Oct. 12, 2012

Palestinian advocates encourage action against U of C pension company

Three pro-Palestine activists discussed their efforts to put pressure on companies that they claim profit from Israel’s military presence in Palestine using a strategy called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) during a discussion sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in Stuart Hall on Wednesday evening.

The panel was put on in collaboration with Chicago Divests, an organization that encourages the financial services group TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that activists claim benefit from the Israeli military. TIAA-CREF provides many universities and hospitals, including the U of C, with pension fund plans.

Dalit Baum, an Israeli, pro-Palestine activist for Global Exchange, introduced the main companies that she had found explicitly profit from Israeli military presence in Palestine, drawing from the research project she conducted with the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel.

According to her research, the offenders included companies such as Caterpillar, which sells armed bulldozers to Israel, and Motorola, the radar and security system provider of the Israeli settlements in Palestine.

Baum added that Hewlett-Packard, a computer company likely used by numerous students, developed a biometric identification system that will be used to control movement on the ground in Palestine.

Sandra Tamari, an organizer of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee who this June made national news for being denied entry into Israel after she refused to share her personal e-mails with Israeli security officials, defended the economic implications of BDS.

“Palestinians may suffer economically in the short term, but the Palestinians are asking for [BDS],” she explained. She added that strategies such as positive investment and humanitarian aid are not only insufficient, but not what the people of Palestine want.

What makes BDS so powerful compared to positive investment, she argued, is the attention it brings to the conflict. “BDS accelerates the conversation,” she said. “BDS is not a punitive movement. We are targeting the Israeli economy, not Israelis.”

Sydney Levy, director of advocacy for Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that works to secure the region, encouraged students to organize their professors to complain to TIAA-CREF for its affiliation to the invested companies.

“The moment you are working with professors,” Levy said, “TIAA-CREF will listen to you.”

In an e-mail, SJP President and fourth-year Sami Kishawi said that SJP had already been working with Chicago Divests and was planning a broad campaign to get students more engaged with the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“One major goal of our campaigns is to get the campus talking. Too many students and faculty members think that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is too controversial or complicated of an issue to discuss, or that it doesn’t concern them. But it does,” Kishawi wrote.