To the Students for Palestinian Human Rights and other student groups of Stanford University calling for divestment by the University Board of Trustees from companies involved in the violation of human rights and international law in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
I wish to express my unqualified support for this initiative which is based on a fundamental respect for human rights according to international law, and is the expression of an impulse towards universal norms of justice, human dignity and non-violence which it must surely be the aim of every University to support and promote. Unlike the campaign for cultural and academic boycott of Israel, which is the subject of on-going discussion and debate, the call for divestment is far more straightforward. The motion aims to end a set of investments in companies which are demonstrably engaged in profiting from policies that involve human rights violations, unlawful discrimination, and which contribute to the perpetuation of injustice against the Palestinian people (house demolitions, the separation barrier/wall ruled illegal by the International Criminal Court, the building of settlements, the creation of roads and infrastructure designed exclusively for one section of the population). Such investments are profoundly at odds with the principles of ethical oversight which the University declares to be paramount in relation to its endowment, and can only damage the University’s national and international status.
Last month the Annual Members Meeting of the Students Union of Queen Mary University of London overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for the University to divest from G4S, a British/Danish private security company and Veolia (the latter named in the Stanford resolution) due to their contribution to, and profit-making from, blatant violations of human rights, as documented in relation to Israeli prisons and the construction of transport links to the settlements. This follows the successful campaign by QM students in 2009/2010, following Israel’s offensive in Gaza (`Operation Cast Lead’), to persuade the Finance and Investment Committee of the College to exclude direct investment in tobacco and armaments companies `where these exceeded 25% of group activity.’ That students were able successfully to mount such a campaign is surely a model for productive relations between student bodies and University governance.
It seems to me that in putting forward this motion to the Board of Trustees, the students are calling on the University not just to rectify an anomalous policy, but are also demonstrating a commitment to the fullest participation in civic and public life which should be one of the mainstays, central principles and aims of higher education. Above all, it needs to be recognised that such a call – far from involving hostility to Israel as a nation or a de-legitimisation of Israel (as their motion makes explicit) – is part of a wide, and rapidly growing movement, that sees such non-violent initiatives, and the discussions they engender, as having a key role to play in demonstrating to Israel the damage that its government’s current policies, and the continuation of the Occupation, is doing not only to the Palestinian people but to Israel itself.
I myself am a founder member of the UK network, Independent Jewish Voices, which aims to foster a space for constructive dissent in relation to Israeli policies, based on principles of justice, freedom and rights which we see as central to Jewish history. Above all we feel that for Jews to remain silent in the face of injustices perpetrated by Israel towards another people is to be blind to the lessons of our own past. I therefore believe that the discussions generated by, and further called for, by this motion, the demand on the University to adhere to ethical principles at the core of Jewish life and values, can contribute in the longer term to a fostering of dialogue between Jews and non-Jews, and to the creation of a fully educational atmosphere, in Universities and beyond, dedicated to an understanding of ethics and justice in the modern world.
Professor of English, Queen Mary University of London
Fellow of British Academy
Jacqueline Rose focuses her research on modern subjectivity at the interface of literature, psychoanalysis, and politics, as well as on the history and culture of South Africa and of Israel-Palestine.