Contributed by CAMERA intern Sarah Salinger
Many students at universities around the country have begun to take initiatives to divest from Israel. Most of these institutions are located on the west coast, including eight universities in California alone, but the trend is making its way across the country.
The latest divestment initiative is currently taking place on the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey, where the vote to divest took place from Monday April 20th through Wednesday April 22nd. All undergraduates at the university were eligible to vote, and the official ballot question was as follows: Shall the undergraduates call on the Trustees of Princeton University and the Princeton University Investment Company (“PRINCO”) to divest from multinational corporations that maintain the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, facilitate Israel’s and Egypt’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and facilitate state repression against Palestinians by Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian Authority security forces, until these corporations cease such activities?
Prior to the vote and with the knowledge of the student at the forefront of the initiative, the University stated that its students are allowed to vote on the issue, but the University will not divest regardless of the results. In addition to the undergraduate voters, seventy-three tenured professors have signed and presented a letter explaining the case for divestment to the President of the University, Christopher Eisgruber. On the homepage of the Princeton Divests site, the student at the head of the initiative states: This referendum calls on the University to divest from companies that:
- Maintain the infrastructure of the illegal Israeli military occupation of the West Bank;
- Facilitate Israel’s and Egypt’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; or
- Facilitate state repression against Palestinians by Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian Authority security forces.
On the other side of the issue, some of Princeton’s anti-divestment supporters came together and created their own website to counter princetondivests.org, titled http://nodivest.org/ . The site offers explanations of why the pro-divestment referendum is misleading and how Princeton students can exchange meaningful dialogue that will make an impact, as opposed to divesting.
On its site, No Divest advertises an existing student organization at the university that brings together both Israel and Palestine supporters, Tigers Together, explaining that “Initiatives like Tigers Together build trust and partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians, pave the path to a sustainable, equitable two-state solution, and immediately and tangibly benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The site’s main point is that there is a better way to promote peace than for the university to divest, and it is important that undergraduates understand that voting no on divestment at Princeton doesn’t mean voting no on a peaceful two-state solution in Israel. In fact, voting yes on divestment is rejecting the opportunity for peaceful and effective dialogue.
In the end, approximately 52% voted no on divestment out of the 43% of undergraduates who voted. In addition to the undergraduate vote, the graduate students at Princeton also held a vote on a referendum to divest.
Graduate student Kelly Roache proposed to the Graduate Student Government that there be a GS vote on divestment similar to that of the undergraduate vote in order to show the GS’s commitment to being involved in their university community. Zoe Toledo of The Daily Princetonian captured Roache’s main focus of the GS vote to divest, writing, “The referendum is nonbinding… Instead, the referendum will help collect information by documenting student opinions on divestment.”
Not only are most people against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, but many Palestinians themselves are against the movement as well. One example of this is Bassem Eid, the founder and director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring group based in Jerusalem. He proudly stands against the BDS movement, preaching that it harms Palestinians as opposed to helps them. As Eid explains in his blog for the Times of Israel, “In the West Bank… the only good jobs are with Israeli companies, and the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement is doing its best to take those jobs away from us.”
Many college campus initiatives to divest from Israel are doing so with the intention of helping the Palestinian people living in the West Bank; however, as suggested by Eid, a proud Palestinian himself, divestment is not only detrimental for Israeli companies but it is destructive for those Palestinians who are trying to make a living.
As shown through the student initiative to divest, it is very important to the student body of Princeton University to take action on world events in any way they can. Overall, however, as No Divest explains, the only way to truly open the dialogue on how to take real and effective action is to keep an open mind and to actively converse with one another. Divesting leaves no room for an open mind or honest, effective dialogue.