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Next week, student and local community activists will present a petition to the University of Colorado Board of Regents, urging it to remove from the university’s stock portfolio all companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Launched by CU-Divest and signed by more than 2,000 students and human rights activists, the petition states that the university’s $1.7 billion investments “may violate the University’s commitment to human rights and social justice.”
Similar divestment and boycott campaigns are underway in dozens of campuses across the country, following the successful efforts of Hampshire College students in 2009. (The retirement plan giant TIAA-CREF is the focus of a separate national divestment campaign.)
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call to the international community to apply boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it upholds international law and Palestinian rights. The appeal resonated with human rights activists who have been frustrated by their government’s failure to pressure Israel to stop its human rights violations of Palestinians.
The US divestment campaign has been modeled very deliberately on campaigns that targeted investment in South Africa apartheid during the 1980s. The two countries, Israel and the former South Africa, are remarkably similar in their treatment of populations they define as undesirable (Palestinians and black South Africans, respectively).
The similarity has been observed by South Africans who visit the occupied Palestinian territories. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a 1984 Nobel Prize recipient, published an open letter to the University of Berkeley student government in 2010: "I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government."
Archbishop Tutu called for the international community to withdraw support from Israel until it ends its occupation. Withdrawing financial support from companies that profit from the occupation is one avenue available to all of us.
So which companies profit from the occupation? A Web site (whoprofits.org) helps identify companies with Israeli military and illegal settlement connections. Motorola has a contract with the Israeli military to provide communications technology, including voice and data services to military commanders. (Israel’s indiscriminate shelling of the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 prompted UN officials to accuse Israel of war crimes.)
Another collaborator in Israel’s crimes is Caterpillar, the largest producer of earth-moving construction vehicles. The Israeli military has used Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy more than 12,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. This company contributes to the homelessness of an occupied people and should not be part of any university’s (or individual’s) stock portfolio.
A successful divestment campaign at CU affirms the power of communities to make investment decisions that are consistent with their values. Most Americans do not approve of the killing of civilians, yet Israel kills unarmed Palestinians without consequence. Americans contribute generously to assist famine and earthquake victims, but many of us seem unaware of Israel’s siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip, which one UN official described in 2008 as the intentional reduction of a region to "abject destitution." We affirm the sanctity of the home, yet a US client state has used US equipment to make tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless. We should not invest in the industries that are complicit in Israel’s human rights violations.
Successive US administrations have provided unconditional support for a highly militarized and aggressive Israel, and this has fueled Israeli lawlessness and prolonged the conflict. (According to the Web site If Americans Knew, in 2011 the US provides $8.2 million each day in military aid to Israel. The administration and Congress are discussing ways to cut entitlement programs that are relied on by millions of Americans during these difficult economic times, yet aid to Israel is shielded from cuts.)
Because US government support enables Israeli intransigence, we are complicit in crimes committed with our tax dollars. One way (by no means the only way) to redress that is to identify companies that are complicit in Israel’s control of the occupied Palestinian territories and to refrain from boosting their profits.