Why Divestment Is Our Duty

This was the opening statement I read at Loyola senate’s divestment meeting on March 25. The resolution initially passed 26-0 on March 18, but due to pressure from the opposition, a second divestment meeting was held. The resolution passed a second time 12-10-9:

I am one of the 895 Loyola students who signed the petition in favor of divestment, and I am here to say that I am supremely disappointed by the discussion on this bill that ensued after the 26-0 vote last week. The resolution was not written to hurt anyone’s feelings nor was it directed at any specific group on campus; it fundamentally and unapologetically targets corporations, CORPORATIONS, that profit from the occupation of the Palestinian people.

There is nothing personal or “sad” about this resolution. What is sad is when a Palestinian home that has existed longer than the state of Israel gets demolished by a Caterpillar bulldozer, and its residents are given a mere 24-hour notice to pack their belongings and rebuild their livelihoods. What is tragic is when it takes hours–when it should take thirty minutes–for Palestinian students to get from home to their university due to military checkpoints supplied with HP equipment. What is divisive is the apartheid wall that separates Palestinian farmers from their olive groves and teachers from their classrooms. What creates a “tense climate” are the illegal settlements built over what little remains of fertile Palestinian land. What is heartbreaking is when millions of ordinary people- mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and students like us- are subjected to the realities of a brutal military occupation. What is troubling is that our university may be complicit in the hardships Palestinians face each and every day of their lives by investing in these corporations.

There is a precedent of divestment on campus, and this is not the first time students challenge their university’s unethical investments. Challenging our university’s investments is our moral obligation, especially when these investments directly implicate Palestinian students on this very campus. Academic institutions, specifically university campuses, have been used as platforms for social justice movements for many decades, most notably the Freedom of Speech movement, Civil Rights, Anti-War and the mobilization against apartheid in South Africa. In 1986, the University of California system divested $3.1 billion worth of stock from U.S. corporations and banks linked to South African apartheid. Nelson Mandela credited the pressure UC divestment measures exerted upon the South African government as integral to the collapse of apartheid. The divestment campaign against apartheid in South Africa was not anti-white; the movement consisted of students from various ethnic and racial backgrounds and challenged a system that oppressed and marginalized blacks and other minorities. Apartheid in South Africa was not dismantled because activists sat down and listened to the white majority talk about how they felt “threatened” by minorities fighting for their most basic of rights. Apartheid fell because South Africans called for pressure on the apartheid regime and for the international community to hold them accountable for their crimes, and student activists in the United States joined the global community to respond to their demands.

Similarly, this divestment resolution targets corporations that profit off of the egregious abuse of human rights. Each corporation has helped sustain the five-decade-long occupation of Palestine in different ways. Caterpillar provides bulldozers–which are later retrofitted with armor and/or weapons–to destroy basic Palestinian infrastructure such as homes, water cisterns, and agricultural fields. Caterpillar tools also aid in the expansion of illegal settlements which have been created in blatant violation of international law, as declared by the United Nations (UN). General Electric (GE) manufactures engines used for Apache helicopters that attack and often kill innocent Palestinian civilians. Hewlett-Packard (HP) provides biometric identification systems used by the Israeli military at checkpoints, and profits from global mass incarceration. The remaining companies- Group 4 Securicor (G4S), Raytheon, Elbit Systems, SodaStream and Veolia- complete the illustrative list. This divestment resolution is anchored in Loyola’s commitment to socially responsible investments. As we can all agree, investments in companies that support documented human rights violations can in no way be seen as “socially responsible.” The business our university provides to these companies is responsible for the destruction of the livelihoods of countless innocent families, which places a moral imperative on all of us to act.

As representatives of our student body, it is your obligation to make decisions which advance social justice, especially when the university you attend may be invested in corporations that profit from blatant crimes against humanity. This is a moment of strength and courage; not a time to crumble under the pressures of intimidation and fear of being controversial. Throughout the many social justice movements in history, it took a fearless group of people to stand up for what is right, regardless of the reactions of some community members who often sought to maintain the unjust structures of systems which perpetuated oppression. It was once controversial in this very country to support freedom for black Americans. To support the right for women to vote. To criticize the Afrikaner South African regime. Just because this bill has generated controversy does not mean it should be avoided. In this critical moment, we must ensure that our university stands on the right side of history and participates in the advancement of justice.