A group of Yale faculty and alumni announced Tuesday that it has initiated a petition to campaign for University divestment from Israel.
With a paid advertisement in the Yale Daily News Tuesday, the Yale Divest from Israel Campaign, or YDIC, publicized its petition and Web site — www.yaledivestnow.org — and suggested that the group might eventually bring legal action against Yale. The Yale campaign joins a grass-roots effort at approximately 50 other universities where administrators are being urged to consider divesting from corporations that conduct business in Israel.
The petition requests that the University divest from all of its holdings in Israel. Because not all of these holdings are public, it also requests that Yale disclose any investments it has in Israel.
A YDIC press release Tuesday said that “the implication of the petition — is that legal action of some kind would be the next step” if the University does not take appropriate action.
“We’re serious and we intend to go forward and pursue legal avenues, and we think there are quite a few,” said Rod Swenson ARC ’69, alumni spokesman for the campaign.
Yale President Richard Levin declined to comment, saying he had not heard of the petition.
Swenson said the YDIC petition is somewhat unique in that it focuses on Yale’s ethical investment policy.
“We take the view that the University is failing to act under its own rules,” Swenson said.
Lawyer and University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign professor Francis Boyle — a technical adviser for the petition at Yale — said he thought Yale had an “excellent” corporate responsibility policy.
“If the responsible people at Yale sit down and apply their law to the war crimes over there, they will come to the conclusion that Yale must divest,” Boyle said.
Near Eastern Languages and Literatures Chairman Dimitri Gutas said he signed the petition because he considers the situation in Israel to be a “quite brutal occupation.” He said he was also concerned about Israel’s violations of U.N. resolutions.
“Israel has been blatantly disobeying U.N. resolutions, and we are supporting it with our tax money,” Gutas said.
Swenson said a successful campaign would convince Israeli citizens to act.
“In the end, it is an attempt to [use] civilized, peaceful means — to help put an end to a very violent situation,” Swenson said.
But Emily Scharfman ’05, co-president of Yale Friends of Israel, said divestment would not be positive.
“I completely think it’s morally wrong,” Scharfman said. “I mean, it’s not helping anyone. It’s going to cripple the Palestinian economy.”
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said all proposals for divestment can be heard by Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. But he said such proposals require wider community support before they are enacted.
“I don’t think that there’s a sense that there’s much support in that area,” Conroy said.
But Swenson said Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group that also advocates divestment, made a proposal to the ACIR last spring.
“They do nothing, essentially,” Swenson said of the ACIR. “They did nothing in this case. As far as we’re concerned, they’re not doing their job.”
Boyle is often credited with beginning the divestment movement in a November 2000 speech at Illinois State University. In the speech, Boyle suggested Americans could bring about change in Israel through a divestment campaign similar to the largely successful divestment campaign protesting South African apartheid in the 1980s.