Q: Why can’t we invest instead of divest?

A: Although investing in Palestine sounds like a nice idea, it ignores the real problem at hand.

According to a 2011 World Bank report, the fundamental barrier to economic activity in the West Bank is the restrictions placed by Israel, not the lack of investment from outside. The report states, “For a small open economy, prosperity requires a strong tradable sector with the ability to compete in the global marketplace. The faltering nature of the peace process and the persistence of administrative restrictions as well as others on trade, movement and access have had a dampening effect on private investment and private sector activity…While the unsettled political environment and internal Palestinian political divisions have contributed to investor aversion to the Palestinian territories, Israeli restrictions on trade, movement and access have been seen as the dominant deterrent.”

This is the key phrase – The World Bank points to Israel’s occupation policies that deny Palestinians human rights and freedom as the fundamental causes of economic stagnation. Therefore, the idea of solving anything through positive investment by itself is ludicrous.

Additionally, here are quotes on positive investments written by Palestinians themselves, who ultimately are the ones who know what would benefit them. Their voices should not be neglected.[1]

Q: Is BDS really trying to eliminate Israel?

A: BDS does not call for an end to Israel. Rather, it calls for an end to Israel’s 1967 occupation of Palestine that went beyond the Internationally recognized borders of Israel. Unfortunately, many times BDS goals are construed and misrepresented by those who speak out against BDS.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian BDS movement,  said the following: “The BDS Call was issued by representatives of Palestinian civil society on July 9, 2005 with a goal of achieving basic Palestinian rights under international law. BDS calls for an end to Israel’s 1967 occupation of Arab lands, including East Jerusalem; an end to what even the US Department of State has criticized as Israel’s system of “institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens, which meets the UN definition of apartheid, and an end to its denial of the Palestinian refugees’ UN-stipulated right to return to their homes of origin from which they were forcibly displaced in the 1948 Nakba and kept from returning to ever since.”[2]

Q: Why is it problematic to adopt the State Definition of Anti-Semitism? Shouldn’t the Jewish community have the right to self-define bigotry against their community?

A: Anti-Semitism – hatred, violence, intimidation or discrimination targeting Jews because of their ethnic and religious identity – is a serious phenomenon that must be addressed. In the context of activism for Palestinian rights, we are seeing a surge of accusations of anti-Semitism against individuals that criticize the Israeli state. Some groups are pushing to redefine anti-Semitism, and codify an overbroad definition that would include advocacy to hold Israel accountable for violations of Palestinian human rights.

Classifying criticism of Israel as “anti-Semitic” works to circumscribe important political speech activities, often in violation of the First Amendment. It is also disingenuous and misleading; it does a great disservice to Jewish victims of genuine anti-Semitism by diluting and confusing the term. The re-definition brands critics of Israel and advocates for Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic by blurring the important distinction between criticism of Israel as a nation-state and anti-Semitism.[3]

Q: Why should the State Definition of Anti-Semitism not be adopted on college campuses?

A: According to one of the main authors of the State Definition, Kenneth S Stern “…official adoption of the State Department’s definition would do more harm than good…The EUMC definition was crafted as a tool for data collectors in European countries to identify what to include and exclude from their reports about anti-Semitism, and to have a common frame of reference so that data might be compared across borders.”

He continues, “But to enshrine such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole. Those who want the university system to adopt the definition say it isn’t a speech code (presumably because they recognize that speech codes are likely unconstitutional and anathema to the ideals of academic freedom). But that is precisely what they are seeking. You don’t need a university endorsement of a particular definition in order to increase careful thought about difficult issues, such as when anti-Semitism is present in debates about Israel and Palestine.”[4]

It is inappropriate for a university student government that values academic freedom and unfettered debate to adopt a defintion of anti-Semitism that encompasses criticism of Israel, particularly at a time when Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists increasingly face false accusations that their political criticisms of Israel are tantamount to anti-Semitism. The false conflation of criticim of Israel with anti-Semitism, including through the State Department redefinition, is a tactic commonly used by Israel advoacy groups. This approach would silence legitimate opinions and perspectives, and would violate the University’s own dedication to the “advancement of learning and the search for truth” and the “sharing of knowldege through education for a diverse community.”

Q: What is the distinction between Jewish people and Israel?

A: Jews are an ethno-religious group living throughout the globe. Israel is a nation-state based on the belief that Jews, as a people, have a right to a national homeland in Israel/Palestine – a belief not shared by all Jews. Moreover, the term “Israeli” should not be conflated with “Jewish.”

Despite these important distinctions, some go to great lengths to lump Jewish people and the Israeli state together, arguing that Jews and Israel are inherently connected, and that any attack on one is an attack on the other. The proposed “State Department definition” also makes this false equation.[5]

Q: As a students, how does it help for us to take a political position?

