The Georgetown, Divest! forum on University investment in Palestine and Israel

On Tuesday night, the new student group Georgetown, Divest! presented their case for University divestment from companies that they say profit from human rights violations in Israel and Palestine.

The campaign’s kick-off event came days after an April 9 meeting with officials from the Investment Office who, according to a Georgetown, Divest! press release, said that the complexity of the Georgetown’s investments prohibit it from pursuing selective divestment as a realistic goal.

“We were told the University values the maximizing of return over ethics. This is not acceptable,” said Students for Justice in Palestine VP Jackson Perry (COL ’12). (Disclosure: Perry is an assistant photo editor for the Voice).

Nonetheless, the campaign launch event, attended by roughly 40 people, pressed for the University to pursue selective divestment from several multinational corporations. Perry outlined the four categories from which the select companies could profit: “Operation on illegally occupied land, the construction and maintenance of the separation barrier, the facilitation of collective punishment including home demolition and land confiscation, and institutionalized discrimination.”

Georgetown, Divest! also called for the University to divest from the following corporations whose work they say falls within those four categories—Ahava, which is a cosmetics company, Motorola Israel, Roadstone Holdings and Riwal, both construction companies, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Veolia Transportation, and Mekorot, a water company.

“Georgetown University has a tradition of social responsibility. Its investment policies must reflect its foundational values … It is not acceptable for a university dedicated to justice and social responsibility to ignore these ideals in its investments,” Perry said.

Dr. Mark Lance, Professor of Justice and Peace, spoke after the presentation and compared the situation to apartheid-era South Africa.

“Every citizen of Israel has the legal nationality of Jewish or Arab. Imagine that the U.S. passed a law that there are white people and black people and that’ll be your nationality. Or Christians and Muslims. I take it that we would call it as it is—racist and evil,” Lance said. “We pay for it, and it’s extremely important to remember. Every person in this room pays for what you saw on this screen. Every person who pays taxes in this country supports this whether you like it or not.”

Father Raymond Kemp also lent his moral support to the campaign, citing the power of non-violent resistance within Catholic social teaching.

“I’m here to applaud you and stand with you. You’re in a great tradition,” Kemp said.

“It is no more anti-Semitic to boycott Israel than it is to say anti-white to boycott South Africa. We all know Israel has a tendency to call anything anti-Semitic,” said Shelley Fudge, a representative from Jewish Voices for Peace.

The group also held an open discussion forum, taking questions from the roughly forty-person audience.

Both Father Kemp and Dr. Lance said that officials from the Investment Office were misrepresenting the University’s long-standing commitment to social justice by claiming that they have no way of ensuring socially responsible investments.

“I’m stunned by it,” said Father Kemp.

Representatives from Georgetown Divest! said that they are planned for a long battle and remain steadfast in their demands that the University’s $1 billion endowment be divested from the companies they named. They also plan to approach GUSA to discuss the matter.

Photograph by Hannah Haines

36 Comments on “The Georgetown, Divest! forum on University investment in Palestine and Israel

  1. So, just to be clear, this is just about divestment from Israel companies, or those companies that operate in certain areas in Israel, right? If so, it seems like a pretty singular, one-sided goal — not caring about companies involved in child labor, harming the rainforest or indigenous cultures, etc — just solely anti-Israel.

  2. Maybe we should talk about the social justice of palestinian terrorists using civilians and schools as shields and try to fix that problem before we worry about our meager investments.

  3. Hi Matt and other anonymous commentator! My name is Elise, I’m a member of Georgetown, Divest! One of the main points of the campaign is that it’s NOT anti-Israeli. Actually, the campaign talks about companies from many different countries. The idea is that if any company is going against something the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Geneva Convention says, we don’t want our money supporting that company. There are companies that violate human rights in Israel and Palestine from all over – USA, Israel, Palestine, Ireland, the Netherlands, just to name a few. This is not an anti-Israeli campaign, but a campaign that seeks to hold multi-national companies responsible for upholding international law within the Israeli-Palestinian context. And there are a lot of problems in the world – there are certainly many other issues, including those Matt mentioned, that Georgetown can take a stance on using divestment – but our focus is particularly on this issue.

