As part of a campaign urging universities to divest from Israel, over 400 pro-Palestinian activists — including a Yale student — met at a national conference at the University of Michigan last weekend.
At Yale, Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, is leading a fight to encourage the University to reconsider its investment policies. SJP is a chapter of a national organization that urges universities to withdraw investments from corporations that conduct business in Israel. The national group’s mission is to encourage reform of Israel’s policy in Palestine.
The Yale chapter was formed during the spring in response to heightened tensions in Israel. In late April, the group presented its case before the Yale Corporation’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. SJP member Samuel Bernstein ’05 said that while some of the committee members seemed opposed to the idea, many of them appeared interested in what the students had to say.
SJP member Badr Albanna ’04, who participated in the Michigan conference, said national organizers have decided to hold a day of action during the week of Nov. 11. SJP members said they will participate in the nationwide movement. In addition, the group is planning to send a letter to Yale President Richard Levin in the near future.
Albanna said the organization’s primary goal is to raise awareness on campus.
“Whether or not people know it here, this is something [the United States is] contributing to directly,” Albanna said.
SJP member Fadia Rafeedie LAW ’03 said the divestment campaign is reminiscent of actions in the 1980s to combat apartheid in South Africa. Students at Yale were successful in encouraging the Yale Corporation to divest from businesses in that country.
“I think that our University set a standard in the anti-apartheid struggle,” Rafeedie said. “In Israel we are facing the same injustices.”
Emily Scharfman ’05, co-president of Yale Friends of Israel, said the current situation cannot be likened to South African apartheid.
“It’s not a sound comparison, it’s not historically accurate,” Scharfman said. “In Israel, all of her citizens are given equal rights under the law — Arabs and Jews alike.”
Bernstein said that after traveling in Israel and conducting his own research, he concluded that he disapproved of Israel’s actions in Palestine.
“As a Jew, I’ve been kind of inundated with pro-Israeli, Zionist education,” Bernstein said. “I started out with a much more skeptical view of Israel.”
Rafeedie said it is important to stress that the group respects Judaism as a religion and that anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitism.
“Zionism is a political movement,” Rafeedie said. “It’s an imperialistic, white supremacist model.”
Elyse Schneiderman ’05, co-president of Yale Friends of Israel, said she disapproves of the campaign. Schneiderman said her opinion was echoed by a recent petition signed by faculty, students and staff at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The statement condemns the campaign as a movement to “delegitimize Israel.”
“Divestment from Israel is not only irresponsible, but also morally wrong in that it singles out Israel from among all nations of the world,” Schneiderman said.
Scharfman said she is concerned that the ultimate goal of the divestment campaign is not to resolve the conflict in the region.
“I think it is disappointing that the concept of divestment is void of the ideals of peace and reconciliation,” Scharfman said.
But Bernstein said he believed divestment is an important tool in encouraging changes in Israeli policy.
“The viability of [Israel] rests on our investments,” Bernstein said.