rage on U.S. campuses for and against investments in Israel
By Oded Hermoni
July 17, 2002
An editorial in the Daily Bruin, the University of California-Los
Angeles campus, last week called for the university to get rid of
all its investments in Israeli companies and American companies
that invest in Israel.
"The UC's investment portfolio is not independent of its social
responsibilities," said the editorial. "In 1984, the UC
divested from South Africa because it, too, was clearly violating
human rights during apartheid."
The editorial is the latest item in a battle underway at some of
the most prestigious universities in the United States. Petitions
on the same theme as the UCLA student newspaper has been circulating
at universities like Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Princeton, and University
of California campuses. Counter-petitions have followed. Hundreds
of faculty members have signed the pro-divesting petition and so
have 6,000 students.
A number of Israelis, who belong to faculties in America well as
in Israel, have added their signatures, including Prof. Immanuel
Farjun from Hebrew University and MIT Prof. Yosef Grodzinski, of
Tel Aviv University, and Ben-Gurion University Prof. Naomi Shir.
Jewish and Israeli faculty members at American campuses this week
said it is still too early to judge the influence of the petitions
on their institutions' long-term investment policies. They note
that while campaigns against South African investment in the mid-1980s
drew little opposition, the anti-Israel petitions are spawning counter-petitions
that may out-number the originals.
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, for example, has
issued a statement saying the university does not intend to withdraw
its investments in companies connected to Israel. Princeton University's
board raised the issue for a preliminary debate, ruled that the
petitioner's claims were not sufficient, and dropped the issue from
A university spokeswoman said at this stage there's no point even
examining the issue. "There has to be a consensus on the campus
to make such a decision. There was a short discussion, and we've
decided not to continue it," she said.
Even if universities were to undertake a serious examination of
the issue, it could take as long as two years before any decision
would be made. "Nonetheless, and although the chances are slim,
the petitions could lead to a situation in which the universities
decide to relate to the matter and conduct a comprehensive examination
of their investments in Israel, which would require the university
administrations to explain their position," said one American
The petition against investment in Israel began at Berkeley in
May, after Operation Defensive Shield. A group of students and faculty
members demanded that the university divest $6.4 billion it had
invested in giant companies doing business with Israel, like Cisco
and Hewlett Packard. Later, 165 faculty members from MIT and Harvard
joined, as did 42 faculty members at Princeton. In the last month,
more signatures have been added to the petition, including 125 teachers
from the University of California system.
In response, pro-Israel faculty and students at several universities
have come up with their own petitions against divestiture. So far
5,000 signatures have been collected at Harvard and MIT, says the
Hillel House at MIT, and at UCLA, some 2,000 signatures have been
A leading campaigner for the anti-divestiture petition is Steven
Spiegel, a former aide to President Clinton on Middle East affairs.
He told Ha'aretz the petitions against the investment are more anti-Israel
than they are pro-Palestinian. "This petition is making academics
from the entire political spectrum unite against it. I expect that
the University of California system will indeed discuss the petition
and then reject it. Our goal is to collect 10-30 signatures against
divestiture for every pro-divestiture signature."