    Regarding the issue of Palestinian terrorists, Georgetown, Divest! is committed to non-violence. Believe me, if we could divest from Hamas, we would. However, selective divestment from companies can send the message that Georgetown will not support the status quo in Israel and Palestine. With an endowment of over $1 billion, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential of divestment to really improve the situation for Israelis and Palestinians.

    We have worked very hard on this campaign and I hope people take the time to learn the details of the campaign before assuming it is anti-Israeli. If you are interested in the details of the campaign you can visit our website, http://georgetowndivest.wordpress.com/ – We also recorded the launch event and hopefully will have it up on the website soon!

  4. Here’s something that will do more good for the world:

    Abandon your current cause. Instead, work a minimum wage job. Donate the money earned to poor people. Alternatively, burn the money, making the poor holders of dollars in fiscally insolvent nations better off.

  5. I read your website Elise. As expected, it was SILENT on the violence in the Middle East against Israel that forces Israel into a permanent defensive posture. The expectation that Israel conceding everything would be followed by everyone living harmoniously is a joke. Free and unfettered access would lead to massive attacks on Israel, both internally and externally. Israel is absolutely wrong on any number of issues, but the Palestinians and their allies (Hamas, Iran) are not angels and won’t just disarm and walk away when all demands are met. Hamas and Iran demand the annihilation of Israel no matter what, not a negotiation.

  6. Matt and Steve, clearly you (and most of our country) has not learned that bombing people and occupation breeds terrorists.

  7. If “Georgetown, Divest!” is going to solely focus on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then it needs to reflect that in its title. If the group is going to use the unqualified exclamation of divestment in its name, then it should support divestment from ALL companies that do not follow socially responsible practices, regardless of location and push that as its platform. And I’d throw in environmental responsibility into the mix, too.

  8. From the looks of the website, it seems there is willingful exemption of discussion of violence in the Middle East being part of a multi-lateral conflict and rather focuses on the sole idea that Israel will not concede land to Palestine and is the only violator.

    Its funny how the group calls into question so much that the university does but fails in its own right to adequately recognize the many parts of conflict in the middle east- not to mention the subversive involvement of Arab countries against Israel. Nevertheless, you guys have a great idea, it just needs tweaking.

    Eric, clearly you have not learned that terrorists breed more terrorists and that despite many cease fire agreements, terrorists continue to break them and launch rockets into Israel.

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  11. I don’t see what is so radical about their message that it should be met with such scorn here. Probably just a bunch of state department drones in waiting who refuse to question that idea that Israel is somehow sacrosanct in our national defense.

    But no, Georgetown will never do something like this, they’d be too concerned about being painted as anti-Semitic. This administration has clearly proved more interested in their bottom line than any coherent set of ethics.

  12. I’m actually pretty sure that every member of the Georgetown administration has a soundboard and e-mail template to respond to student concerns with a special emphasis on making students feel intellectually inferior. For example: “Our [noun] is far too complex” — just insert “investment structure” and you’re good to go. Has the added benefit of having the subtext of “I understand it, but there’s really no way you could.” The administration go-to is, of course, that it would violate Catholic ethics.

    I’ll save any group trying to protest any of Georgetown’s policies the time by telling you what will happen: (1) you go to them with a list of grievances (2) Georgetown has already considered all potential financial ramifications (don’t forget donors) of anything you’ve mentioned, and would have made this change if it would generate cash (3) Georgetown comes back with a justification essentially saying “you don’t understand (Catholic ethics, investment)” (4) nothing ever happens.

  13. To Steve – Thanks for taking the time to look into our campaign. I think it is a good idea for the website to address the issue of violence on the side of Palestinian and Arab terrorists. I can’t begin to understand Hamas, but I think it’s important to remember that the majority of Palestinians and Arabs are seeking basic human rights and to be treated with dignity. A lot of people say this issue is ancient, but people who commit terrorist actions aren’t acting because of anti-Semitism – they’re acting because every aspect of their lives is controlled by a state which they have no say in (if they live in the West Bank and Gaza). And just because a small minority of Palestinians choose to despicably target civilians, it doesn’t mean you can deny an entire population basic human rights.

