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Divestment from Israel Loses at Princeton

​On Friday, Princeton University’s undergraduates voted on this question: “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?”

​Although the question mentions Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (but not Hamas), the proposers have made it clear that their ultimate purpose is get Princeton “to divest from multinational corporations that are complicit in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip until these corporations cease such activities.” In other words, the sole reason to object to Egypt or the Palestinian Authority is that they facilitate Israeli oppression.

​Fortunately, Princeton’s undergraduates resisted the star power of Cornel West and the urging of more than a few faculty members, and voted the resolution down, 1067-965. The divestment campaign at Princeton joins other recent failed efforts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of New Mexico. But as usual, the pro-divestment side is claiming victory for having opened up a conversation that has in fact been incessant on college campuses for the past decade, when the latest effort to turn Israel into a pariah state, Israeli Apartheid Week, was launched on our campuses.

​It was reasonable, after this summer’s Gaza offensive, to expect a very bad year for the treatment of Israel on college campuses. But in fact, although divestment resolutions have been passed at UCLA, Northwestern, and Stanford, among other places, divestment has done no better this year than last. It is hard to say why, but perhaps Princeton’s undergraduates and others who rejected divestment could see that they were being played for fools. Perhaps they grasped that divestment is an entering wedge for the broader boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, which puts the very right of Israel to exist in question. Perhaps they understood that activists were taking advantage of student government elections, in which few vote, to produce the appearance of a consensus against Israel on campus.

Perhaps, finally, they reacted against the barely disguised anti-Semitism that has been brought to the surface this year. As Rabbi Evan Goldman, director of Hillel at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported of the lengthy divestment debate at UCSB, one student senator spoke of “the power, money and influence of the Jewish community…. [T]here were audible gasps in the audience.” At least there were gasps. A USCB student in attendance at the same debate was disgusted by “the normalization of anti-Semitic language so casually thrown around at the meeting. In those eight hours, I was told that Jews control the government, that all Jews are rich, that Zionism is racism, that the marginalization of Jewish students is justified because it prevents the marginalization of other minority groups, that Israel sterilizes its Ethiopian women.”

​It is heartening that divestment lost at UCSB, as it lost at Princeton, but disheartening that the vote—reportedly a third attempt at passing divestment at UCSB—was close. Students and faculty, even if they feel no stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, need to get off the sidelines and understand that the use of colleges and universities as weapons in a propaganda war undermines them.

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2 Responses to “Divestment from Israel Loses at Princeton”

  1. ELLIOTT GREEN says:

    as a measure of the ignorance or irrationality of the pro-bds activists, they seldom seem to notice that several Arab states –Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia etc– plus Muslim states like Brunei, are extremely rich both in absolute and per capita terms. But their bigoted grandfathers or grandmothers or group organizers told them that the Jews have all the money –which I used to hear as a kid 50 years ago– so obviously there are no rich Arab or Muslims and no rich Arabs and Muslims. Poor Rafiq Hariri was simply a pauper.

    It is very curious that this particular false notion comes to the surface so easily in the bds movement’s circles. Yet since there is so much Arab wealth, albeit not evenly distributed, as among other peoples, and since Qatar, which has one of the highest per capita GNPs in the world, is also a major funder of Hamas, which the BDSers do not mention as oppressing Arabs in Gaza, then this becomes a significant political issue which should be raised over and over by anti-bds forces and activists. Why doesn’t somebody draw up a Qatar fact sheet expounding the horrid treatment of foreign workers in Qatar, their awful working conditions, especially in construction, the fact that foreign building workers are dying at a rate of one every few days, the fact that passports and wages are unjustly withheld from these semi-slaves, etc etc??? The fact sheet would also have to point out the large contributions of Qatar to Hamas and the fact that Qatar bribed members of the international soccer mondiale committee (of FIFA) in order to get the 2022 soccer mondiale assigned to Qatar.

    With these facts in hand, we can point out that Hamas is living off of the profits of slave labor in Qatar. What will the BDSers have to say to that?

    • BARRY MEISLIN says:

      They won’t care.

      The whole point is Israel’s delegitimization and eventual destruction.

      Why should pro-BDS’ers care about Qatar’s hypocrisy or anyone else’s?

      They have a goal and they aim to achieve it.

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