ’10, Co-President of the Stanford Israel Alliance, said, “Students perceived the bill as anti-Israel. Campaign Restore Hope thought they could control the rhetoric, but they were not able to.”

Quran said, “I understand how emotional the issue is to different people, but I thought the way we structured it wouldn’t lead to an uproar. But I will still kind of surprised it still happened…I do not care where these companies are from if they are committing human rights abuses, but apparently people care.”

Similar reactions occurred back in 2007 when divestment from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was first proposed. That bill was proposed to the ASSU Senate but never passed. In its aftermath, however, the campus became emotionally charged.

Several weeks ago at the University of California at Berkeley, their Senate also faced a comparable bill.  Although it passed, it was eventually vetoed by their President, whose veto was barely sustained after intense, ongoing debate.

In the end, after over “six hours of meetings” last week between CRH and Stanford Israel Alliance, CRH agreed to not pursue a divestment bill through the ASSU Senate.

Shechtel said, “Not pushing a divestment bill through the ASSU Senate will be better for student dialogue. The campus debate should not be about divestment, which is not even a mainstream position. The focus should be on building up the Palestinian economy, increasing education, and decreasing the influence of radical groups who promote terrorism in the region.”

The two groups have agreed to co-sponsor a series of events that further educate campus and inspire political action.

“The first two events will provide insight into the perspective of each community, and the third event will be a debate regarding a host of issues from settlements to Jerusalem to how to best achieve change as Stanford students,” explained Shechtel.

CRH, however, will not be dropping divestment completely.

Quran said, “There are five hundred and thirty something companies we are looking into, but we do not want to release all of them; we still have people researching them.”

It appears to be an ambiguous process, given that University investments are not public information, but Quran says, “It’s not as bad as it seems. Even if Stanford isn’t invested in these companies now, no one will invest in these companies in the future. “

Despite their varying political beliefs, Shechtel said, “We all want peace and to stop human rights abuses, we just have different approaches.”

Quran adds, “We are figuring out the middle ground and going from there.”

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