    To Anonymous – I think that Georgetown, Divest! works as a name for the group now because we are the only divestment group on campus. I certainly hope we’re successful in eventually establishing ethical oversight of our investments, and that Georgetown will eventually be able to divest from companies our students don’t want to support. If/When other organizations choose divestment as a method of enacting change on other issues, we would definitely look into forming a larger coalition that addresses a broader divestment campaign.

    To Clearly Biased – It’s completely true that this issue is multi-lateral and that Israel faces very real terrorist threats. It’s also true that Arab nations play a part in perpetuating the situation. It is impossible to deny, however, that Israel is in violation of over 60 (I believe, may be higher) UN resolutions which state that it is ILLEGAL for Israel to occupy, transfer citizens, and build permanent infrastructure in areas designated to the Palestinians by the 1947 Partition Plan. And whether or not you agree that Israel is at fault, it is still clear that Israel holds most of the power in the region and has the greatest power to change the situation.

    That said, I’m glad that the campaign has gotten people to learn more about this issue. With such a controversial issue, there will always be radically different opinions, but I think that can only bring progress.

  14. @Eric:

    I didn’t make any commentary on the aims of the program in my comment. Just that it seems one-sided if they’re only focusing on Israel — there are other potential human rights violators out there.

    @Elise:

    Reading from your comments above, it seems that you agree there are other human rights violators, but your “focus is particularly on [the Israel issue].”

    Again, I think this undercuts your work. If you’re arguing for ethical divestment, but then only going after Israel, it strikes people as partisan, especially since the Israel issue is, well, not as one-sided as other issues of human rights violations, whatever you think of the illegality.

    It’s like forming an organization called the ‘Stop Negative Political Campaigning!’ but only going after Republican candidates. Yes, the Republicans may be campaigning negatively — but by ignoring other negative attacks, you undercut your mission.

  15. And I agree with ‘Clearly Biased’ above, that you have a great idea, it just needs to be tweaked. I’d be a lot more willing to support your position on Israel divestment if it was included as part of an objective set of criteria that would put any company doing X, Y, or Z on part of a ban list — e.g., Chevron, Nike, Halliburton, etc.

  16. @Matt

    Yeah! what I’m still pissed off about is why didn’t Martin Luther King Jr. say anything about homosexuality?! That totally undercut his mission! So many more people would have totally supported equal rights for African-Americans, if only he hadn’t ignored homosexual rights! GAH such a misguided person because he didn’t focus on EVERY injustice in the entire world!

  17. Right, because Georgetown doesn’t actually invest our money through fund managers, who then invest in other funds and portfolios and financial instruments, which would be wildly complex to untangle (only to find out that we have, what, maybe a fraction of a percent of our endowment invested in these companies).

    Why doesn’t Georgetown just uncheck that “Profit from Human Rights Abuses in Israel” box on the “Invest Your Money” form that the Office of Investment fills out each morning before they sit around and twiddle their thumbs, because it’s not like they have actual work to do?

  18. @Matt,

    If we decided to divest from all unethical companies, we wouldn’t have any companies to invest in. The campaign you are suggesting is not strategic at all since it would be asking a historically slow-to-react institution to do too much. Were campaigns for divestment from Apartheid South Africa partisan? Maybe, but it’s a lot easier and more realistic to ask the university to take action on a specific issue than to tell them to stop investing in every company that does something bad. The list a person can come up with of “unethical” companies is inevitably partisan and ambiguous. This campaign is at least targeting specific companies for specific goals. As well, if it succeeds, it will be much easier for groups focusing on other issues to ask the university to divest from the myriads of other unethical companies I’m sure we invest in. As my good not teammate Not Greg Monroe once told me “Take one step at a time Not Ryan Dougherty and maybe someday you’ll be on the not starting lineup”

  19. I think one of the reasons Jewish/pro-Israeli groups are (frequently incorrectly) quick to use accusations of antisemitism is that countries guilty of far worse human rights abuses mostly fall under the radar (Sudan exempted). Why doesn’t Burma get the same attention, or Sri Lanka when it was wrapping up its operations in the Tamil strongholds of the country.

    Maybe the above examples weren’t subject to such campaigns because they receive/d less attention than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what of companies that do business Iran, specifically those that helped the government squash the protests following the most recent presidential election?