A: Since our University is indirectly invested in these companies, we are automatically taking a political position. By choosing to divest, our University would be taking a neutral stance in the conflict while establishing its position of non-acceptance of human rights violations.

Additionally, our University has a Social Responsibility Investments clause in their Endowments Funds policy that calls on the Board of Regents to seek out “investments that support sustainability and [refuse] to invest in weapons, tobacco, or engage in unethical business practices.” As the investments in the four companies we have specified do not follow the SRI, it is our responsibility to ask that we divest.

Q:  Instead of creating tension on campus, wouldn’t dialogue be more effective?

A: Palestinians living under occupation do not have the luxury to wait and sit over coffee. Divestment threatens the status quo more than any diplomatic effort has in a long time by taking the profit out of occupation. The role of boycott and divestment in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Anti-Apartheid South Africa Movement showed that rather than hindering change, pressure from boycotts and divestment brought political leaders to the negotiating table, not to haggle over whether or not to end oppression, but to figure out how best to do so on the basis of universal human rights and international law. Divestment doesn’t stifle change; it accelerates it.

Q: Would divestment target even Israeli companies that have nothing to do with the occupation?

A: No. We are pushing for selective divestment from companies engaged in specific practices that commit human rights abuses and violate international law. We are not advocating the end of the state of Israel; rather, we are advocating for a change in illegal and abusive practices. We are only targeting companies that explicitly profit from and facilitate occupation. Most of these companies are not even Israeli.  A list of targets we’re invested in can be found here.

Q: Isn’t divestment controversial?

A: Divestment only asks for compliance with human rights and international law – a demand that frankly should not be controversial. Nevertheless, BDS has been becoming more mainstream as evidenced by:

  • There have been numerous similar student-led divestment initiatives targeting corporations involved in human rights abuses and other transgressions including an anti-Apartheid movement
    • The student governments of UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, Stanford University, San Jose State University, Arizona State University, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Earlham College, University of Michigan- Dearborn, Oberlin College, University of Toledo, Oglethorpe University, Wesleyan University, University of Massachusetts- Boston, and University of South Florida, have all passed divestment resolutions or referendums, and numerous campaigns are ongoing on other campuses
  • The European Union boycotting all companies that operate illegally in the occupied West Bank
  • The biggest Dutch pension fund divesting from five Israeli banks that finance illegal settlement building
  • The recent American Studies Association’s resolution to divest from Israeli academic institutions
  • The recent American Anthropological Association’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions until they end their complicity in violating Palestinian rights as stipulated in international law.

…And so on and so forth. BDS has already brought results. The Israeli government is feeling pressure to make serious changes in its policy and a number of companies have already ended their contracts with Israel due to international pressure. An example is Veolia which, due to BDS pressure, decided to end its contracts managing illegal segregated bus systems in the West Bank.

Q: Isn’t the comparison between South African apartheid and the situation in Israel and Palestine misguided, and denigrating to blacks in South Africa who actually experienced real apartheid?

A: While there are differences between Israeli and South African Apartheid, the similarities are huge. Former US President Jimmy Carter describes Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as apartheid. South Africans like the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and members of the ANC have unequivocally confirmed that this is apartheid (and in some ways even worse than South African Apartheid). A legal academic study sponsored by the South African government reached a decisive conclusion that Israel’s policies constituted “occupation, colonization and apartheid.”

Like black South Africans, Palestinians are subject to a different system of law—one that denies them freedom of movement, equal access to resources like water, land, and electricity, and the right to establish residence in Israel, a right which is granted to Jews from anywhere in the world through the Law of Return, but denied to Palestinians who were born and raised there.

In addition, defining Israel as an apartheid state depends not on analogy to South Africa but whether or not Israel’s policies fit the UN definition of the crime of apartheid. Apartheid—as stipulated in the 1973 UN International Convention on Apartheid—is defined as any systematic oppression, segregation, and discrimination to maintain domination by one racial group—’demographic group,’ in Israeli parlance—over another, as through denial of basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, education, movement, and nationality; torture or inhuman treatment; arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment; and “any measures designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, … the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group … or to members thereof.”

Q: Why single out Israel? Don’t a lot of Arab countries have equally bad or worse human rights records, especially concerning the status of Jews and women?

A: We recognize that Israel is not the only perpetrator of human rights violations in the region. However, the existence of other unjust regimes does not excuse the unjust practices of the Israeli state. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu notes, “Divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because there was repression elsewhere on the African continent.” As students of an American university, we feel a responsibility to act as residents and taxpayers of this nation, given how vital the financial contributions of American companies and the American government are to sustaining human rights violations and oppression in the Occupied Territories. Further, the United States itself singles out Israel, and provides it with more aid than Sub-Saharan Africa and South America combined.

