Why “single out” Israel?

1) Successive US governments are the ones that have consistently singled Israel out. Israel has unconditionally received more US economic and military aid than any other country in the world – for example, in 2014, Israel received $3.1 billion in military aid from the United States and another $3.1 billion in economic aid, far more than the second largest US foreign aid recipients.  Additionally, Israel experiences virtual immunity in the UN thanks to more than 50 US Security Council vetoes of resolutions criticizing Israeli atrocities. US taxpayers should be particularly concerned with the harmful activities Americans are supporting and paying for.

2) Israel is violating more UN resolutions than any other country in the history of the UN, including Iraq and Iran—put together. Other countries are routinely punished for their transgressions. The question is not whether Israel should be singled out, but whether it should be held to the same standard as other countries.

3) BDS is a tactic, not a dogma. We don’t divest for the sake of divesting; we divest when we think it can work, and we do it especially because it’s a morally consistent tactic that the great majority of Palestinian civil society has asked us to embrace.

4) If there was a campaign to divest from companies elsewhere also committing heinous crimes, morally consistent people of conscience should endorse that as well, especially if requested by those most directly affected by those crimes. It is not hypocritical to boycott Israel; it is hypocritical to single out Israel to not be boycotted. Supporting BDS against Israel is part of a larger commitment to global justice and anti-racism, consistent with opposition to human rights abuses around the world in Burma, Darfur, Kashmir, Tibet, etc.

Is this an SJP campaign?

UofC Divest is a coalition made up of concerned students from various backgrounds and identities. While our campaign is focused on divesting from corporations that supply Israel with the means to illegally occupy Palestine and the campaign is an initiative of Students for Justice in Palestine, it is a truly collaborative effort and is separate from any existing student organization.

What about dialogue?

First of all, dialogue vs BDS is a false binary. Some of the most important and substantive dialogue and education about Palestine/Israel  at universities tends to happen during divestment campaigns. However, dialogue without BDS fails to recognize crucial imbalances of power. Meaningful change will only come in Palestine/Israel when the more powerful party – Israel – is pressured to comply with international law. While “dialogue” does have a useful role, it will always serve the status quo if used as a barrier to meaningful action. The past 60 years of failed diplomacy have demonstrated that dialogue without real incentive for Israel to change simply does not work.

Doesn’t divestment also hurt Palestinians?

The greatest barrier to Palestinian self-determination, including economic independence, is the Israeli occupation. The fact that Palestinians are dependent on Israel for jobs is a problem that divestment attempts to solve by working toward independence of the Palestinian economy. The greatest economic benefit to Palestinians would be the dismantling of the occupation, freedom from extreme geographic and political restrictions reminiscent of South Africa’s ‘bantustans,’ and an end to systematic violence in the occupied territories. Moreover, people who use this argument to oppose divestment are usually more interested in maintaining the status quo in Palestine/Israel than they are legitimately concerned for Palestinians’ welfare, given their refusal to consider that BDS was called for by Palestinians themselves. Similarly to with most labor-led strikes and boycotts against abusive companies and other employers, Palestinians overall have decided that the temporary risks of BDS are worth the long term gains. If we truly care about Palestinians, we should respect and support their decisions, chosen strategies, and agency.

Aren’t both Israelis and Palestinians committing violence? Why are you just placing demands on Israel?

While Israelis and Palestinians 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 African National Congress 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.

Isn’t divestment anti-Semitic?

The core principles of divestment are based in universal human rights and international law, and thereby UofC Divest opposes, in the strongest possible terms, all forms of oppression and hatred, including anti-Semitism. Calling for divestment is about ending our complicity in the violation of these tenets. In fact, many Jewish and Israeli people and groups (such as Jewish Voice for Peace) support the BDS movement, which includes divestment.

Can the university divest from certain companies? What about the Kalven Report?

Yes. The university’s board of trustees decides where the university invests its funds, based on the recommendation of an investment committee composed of board members. The Kalven Report is a 1967 university document that recommends that the University of Chicago maintain institutional neutrality when it comes to political and social issues. University administrators, board members, and other critics have historically referenced it as a justification for not divesting from South African apartheid, Darfur, fossil fuels, etc. However:

    1. The Kalven Report includes an exception for cases in which “corporate activities of the university may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.” Because investment in companies complicit in apartheid is a form of support for racist policies, war crimes, and human rights violations, this exception is clearly appropriate in the case of divestment.
    2. The argument that divestment violates neutrality does not hold up. The idea that divesting is political, while investing in companies in the first place is neutral makes no sense, unless the university was invested equally in literally everything, or chose its investments at random. Since neither of those scenarios are the case, what the Board of Trustees (a body made up of individuals with their own political, social, and financial interests, opinions, and preferences) chooses to invest in is just as political as what it chooses not to invest in.  
    3. There is no real link explaining how divesting from companies complicit in human right violations would in any way restrict the free expression of UChicago faculty or students. No one is proposing that individual faculty members or students should be prevented from expressing any viewpoint on Israel/Palestine, for example. Furthermore, many other universities have socially responsible investment committees and policies, which has not stifled free expression at any of these institutions.
    4. The Kalven Report is not a binding governing document or a sacred religious text. Whether or not you believe divestment is in violation of the report, it is not a binding document and does not have the power to force  the university/ Board of Trustees to invest in a particular way. The document simply reflects the consensus opinion of 7 white men who held positions of power and influence at the University of Chicago in 1967, about what the university’s role in political and social action should be. Our opinions on this matter in 2016–at a university that lists critical thinking, free inquiry, and diversity of opinions as key values– do not have to be, and likely should not be, the same as this one group’s consensus view.
    5. The Kalven Report was never a “neutral” document in the first place. It was written in response to widespread student protests and uprisings in the late 1960s, in order to give justification for not acquiescing to student demands, without having to outright oppose them. However, choosing to maintain the status quo is just as political as choosing to change it. The status quo only seems “neutral” to those who benefit from or are not actively harmed by it. As Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. 

I don’t feel like I know enough about the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict and/or the contemporary situation. How can I learn more?

Here are some helpful resources: