Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement Against the Israeli Occupation

by Paul Blasenheim


On November 20th, 2009, the first U.S. conference on the campus movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli Occupation took place at Hampshire College.  This high-profile event brought together people from as far away as California, Guam, Mexico, and Canada to discuss moving forward in the BDS effort to nonviolently end the illegal occupation of Palestine and the gross human rights abuses which take place there on a regular basis.  The conference received media attention, and was attended by around 200 activists, signifying an increase in awareness and action against Israeli apartheid and the companies and corporations which continue to fuel the occupation.

On November 20th, 2009, the first U.S. conference on the campus movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli Occupation took place at Hampshire College.  This high-profile event brought together people from as far away as California, Guam, Mexico, and Canada to discuss moving forward in the BDS effort to nonviolently end the illegal occupation of Palestine and the gross human rights abuses which take place there on a regular basis.  The conference received media attention, and was attended by around 200 activists, signifying an increase in awareness and action against Israeli apartheid and the companies and corporations which continue to fuel the occupation.

Though it is just getting started in the US, there is already a strong international movement to force Israel to comply with international law and universal principles of human rights in regards to Palestinian citizens.  Palestinian civil society issued a call on July 9th, 2005 for the international community to boycott and divest from those companies which supply aid to Israel to uphold the occupation.  This call was endorsed by Palestinian trade unions, non-profit organizations, coalitions, and political parties, representing voices from Palestinian refugees, occupied Palestinians, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.   Companies which supply military aid to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), labor, materials, or products for the construction of settlements, the Wall, checkpoints, and Jewish-only roads have all been targeted for divestment and boycott campaigns.

Last May, Hampshire College successfully divested their security holdings from all companies associated with the Israeli Occupation, including giants Caterpillar, DynCorp, and Motorola.  This was a huge victory for campus groups advocating for Israeli divestment, and the historic conference brought together students from all across the country to share skills, tactics, and campaign plans for successful divestment efforts.

Members of the Wesleyan campus group ADAPT (Awareness, Dialogue, and Action for Palestine/Israel Today) launched a divestment campaign at the beginning of October, and have thus far uncovered at least five connections to the occupation in our small initial list of 58 visible security holdings.  Four of the companies, DynCorp, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, are weapons contractors which supply bombs, tanks, airplanes, and military training to the IDF.  The fifth company, L-1 Identity Solutions, is complicit in supplying checkpoints with fingerprint and facial recognition technology.  However, the University’s 58 visible investments make up only 20% of our overall invested endowment. The rest lies in mutual funds which invest in hundreds of companies.  It is almost guaranteed that these include many other companies directly complicit in the apartheid state, and ADAPT will begin to research into the specifics of these holdings soon.  Keep an eye out for our progress!

Campus BDS is one of the most effective nonviolent tactics for college students to resist Israeli occupation from afar.  The precedent set by Hampshire is a heartening victory, and it will serve as an effective base off of which our fledgling campaigns can grow.  Hopefully, the BDS movement will pick up greater and greater momentum in the years to come, and as more institutions divest and boycott from complicit companies and corporations, Israel will be forced to change their policies regarding Palestine out of economic necessity.  As students, we should have control over how our endowment is spent, and we can empower ourselves to stand up justice by ensuring that our money does not go to fuel Israeli apartheid.

There are many similarities between the situation in Palestine today, and in South Africa during apartheid.  Ethnic cleansing, racial segregation, and deprivation of citizenship are human rights abuses, and we see these tried apartheid policies at work today in Palestine.  Wesleyan took 11 years to divest from South African apartheid; let’s learn from the mistakes of our past and take swift action for human rights, and end to racism, and peace.  Divest from Israel now!  If you would like to join with the Wesleyan divestment effort, please email me at pblasenheim@wesleyan.edu .

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4 responses to “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement Against the Israeli Occupation

  1. The author fails to mention that the allegedly “effective” divestment “movement” has spent the better part of the last decade failing to get colleges, churches, cities and unions to conform to their BDS agenda, with zero success to date. This is no accident since – despite their attempts to pose as Martin Luther King – BDS is a militant tactic designed to stuff their characterization of Israel as an “Apartheid State” into the mouth of a respected institution, by fraud if necessary.

    I have covered the BDS project in the media (see http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1259243065278&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull) and at my own anti-divestment Web sites. It’s interesting to note that the event this article starts with took place at Hampshire College, the site of this year’s most notable hoax regarding academic divestment. Find out more at http://www.divestthis.com.

    Jon Haber ’85

  2. Actually, significant victories have been achieved by our global movement since the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for BDS.

    In 2008, the Church of England divested $3.3million from Caterpillar Corporation due to its involvement in Israel’s home demolition and illegal settlement practices. The Norwegian National Pension Fund has also completely divested itself of Elbit Systems shares, due to that corporation’s involvement in Israel’s apartheid wall.

    While Hampshire college’s divestment wasn’t total and was downplayed in the media thanks to a spineless administration, it was a start and an important symbolic victory for our movement here in the U.S. While no mainline American denomination has actually taken the step of divestment, several participate in “corporate engagement,” leveraging their stock ownership to pressure corporations to end their ties to Israel’s illegal occupation and inhumane apartheid practices.

    In short, the BDS movement is blossoming around the world and the U.S. is now ready to catch up to the successes of our colleagues in Europe.

  3. Actually, Katherine, the BDS “movement” got started in 2001 with the Durban I conference, not 2005. I can understand the boycotter’s desire to hit the restart button in ‘05 since it means that you would otherwise have to explain why not one single college or university in America has chosen to divest from Israel, despite close to nine years of BDS activism on hundreds of campuses across the country.

    By pretending your first five years of efforts didn’t exist, you also avoid having to explain why other progressive institutions – notably the Mainline Protestant Churches – that once supported divestment have since rejected it by majority votes of 90-100%. Given how much time BDSers spent hailing the Presbyterians and other churches as recently as 2004-2005, it’s interesting to see their evaporated support for divestment has now been flushed down the memory hole.

    As I’ve highlighted again and again at my http://www.divestthis.com site, the only way you can tell political divestment from a routine business transaction is that the person doing the divesting explains why their doing it. While students at Hampshire College are free to pretend that the college made a decision based on super secret motives that only they know, that interpretation holds no more weight than my claiming Hampshire divested from Exxon (which does business in Saudi Arabia) as a political protest against Shaira Law, or that the campuses investment policy now precludes any investment in companies beginning with the letter “K”.

    Nope, I’m afraid that for all the thud and blunder, BDS is entering its tenth year as a L-O-S-E-R. Even your desperate fishing trip for European victories ignores the fact that European investment in Israel has skyrocketed since the BDS project began (with Israel being a bigger recipient of European venture capital than any European country). Hey, given that the BDS formula claims investment/divestment as a barometer of political support, doesn’t that mean support for Israel has exploded during the whole period you’ve been pushing your squalid little program?

    Just asking.

    Jon Haber, ’85

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