Israel divestment campaign fizzles on American colleges, but not elsewhere.August 21, 2009
j. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California
In preparation for worldwide Israel Apartheid Week, students from Berkeley to New Brunswick to New York were gearing up for the “Divest from Israel” campaign.
But while the perennially photogenic campus Israel divestment movement has garnered a firestorm of media coverage and induced much hand-wringing in the Jewish community, divestment demands have had little effect on American university administrators.
After years of loud demonstrations and circulating petitions, pro-divestment resolutions have been passed by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville faculty senate and the student government of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. And that’s it.
Neither resolution was taken up by the administrations. The same goes for the much-ballyhooed Harvard and MIT petitions and the divestment drive at University of California at Berkeley and other U.C. campuses.
It’s not that universities are automatically averse to divestment movements. In 2006, the University of California system divested millions of dollars from companies doing business in Sudan. The Iranian divestment movement also has gained momentum across the country.
“A lot more obstacles stand in the way of the Israel divestment movement than Iran or Sudan,” said Jason Miller, a sixth-year medical student at U.C. San Francisco who co-founded the Sudan Divestment Task Force in 2005.
While Mr. Miller had to fight institutional inertia, no one was coming out in favor of the Sudanese government or fighting the ethos behind his divestment call. When it comes to Israel divestment, though, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Although Berkeley is prominently listed as one of the campuses participating in Israel Apartheid Week, Trey Davis, an Oakland-based spokesman for the U.C. system, said no messages about Israel divestment have landed on his desk for several years now.
“Over the years, divestment appeals come up on a whole wide range of reasons—environmental impacts, labor practices, health care and so forth,” he said.
But none of these situations rose to the horrors of Darfur, where an “ongoing genocide” provided “the magnitude for this exceptional action.”
And there’s the rub: The notion that Israel is committing a “genocide” against the Palestinians comparable to that being perpetrated on the Darfurians does not hold water with the American public.
Furthermore, based on the visceral responses of Jews both on and off the nation’s campuses, any university chancellor who would consider divesting from Israel knows he or she would be entering a world of pain.
The same can’t be said for the nation’s Protestant religious movements.
In 2004, a Presbyterian General Assembly floor vote ratified a resolution supporting peaceful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But buried deep within the resolution was an amendment that opened the door to Israel divestment. That door was partially closed with a reversal at the 2006 plenum.
Five Methodist regions (out of more than 100) voted to support Israel divestment as well. Israel divestment is expected to be a prominent topic at the next Methodist quadrennial.
In this struggle, Jews are handicapped. Many of the most ardent church leaders advocating disengagement are Palestinian Christians.
“Jewish voices are systematically left out,” Mr. Santis said. “I want to be very clear about this—we are at a distinct disadvantage.”