Prominent individuals weigh in on ASSU divestment debate

March 4, 2013, 11:34 p.m.

As the ASSU Undergraduate Senate prepares to discuss for the third straight week a bill put forward by Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER) supporting selective divestment from Israel, SPER and the Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA) have both received outside statements of support from prominent individuals, including Nobel Prize winners and congressmen.

SPER has received statements of support for their campaign from a number of prominent social justice advocates, including Nobel Peace Laureates Mairead Maguire and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

SIA’s supporters include Congressmen Eric Cantor and Charles Rangel and Nobel Prize winners Roger Kornberg Ph.D. ’72, professor of structural biology, and Al Roth M.S. ’73 Ph.D. ’74, professor of economics.

The Senate will vote on the bill at tomorrow’s meeting. If approved, the bill would pledge the Senate’s support in urging the Board of Trustees to reconsider endowment investments in eight companies — including Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin and Motorola — that allegedly cause “substantial social injury.” The Senate heard student presentations on both sides of the issue at their last two meetings.

In a letter addressed to the ASSU, Tutu said that he has supported similar campaigns on several other college campuses and compared the situation in Palestine to apartheid in South Africa.

“No matter what detractors may allege, students pushing for divestment are doing the right thing. They are doing the moral thing,” Tutu wrote in his letter. “These students advocating divestment from Israel’s occupation today are helping to pave that path to a just peace, and I heartily endorse their divestment move, encourage them to stand firm on the side of what is right and urge others to follow their lead.”

In Roth’s statement on the SIA website, he said that he opposes divestment from Israel and opposes singling Israel out for human rights violations.

“Despite the long running low intensity war that persists, and the moral and practical complications of occupation, I think people at Stanford should question whether they believe that Israel has a worse human rights record than its neighbors, or that Palestine would become an island of liberal democracy on the Arab map if only peace could be achieved,” Roth wrote.

Yoav Shoham, a computer science professor, and Larry Diamond ’73 M.A. ’78 Ph.D. ’80, a political science professor and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, have also written statements in opposition to SPER’s bill on the SIA website. The late Daniel Pearl ’85’s father, Judea Pearl, wrote a statement opposing the SPER bill, and a petition from Stanford alumni received more than 700 signatures.

“We urge you to resist attempts by the [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] special interest group to hijack the Senate’s agenda and distract it from its important work,” wrote Michael Jacobs ’77 in a letter on the SIA website in support of the alumni petition to oppose the SPER bill.

Maguire and Tutu’s letters in support of the SPER petition were joined by 11 other statements from scholars, students and interested parties, including “The Color Purple” author Alice Walker, Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, Professor of History Joel Beinin and Professor of Comparative Literature David Palumbo-Liu.

SPER also received a letter of support signed by representatives from 86 Palestinian college councils and youth organizations, who wrote that they “live under an oppressive system of colonial control.”

“Stanford students have always been at the forefront of innovative and value-based actions that have pushed the human race forward,” the letter said. “It is in your hands at Stanford to see that the tide finally turns across campuses in the United States to ensure that companies are held accountable for continuing to support the violation of Palestinian human rights.”

Representatives from student groups such as Chabad at Stanford, the Jewish Student Organization and J Street U Stanford have also spoken out in opposition to the divestment bill, criticizing it as an attack on Israel.

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