Campaign for divestment relaunched

April 18, 2011, 2:05 a.m.

Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI) has relaunched its campaign to build student support for divestment of the University’s endowment from companies that SCAI says profit from human rights violations against Palestinians. SCAI plans to start at a grassroots level to garner student support.

“We are morally bound to stop making the harming of others profitable,” said Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, of using divestment to combat perceived human rights violations. Surasky was one of three panelists at SCAI’s presentation last Thursday to renew the divestment campaign it began in 2007. Approximately 60 people attended the presentation.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has been a divisive topic for decades, and many are reluctant to directly oppose or support either side. As a result, SCAI’s proposition calls for selective divestment rather than divestment from Israel as a whole.

“We’re not calling for divestment from Israeli companies but rather companies that violate human rights laws,” said current law student Omar Shakir ’07, the main speaker at Thursday’s presentation.

The criteria that SCAI presented as warranting divestment include operating on occupied land, facilitating collective punishment and supporting the building of a barrier between Israeli and Palestinian lands. According to SCAI, notable companies that meet those criteria include Motorola, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Veolia Transportation, which operates Stanford’s Marguerite shuttle system.

Shakir pointed out Stanford’s past divestments from South Africa, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as precedents for SCAI’s strategy. He added that the 2007 divestment promotion raised a petition with just under 1,000 signers and achieved a majority vote in the ASSU Undergraduate Senate. SCAI President Jenna Queenan ’11 said that the campaign never officially ended and that SCAI hopes to bring the movement back to students’ attention.

“It’s good timing with all the revolutions in the Middle East,” she said. “We’re relaunching because of momentum with new students [in SCAI].”

The group plans to restart its divestment campaign by giving presentations to student groups and in student residences with larger events, such as town hall meetings and speakers.

One notable criticism at Thursday’s relaunch event was the lack of demand that Stanford divest from Intel. Joel Beinin, a professor of Middle Eastern history and another panelist at Thursday’s event, admitted that the company met several of SCAI’s divestment criteria. However, he said Intel is too large a company and too closely tied to Stanford for SCAI to realistically ask the University to divest. Several audience members criticized SCAI for ignoring Intel’s role in the conflict, despite SCAI’s rhetoric of moral obligation.

Many students, especially in Stanford’s Jewish community, oppose SCAI’s divestment movement. Lindsay Funk ‘13, an activist against last year’s divestment movement, said she opposes divestment campaigning because of the effects it has on Stanford’s campus.

“The Israel-Palestinian conflict is not an easy topic, so it makes sense that anything to do with it, including divestment, is going to engender a lot of conflicting reasonable opinions,” Funk, who advocates for conversation between both sides of the issue, said. She added that SCAI’s campaign makes compromise difficult because, “It’s hard to have a conversation with people who say that you’re propagating an apartheid system.”

The Stanford-Israel Alliance (SIA) officially opposes movements to divest from Israel. SIA president Jonathan York ’13, who is also a Daily photographer, pointed to a campaign similar to SCAI’s at UC-Berkeley that “caused tremendous destruction in their campus community and an enormous amount of divisiveness” despite failing to pass Cal’s student government. SIA states that its priority is creating peace in Israel and believes that divestment works against peace.

“On both sides you have a fundamental problem when divestment is brought up as essentially an alternative to real peace negotiations,” he said.

SIA does not have a campaign planned against divestment at this time, but York said that when the divestment issue arose last year, a separate group called Invest for Peace formed to invest in companies that promote peace in Israel.

SCAI has tentatively scheduled three events in the coming weeks to continue its campaign: a performance by spoken word artist Remi Kanazi on April 28, a town hall meeting on May 3 and a speech by Palestinian democracy activist Mustafa Barghouti on May 13.

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