Guest Column: Why I will vote against divestment

Ariel Roitman, Guest Columnist

This Wednesday, Associated Student Government will vote on divestment from six corporations linked to the Israeli military. This debate affects me personally: I was born in Israel and will be moving back after graduation.

Last week, NU Divest said that its most important cause is the call for increased transparency in the university endowment, and that it only calls to divest from six specific companies. As an Israeli, I support the call for transparency and stand for Palestinian rights, an end to occupation and to settlement expansion. Despite that, I find the campaign problematic.

While this resolution claims to be apolitical and focused only on human rights, NU Divest has consistently, explicitly and publicly connected itself to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS is a political movement that targets the Israeli economy and institutions with cultural, economic and academic boycotts. Just last year, Students for Justice in Palestine spent Winter Quarter promoting the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

NU Divest’s website states that its campaign supports BDS, and the description of its “BDS from A-Z” workshop states, “BDS is part of the philosophy and context for #NUDivest.” Yet, contrary to the claim that the resolution does not aim to condemn a country or propose a political solution, that’s precisely the purpose of BDS. BDS leaders and founders have called for a one-state solution, and the movement’s goals are inconsistent with Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. Regardless of the specific wording of the resolution, the upcoming vote is about endorsing NU Divest. Passing this resolution will align Northwestern with the BDS movement and will add our name to the list of BDS victories. A “yes” vote will be used as a precedent to encourage other BDS campaigns on college campuses across the country.

NU Divest claims to be responding to a 2005 call from Palestinian civil society. But Palestinians, like Israelis, are divided on the issue. Important sectors of Palestinian society continue to call for a two-state solution, and as a result oppose BDS. One example is the Geneva Initiative, a 2003 joint Palestinian-Israeli civil society effort to create a model agreement. Responding to the call for BDS is a choice to work against the call for two states.

I am disappointed about the one-sided approach that some are trying to impose in this debate. To me, this conflict is about clashing narratives that are both valid. Nuance and complexity define the conflict, so the black-and-white picture painted by NU Divest has been frustrating. For instance, the resolution quotes sources referring to the West Bank-Israel separation barrier as the “Apartheid Wall.” While the hardships the barrier has imposed to Palestinian daily lives are undeniable, it was only constructed after a five-year wave of constant suicide bombings during the Second Intifada. Palestinians have a right to freedom of movement, but my family also has the right to take a public bus without fear. We fail to understand the reality on the ground when we lose context and complexity, and to ignore it is intellectually dishonest.

I understand that neither side has a monopoly on truth or suffering. Palestinians have an unequivocal right to statehood. Yet, as NU Divest fights for Palestinian rights, they refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and forget that Israelis have rights too. I believe that two states is the only pragmatic solution to the conflict and the only approach that addresses the rights of both peoples. I share the frustrations regarding unsuccessful peace talks, but I believe it’s possible and don’t see another path to a real and just peace other than one based in mutual recognition.

I share the concern to increase transparency in our University investments. If that’s really what this campaign is about, I suggest we draft a new resolution that calls for transparency without singling out a specific country. We can address the urgency of socially responsible investing without endorsing a problematic movement like BDS. However, a call for increased transparency must also be based in a transparent campaign that does not carry hidden agendas.

I will vote “no.” Because I refuse to see one side of the conflict as absolute evil and the other one as absolute victim, and because I believe there is a way to be pro-Palestine without being anti-Israel. Because, just as Palestinians have a just right to statehood, Israelis have a right to live in peace. Because I support rights for both peoples and believe that BDS will only make it harder for a two-state solution to be achieved. And because I refuse to support a campaign that will align our student body with a global movement that attempts to isolate and delegitimize the country I am proud to call home.

Ariel Roitman is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].