The movement to examine divestment from Israel/Palestine continues to grow. In October 2005 we wrote a lengthy perspective on this topic for the Record, explaining that an ad hoc group of faculty members was collecting names in support of a divestment inquiry. That process culminated in a March 17 Board of Regents meeting, in which we presented the regents and President Mary Sue Coleman with the names of 42 faculty and staff members endorsing this call. We left them with the promise to follow up in the fall.
Since then we have continued to collect names, primarily in the form of a standard petition, which includes a short statement calling for a divestment committee. The petition statement is consistent with the University's own policy of investigating any investments that pose "serious moral or ethical questions." Our original "Letter of Support for an Inquiry into Divestment" and the abbreviated petition statement are posted on the Web site www-personal.umd.umich.edu/~skrbina.
Then, of course, we had the disastrous events of July and August, in which Israel invaded southern Lebanon. The capture of two Israel Defense Forces (IDF, the Israeli military) personnel by Hezbollahwho some claim were actually in Lebanese territory at the timeprompted a massive retaliation by Israel. The 30-day battle resulted in at least 850 Lebanese civilian deaths (and as many as 1,180, according to internal estimates), 160 Israeli military and civilian deaths, the displacement of over 900,000 Lebanese peoplesome 25 percent of the entire national populationand overall financial damages of $9.4 billion to Lebanon's economy (Associated Press; see The Guardian, 8/18/06).
There were some particularly egregious actions on the part of the IDF. There was the apparently deliberate killing of four U.N. officials at Khiam. There was the Qana massacre, resulting in 28 dead, including 19 children. There was the punishing air and sea blockade that ran a full 30 days beyond the end of the cease-fire. There was the use of phosphorus bombs in civilian areas. And there were the 2 million-3 million cluster bombs deployed over southern Lebanon, of which roughly 1 million still lay on the ground, unexploded, waiting to be triggered. Nearly 90 percent of the cluster bombs were dropped in the final three days of the war, when Israel knew that a cease-fire was imminent (see the Washington Post cover story, 9/26/06). These bombs will continue to maim and kill innocent people for months or years. And, with world attention distracted, Israel continued to assault the people of Gaza and the West Bank. According to B'tselem, during the months of July and August, 253 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military. Total number of Israelis killed in that same period by Palestinians: one. These events confirm, in the worst possible way, the urgent need to divestboth to remove ourselves from the immoral and criminal actions of the Israeli military, and to pressure them to seek a just and lasting peace.
We cannot forget that many of the guns, bombs and attack vehicles used by the IDF were supplied by U.S. corporationscorporations of whom we are stockholders and part owners (including cluster bomb manufacturers General Dynamics, Northrop, and L-3 Communications).
The Lebanon invasion prompted many colleagues to get off the fence and support our call. To date we have 1,255 signatures, including: 97 faculty (23 retired); 111 current staff; 358 students; 209 alumni; and more than 400 others. Faculty and staff names are posted on the Web site mentioned above.
We are accepting names from anyone associated with the Universityfaculty, staff, students, alumni, retirees. We invite all those concerned about the moral implications of our investments to join us in the call to examine divestment.
Notable is the lack of cogent rebuttals to our call. Our piece in the Record last year drew no substantive criticism. We published a similar piece in the Ann Arbor News on April 13, and again, no meaningful objections. It is as if the University community is coming to the realization that there is no moral justification for delaying an inquiry. The counterviewthat investment in the occupation is acceptable, that funding and profiting from oppression and killing is acceptablehas no moral standing whatsoever.
Yet we still hear from some colleagues that they wish to "remain neutral," or that they are "not political," and thus do not wish to take a stand. With all due respect, these are not really acceptable replies. We already are involved: on the side of Israel, in support of the occupation. We unavoidably are political: by the very nature of our investments. An unjust and immoral oppression continues and we are complicit. There is no avoiding this fact. The University has a great opportunity to take a national leadership role in ethical investing. We can set a new moral standard for universities nationwide by being the first to examine, and implement, divesture from Israel/Palestine. We can dismiss the excuses for inaction: bureaucratic inertia; the small band of militant Zionist students; the handful of extremist ideologues in our midst. Nor should we sell out our morals for fear of what a few prominent donors may think. We can again be a moral leader, as we have in the past.
A new apartheid exists in Israel/Palestine today. True enough, it is not like South Africain fact, it is far worse. The new apartheid holds millions of Israelis and Palestinians hostage to each other. It employs the latest in military technology to inflict massive collective punishment. It draws some $6 billion per year from our national treasury in the form of foreign aid to Israel. And it is a root cause behind Muslim antipathy toward the United States and the West, thus perpetuating global terrorism.
When the University divested from South Africa, we helped bring an end to an oppressive regime. As a consequence, that nation was welcomed back into the global community. We thought apartheid was ended. We were wrong. Now it is time to act again.
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