  20. Elise, I was not going to comment on this issue until you said this:

    “A lot of people say this issue is ancient, but people who commit terrorist actions aren’t acting because of anti-Semitism – they’re acting because every aspect of their lives is controlled by a state which they have no say in (if they live in the West Bank and Gaza). And just because a small minority of Palestinians choose to despicably target civilians, it doesn’t mean you can deny an entire population basic human rights.”

    I’ll ignore the obvious, inappropriate justification of terrorism to say that this simply isn’t true. Right now, Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which won elections in the territory despite the fact that their charter and mission spews anti-semitic bullshit all over the place. Even current Hamas leaders are full of bullshit like “Jews can’t be trusted” and whatever. As a reminder, the people of Gaza elected a woman to the legislature whose video ads contained footage of her sending her son off to blow himself up. He took several Israeli students with him. Claiming that Palestinian terrorists aren’t anti-semitic is simply nonsensical, and claiming that problems will cease the second Israel leaves the territories is absurd – especially since part of their charter includes declarations about the destruction of Israel.

    There IS a problem with human rights violations in Israel. No one’s going to try to deny that, and I’m not necessarily faulting your campaign for attempting to end human rights violations in this particular part of the world. But to claim that this issue is one sided and terrorism only stems from this is to ignore many, many truths about terrorism in the territories and Israel. You might have met people with friends who are treated poorly in the territories, but I also have friends who went to funeral after funeral in Israel (right after their houses were destroyed by rockets). Your binocular vision is simply offensive.

  21. Divest from Israel and “Palestine” sounds so fair, except there are no major companies doing business on the West Bank and Gaza because the Palestinians are terrorists who kill innocents. Or course you are only anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic. But your argument is so thinly veiled I am not so sure.

  22. Between Divests actions and the fact that it was Yom Hashoah, the international holocaust remembrance day, on Monday? Divest is disgusting and the timing of their actions even more so. Divest chose to act the week that not only us jews, but the whole world remembers that 6 million innocent jews were murdered. Men, women, and children. Members of my family as well as of the families of many of your friends at Georgetown probably. Maybe the mission of Divest is not inherently anti-semetic (although you could argue it is) it is clear that it’s members (or at least its leaders and organizers) are. I would love to here Elise Garofalo attempt to claim no connection, but we go to Georgetown, and we are smarter than to believe her.

  23. Our endowment sucks people, we need more money. If you want to give yourself warm fuzzies by advocating your cause go right ahead but at least show some discretion when the “benefits” your demands have zero real world impact while the negatives could actually screw over the Diversity.

    You want to jump off Lockheed Martin and make it about about pacifism in the region that’s at least defensible but Caterpillar? Do they make special special settlement building bulldozers?

  24. @EK one of the reasons behind that would be US sanctions prohibit investment in Burma. Your point is definitely important though, just thought you’d be interested.

  25. @Julie Thanks for the heads up. However, while we have sanctions in place against Burma, I intended to focus my comment on non-governmental divestment movements like Georgetown, Divest! As Georgetown, Divest! is targeting all companies, regardless of their nationality, and since US sanctions only apply to US companies and their American subsidiaries, such divestment campaigns could still have an impact.

  26. I am a 1962 graduate of Georgetown’s Institute of Languages and Linguistics (renamed the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics), and I am Jewish. I am unable to adequately express how very proud I am of the courage and foresight of Georgetown, Divest! Divestment from companies that profit from human rights violations in Israel and Palestine is critical. But this divestment is not only about Israel and Palestine; the life of every human being on this planet will continue to be at risk until the atrocities that Israel is perpetrating on the Palestinian people have ended. Georgetown, Divest! — we are with you. Georgetown University, the world is watching and you will do well to remember Bishop Desmond Tutu’s wise admonition: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

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  29. I am concerned at the negative reactions by people in this comment roll. I do not know much about the conflict, but I do know enough to understand that regardless of who is “right” or “wrong” that Americans should not support companies that benefit from human rights violations. I don’t look at it as a Palestine/Israel issue, this is an issue that individuals found and they decided to work on, if another group supports divestment of companies that benefit from violations in another part of the world then good for them too.

