Students at the University of Chicago must know whether our University’s $8.5 billion endowment provides material support to Israel’s military. In 2019 alone, the Israeli military demolished 140 homes, displaced 238 Palestinians, and detained nearly 200 Palestinian children. Since March 2018, the military has killed almost 200 Gazans protesting for recognition of their rights. This has included journalists, medics, and children. The Israeli occupation, a system of violence and separation that has denied Palestinians freedom and dignity, is a moral disaster for those who support and administer it. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that, like other universities, our university profits off of this unacceptable state of affairs through investments it holds in the endowment. Thus, President Robert Zimmer’s administration must release the endowment.
As members of IfNotNow, a movement of young American Jews working to end our community’s support for the occupation, we cannot stand by without knowing whether our university supports this oppression. We know that the occupation is a daily nightmare for those who live under it. We call on Zimmer to release the University’s $8.5 billion endowment to reveal any investments upholding the Israeli occupation. Students from other universities, such as McGill University, have found that their institutions have financial stakes in the occupation. Their universities’ endowments held investments in settler businesses as well as military and technology firms that provide the necessary infrastructure for military rule. Given the fact that so many other institutions have benefitted from of the occupation in this way, it is highly likely that UChicago does the same.
Support for the occupation comes in many forms, including material investments in surveillance and arms. Corporate and governmental entanglements with the occupation are multifold. The United Nations has found that over 200 companies do business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Microsoft supports an Israeli technology firm that uses facial recognition technology to police Palestinian civilians. Caterpillar provides equipment to demolish Palestinian homes. The United States’ latest military aid package to Israel requires that much of the nearly $4 billion in yearly aid be spent on American defense companies. Consequently, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and many other companies arm the Israel Defense Forces as it kills Palestinian civilians. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of aid enables Israel’s military occupation. Just over one in 10 dollars given in aid goes toward Israel’s missile defense systems like the Iron Dome, designed to protect Israeli civilians.
Critically, the annual report on the endowment does not disclose the specific corporations in which it invests. It is therefore impossible for students to know how and to what extent the endowment might profit from violence against Palestinians. We as students should know whether we are bankrolling home demolitions, child detentions, settlement expansion, and other elements of the occupation.
For these reasons, we as Jewish students are calling on the University to reveal what our institution’s money is being used to uphold. We hope that other members of the campus community will join us and sign our petition demanding that the administration release the endowment.
Some may wonder why we are demanding that the administration release the endowment when they could simply perform an internal audit. IfNotNow believes that we must be able to evaluate the endowment independently. This is vital as otherwise the administration could choose not to reveal connections to companies potentially involved in the occupation.
The University has responded to past political demands by citing the Kalven Report, which says that the University will not choose sides in a political debate unless it is required by “paramount social values,” without ever defining what these values are. But the Kalven Report does not shield the administration from releasing the endowment. Our claim is simple: University students deserve transparency from our administration. We believe that the University’s financial entanglements with potential war crimes are, in fact, inconsistent with paramount social values. It is deeply important that the University manage the endowment’s substantial capital responsibly.
In order for Palestinians to live with freedom and dignity, we must be allowed to know whether and in what ways our institution materially supports Israeli occupation. Transparency is the first step to a better future shaped by freedom and dignity for all instead of profit and violence. We hope the administration will do what is right.