By Gilad Isaacs and Glen Pine
Washington Square News – 13 Apr 2011
[This is an updated version of the one from the WSN.]
WSN’s recent coverage of NYU Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) rally and mock wall (“Students for Justice in Palestine rally for divestment from Israel”, 6 April 2011) raises interesting questions.
The SJP divestment campaign has received an overwhelmingly positive response. In last week’s two afternoons of tabling, SJP collected over two hundred signatures for a general public petition. Before the campaign even went public over seventy faculty members had signed an open letter to TIAA-CREF CEO and President Roger W. Ferguson, arguably among the most political acts by NYU faculty in recent years.
Throughout the week students approached SJP asking to become more active, and additional faculty and staff contacted SJP daily asking to join the campaign. All this has taken place on a campus with an allegedly strong anti-Palestinian presence.
How, then, is this campaign generating such a positive response?
We offer three ideas.
First, the issues are unambiguous. Pension giant TIAA-CREF has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in (predominately) U.S. corporations that actively profit from and perpetuate the illegal and morally unjustifiable occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Caterpillar’s bulldozers illegally demolish homes and uproot olive trees; Elbit Systems’ drones bomb and kill innocent civilians; Motorola’s equipment is used at the illegal Separation Wall, and at illegal checkpoints, and illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and deep within the West Bank; Veolia invests in Jewish-only transportation; and Northrop Grumman’s weapons systems kill Palestinian civilians.
The occupation, settlements, checkpoints and Separation Wall are all illegal under international law. These companies’ products are therefore being used to perpetuate crimes. The companies mentioned above both provide the tools that make the occupation possible and profit from it. It is to these companies that TIAA-CREF, one of two pension funds available to NYU faculty and staff, is funneling NYU employees’ earnings.
NYU SJP, together with many other national organizations, is calling on TIAA-CREF to withdraw its investments in these corporations. This is called divestment.
One reason, therefore, that the campaign is gaining such widespread support is because few would argue that the money of NYU faculty and staff should be invested in criminal behavior. Few people, for example, want their retirement savings to help produce bombs that kill children or support surveillance that denies the right to freedom of movement.
The second reason is that supporters of Palestinians rights – that is, supporters of equal rights for all – are fed up.
The so-called “peace process” has, by design, gone nowhere for many years, and the Obama administration has been unwilling to apply meaningful pressure on Israel.
The Palestine Papers confirmed that Israel has consistently rejected Palestinian peace offers, likely because it is able to occupy Palestinian land and exploit Palestinian resources at minimal political cost to itself – thanks largely to unwavering U.S. support.
What are supporters of Palestinian rights to do? Wait patiently for the Israeli state to end its occupation, now in its 44th year? Of course not.
This brings us to the third reason for the initial success of SJP’s campaign: the strategy of targeted divestment. Divestment is a non-violent, peaceful tactic aimed at ending the occupation and supporting the full realization of civil, political, and socio-economic rights for all who live in the region.
It aims to raise the cost of doing business with the occupation.
SJP’s campaign targets predominately U.S. corporations whose products help make the occupation possible. Withdrawing this material support challenges Israel’s ability to violate international law and oppress millions of Palestinians.
The power of the SJP campaign rests in part on its broad appeal; not every signatory needs to share the same politics. Supporters need only a commitment to basic human rights and dignity – in this case, a commitment to withdrawing material support, as best we can, from an ongoing illegal and unjust occupation. For most of us at NYU, it is simple choice.
Gilad Isaacs is a NYU graduate student in the Politics Department of the GSAS. Glen Pine is a NYU PhD student in the Sociology Department of the GSAS.