    A friend of mine attended the meeting they had and they said it was extremely balanced, fair and non-inflammatory. Seeing as they are Jewish and have family in Israel I find it odd that they believe it is a well balanced organization and something worth supporting when they have a “vested” interest. I can’t quote UN findings, names, or any of that stuff but I know when something is right vs wrong, and divesting from human rights violations is the right thing to do.

    Georgetown should divest of any socially irresponsible investments, I think its sad this is even a discussion.

  30. @RU Serious:

    I think the issue of what is a ‘human rights violation’. I think there’s a very healthy disagreement on that term when applied to the specific divestments this group is advocating.

    For example, the group is against those companies financing the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank. To call it a human rights violation is, at best, complicated. Suicide bombings have decreased to almost zero in the areas where the barrier has been completed. The Supreme Court of Israel has intervened twice in the barrier to reroute the construction to ensure it minimizes the impact on Palestinians.

    So, to approach this barrier as an absolute, black and white issue is either disingenuous, facile or both. It’s a balancing of the Israeli people’s right to be secure from terrorist attacks vs. the inconveniences faced by Palestinians affected by the barrier. It has to be conceded that this a non-violent way to stop terrorism, compared to the other ways that Israel would be forced to tackle it in the absence of a wall.

    As others have been saying, concentrating on Israel specifically without concern for their unique security situation — and marketing to the campus at large as neutral and non-partisan (See, for example, the group’s title, or the fact that their editorial in the Hoya barely mentions their main concerns except in a passing sentence) — and ignoring other, more starker companies with spotty human rights records.

    The response that there are “a lot of problems in the world” but that they can only (or have chosen to only) concentrate on Israel is highly suspect. Like Matt said above, it’s like having an organization aimed to stop negative campaigning in politics, but then only concentrating on negative campaigning by Republicans. No one’s suggesting you have to tackle negative campaigning in every country in the world, but at least giving even-handed treatment to Democrats and Republicans would bolster your claim of non-partisanship.

  31. I think that it is disgraceful that you write “Every citizen of Israel has the legal nationality of Jewish or Arab”. First, it is not true. All Israeli citizens do have their religion listed (Jew, Muslim, Christian, etc.) “Arab” is never listed, as it isn’t a religion. All these people have an equal vote, and there are more than one Arab party (mainly representing Muslim and Christian Arabs) in the house of commons.

    The Palestinian territories, and all other ~26 Arab states do not allow Jews to live there, and nobody, whether Muslim or otherwise has a vote, as these states are mostly dictatorial and oppress their people. These should be the true targets of this divestment.

    The fact is, Israeli citizens of all religions are free – to vote, protest, demonstrate, worship. Did you know that to this day, the temple mount in Jerusalem, controlled by the Muslim wakf, can arrest any Jew that prays there, while any Israeli Muslim can pray freely anywhere in Israel?

  32. That Israeli systematically discriminates by law and custom against its resident Palestinian population is well documented. The list of books include among others Ian Lustick’s, ” Arabs in a Jewish State” to Jonathon Cook’s, “Blood and Religion,” Uri Davis, “Apartheid Israel,” and Susan Nathan’s, “The Other Side of Israel.” There are also a host of articles and reports from the UN and human rights organization. In Israel a Palestinian can be barred from running for the Knesset if he or she advocates “one state for all its people” that is for a secular Israel. I doubt if Ms. Brown or her pro-Israeli friends would favor a sectarian “Christian” state in the US. To argue that Israel grants equal rights and equal access to its non-Jewish citizens is either naive or disingenuous.
    Israel has been getting away with its great lie of progressive democracy for decades while demanding special treatment and collecting billions in US aid. It is high time that Israel’s human rights abuses were targeted and boycott and divestment are legitimate tools to use in this effort.

  33. Advice to Georgetown. Don’t do this. We started a divestment bill at UC Berkeley- it damn near tore our school apart. An outrageous wave of anti-Semitism was unleashed- swastikas began appearing in the dorms and in bathrooms. Rocks were through through the windows of nearby Jewish businesses. And a palestinian student activist assaulted a Jewish girl- she ending up getting a restraining order against him. At UC san Diego, things were nearly as bad.
    I can’t imagine a more divisive thing to do to a campus.
    Georgetown- don’t do it.

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