Those of us in SJP would like to share some of our thoughts on the “Highland Write-Off” concerning the divestment movement on UC campuses, published in the January 20th, 2015 issue of The Highlander. Though we appreciate and respect both authors civic engagement with the issue, we thought there were several misleading and false portrayals of divestment in the article “Divestment fails to consider long-term opportunities,” by staff writer Robert Lees.
The article makes many implausibly catastrophic predictions over what could happen if divestment were to actually occur, but gave no evidence to would suggest that these are actually likely scenarios.
For example, a few of the grave outcomes it predicts include: “if divestment were to be adopted we risk losing a fair amount of revenue that is necessary in protecting the economic future of valued faculty members at our campus,” and “an impromptu bout of selling and reinvesting may worry potential UC staff, and they may choose to work elsewhere considering the unseen economic future divestment could create.”
Let’s look at some facts. UC has nearly 800 different investment holdings. The UC-wide divestment movement is requesting the withdrawal of funds from about seven of these companies. All those we request a withdrawal from, though amounting to several millions of dollars, are not significant in comparison to the average company the UC is invested in. In fact, the money invested in these companies is far less than even 1% of the UC’s total investments. Whether one is for or against divestment, one must admit that it is nearly impossible for divestment from these few companies to create any kind of serious burden to the UC.
Furthermore it would be wrong to characterize divestment as a “loss” of revenue, as the formerly-invested money would not simply disappear, but could easily be re-invested in other companies which (who knows?) may turn out to be more successful than the previous ones.
Next, the article states that the Israeli economy has “fared far better in the global economic crisis than many other developed countries,” and therefore Israel is a smart place to invest. This argument is unfortunately a swing-and-miss, as the UC is not invested in Israeli companies, but in American companies which do business with Israel. Even without ties to Israel, the targeted companies are multinational corporations with plenty of business elsewhere. But then again, as UC students, we have no obligation to defend the profits of corporations. As human beings though, we have an obligation to defend human rights.
Furthermore, if we’re talking about economic prosperity, let us not interpret this from an Americentric point of view. The occupation has been extremely debilitating not only to the daily life of Palestinians, but to their ability to have any kind of domestic or international economic relations, and is arguably the primary reason for the comparatively low standard of living, unemployment, and poverty rampant in Palestinian territories. Don’t Palestinians deserve the basic means by which to enjoy a functioning society and economy? Divestment would serve this cause.
The article says “for divestment to truly be fair, we would also have to refuse to do business with Palestinian companies.” Not only is the UC not invested in Palestinian companies, but UC policy does not even allow investment in any companies that are not American. Our objective is to end the occupation, and monetarily pressuring the government responsible for the occupation is the strategy.
Though we believe most of the article was unsubstantiated speculation, some of the theories could be taken seriously if it wasn’t for the diametrically opposite experience the policy of civil divestment has had historically on countries like South Africa. Here we feel the need to stress the fact that divestment has worked before, and none of the dooms-day stories of economic collapse or increased violence because of it came true. Rather, as was the case with South Africa, it served the exact purpose it was intended to: raise awareness of injustice and monetarily restrict those responsible. About a decade after the movement to divest from South Africa picked up steam, the apartheid system collapsed. Though there are of course differences between the present and past divestment movements and their targets, the similarities cannot be ignored either.
The article also reiterated a common argument against divestment: that it could make Jewish or Israeli students feel “unwelcome” or “unsafe.” First of all, there are many Jewish organizations around the world and at UC campuses that support divestment. At UCLA, a student-run branch of the nation-wide organization Jewish Voice for Peace was one of the primary backers of their own campus’ divestment resolution. The BDS movement does not target any ethnicity. It just intends to garner justice for an oppressed people, and is supported by all that believe in rights for Palestinians.
Arman Azedi and Tina Matar
On behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine