Recently universities across the nation have begun to divest from Israel over the country’s policies towards Palestinians. As reported on the Anti-Defamation League’s website, colleges like Loyola University, Northwestern University, and Stanford University have passed BDS resolutions calling for a divestment from Israel. In April of 2015, the University of California, Santa Barbara was presented with the same option to divest from companies that profit from human rights violations in Palestine/Israel. Ultimately, the resolution failed, coming down to a 12-12 deadlock with a tie-breaking vote in favor of not divesting coming from the senate chair.
The Israel-Palestine conflict can be traced back to when Israel was first established in the mid-20th century to the opposition of the Arab population in the region. Since then, violent confrontations have erupted in the region over whether Israelis or Palestinians rightly have ownership of the land Israel now occupies. Palestinians have expressed a desire to establish their own state but remain under Israeli occupation. Additionally, after a war in 1967 Israel gained control of the West Bank, where a large Palestinian population can be found. Currently, Israeli settlements have been built on the West Bank leading to the displacement of some Palestinians and an increase in tension between the two sides.
Taking into consideration the human rights violations, the use of excessive force, the destruction of Palestinian property, and the support of illegal settlements in the West Bank conducted by Israel, UCSB, like many other universities, should show its disapproval over these unjust acts by divesting from Israel.
As reported by Human Rights Watch on their website between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2016, “Palestinians killed at least 11 Israelis … and injured 131 Israelis,” while, “Israeli security forces killed at least 94 Palestinians and injured at least 3,203 Palestinians … including suspected assailants, protesters, and bystanders, according to the United Nations.” It is important to acknowledge that there is violence on both sides of the conflict, but it appears that on Israel’s part there is a larger use of force. This use of force comes in addition to the destruction of Palestinian homes, discriminatory practices that limit Palestinians’ access to construction permits, and Israel’s continued support “for about 560,000 settlers residing in unlawful settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
Divestment is indeed the right move for universities, including UCSB, to make. Through supporting these companies we are turning a blind eye to the injustice in Israel. Divestment signals clear disapproval over Israel’s actions.
Critics of the divestment movement are quick to label proponents of divestment as anti-Semitic, ignoring other nations that violate human rights. In an op-ed published in the LA Times Jack Saltzberg, founder and director of The Israel Group, states that, “it seems that U.S. students consider Israel the world’s foremost human rights violator — worse than Syria, China, Russia … ” Saltzberg does bring up a fair point that there are many other countries that engage in human right abuses just as bad, and in some cases worse, than Israel, but this still this does not excuse Israel’s actions. Universities should divest from any companies that profit from human rights violations occurring in any country, not just Israel.
The problem with Saltzberg’s claim and other arguments like his is that it does nothing to address human rights abuses conducted by Israel; it just shifts focus. Their argument also seems to make the assumption that we can only focus on the human rights abuses conducted by countries one at a time, when in truth we can confront these issues together with equal urgency placed on each violator.
Another point often raised against divestment is that it is anti-Semitic in nature. In truth, divestment concerns not wanting to support companies that profit from human rights violations. Divestment signals to Israel our disapproval; not because they are Jewish, but because they are violating fundamental human rights.
In terms of confronting human rights abuses in Israel, divestment is the best option for universities including UCSB to take. Though critics will argue it is anti-Semitic and ignores even worse violators, it is still important that we stop supporting companies that profit from human rights violations, not just in Israel but across the globe.