As SJP, we stand in solidarity with all other movements demanding liberation and human dignity.  We focus on the rights of Palestinians because specific causes have a higher likelihood to succeed and we don’t want to speak for another group of people.

Also, our university is not invested in other human rights violations to the extent that it is invested in the occupation of Palestine. Whereas we invest in companies that supply Israel with weapons of war, profiling technology, and raw materials for the building of illegal settlements we do not invest in companies that provide Bashar Al Assad with tanks or apache helicopters. Also, the companies that we are targeting are involved in human rights violations in more than just Israel.

Q: The situation seems complex, with both Israelis and Palestinians committing violence. Why are you only blaming Israel and not placing any demands on the Palestinians?

A: While both sides have been violent towards each other, Israel is the occupier in this conflict and has used its advanced military and economy to take over Palestinian land and inflict pain and desperation upon the stateless Palestinian people. There is no moral symmetry between the violence that the occupier commits and the violence that the occupied commit. We must remember that the ANC also used violence in its struggle against apartheid in South Africa. This recognition does not excuse violence, but its use by some Palestinians cannot invalidate their right to freedom or justify Israel’s brutal occupation and use of collective punishment. Furthermore, our criteria do not prevent us from divesting from companies that are guilty of engaging in the same crimes in the name of the Palestinians.

Q: Won’t divestment from Israel hurt Palestinians, who depend on the Israeli economy?

A: In 2005 a coalition of 171 Palestinian groups themselves put out a call asking for the world community to employ divestment from Israel in order to end their suffering. The divestment would not heavily impact local jobs as they are largely targeted on foreign weapons manufacturers and companies engaged in very specific actions.

BDS could actually bolster peace talks and make way for a two-state solution by putting pressure on Israel to finally comply with international law – which it feels very little incentive to do so. In the current round of peace talks, John Kerry actually made reference to the BDS movement as a strong reason why Israel should make genuine moves toward peace.

Q: Isn’t a push to divest from Israel anti-Semitic?

A: Our only aim is to end Israeli policies and practices that abuse human rights and violate international law. We strongly condemn anti-Semitism, which is contrary to the principles of equality, justice, and human rights for which we are fighting.

BDS is a rights-based movement and its goal is to achieve justice and equality. BDS opposes all forms of racism and oppression, including anti-Semitism. It specifically targets divestment from oppressive companies, not Jewish people. Military occupation has nothing to do with Judaism. The demands of the BDS movement are for an end to the occupation, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right to return for refugees. If basic human rights and equality represents an existential threat to Israel, then that is a commentary on Israel, not divestment.

Present-day Israel does not exist as a homogenous Jewish state- approximately 1 million citizens of Israel, 20% of its population, are Palestinian, while many more citizens claim to be Jewish but are not recognized as such. Non-Jewish citizens of Israel in general, and Palestinian citizens in particular, are subject to systems of discriminatory laws that relegate them to the status of second-class citizens. In this light, to call for Israel to cease to be a ‘Jewish state’ is to call for Israel to cease to privilege its Jewish citizens and instead to become a secular democracy, wherein all peoples, Jewish and non-Jewish, may flourish with equal rights under the law.

Q: Will divestment create an unsafe space for Jewish students on campus?

All students’ safety must be protected. It is important to distinguish between being unsafe and being uncomfortable. It might be unpleasant for some students to hear facts about Israeli oppression or criticism of the policies of the Israeli state, but discomfort is not the same thing as threats to safety. Treating them as the same threatens free speech and activism on any controversial social justice issue. In reality, campuses are often not safe spaces for Palestinian, Arab or Muslim students, especially if they support Palestinian rights. There are many incidents of verbal or physical targeting of these students, rarely recognized or condemned by university officials.

Q: Divestment is opposed by many Israelis who support an end to the Occupation. By calling for divestment, aren’t we alienating those Israeli allies and in effect strengthening the right wing?

A: A growing number of Israelis support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, including academics, activists, artists, and more. The Coalition of Women for Peace and ‘Boycott!: Supporting the Palestinian Call from Within’ are just some of a growing number of Israeli groups and individuals who support some form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

While the views of Israeli supporters should be taken into consideration, Palestinians have the ultimate right to decide on the best method for attaining their own freedom. It is not the role of international and Israeli supporters to dictate the terms of the struggle, especially when Palestinians’ chosen form of resistance is nonviolent, as is the case with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

As in the South African case, at first external pressure may indeed bolster the shift to the right in Israel, but only at first. When the effects of these actions begin to be felt, many Israelis will rethink whether occupation is worth maintaining.

Divestment is a morally sound and effective means of struggle and it is already exerting more pressure on Israel than the Israeli Left or UN resolutions ever have. In short, unlike anything else, it’s working. These factors should be the most important consideration for morally consistent individuals supporting genuine peace.