By Cindy Mindell
NEW HAVEN – On Feb. 6, Yale Students for Justice in Palestine hosted “Divesting from the Occupation,” a panel presentation by Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PCACBI) and graduate of Tel Aviv University, and Yale professor David Bromwich. The program was introduced by Rebecca Vilkomerson, national executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Lauri Lowell, director of Community Relations at Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven (JCRC), was one of several Jewish community representatives who attended the event. “Our position is that we understand and respect the right of a student group to put on a program like this, whether we agree with the content or not,” she says. “We attend in order to monitor the message and hear the different ways that messages are being framed, because the information keeps shifting and if we are to respond appropriately, we need to know how information is being put out and received.”
JCRC does not play a direct role in responding to or intervening in events on a college campus, Lowell says, but rather seeks to assure Jewish student organizations of its presence and support.
“We would love to see other programs presenting other points of view on whether or not the boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] movement is a valid way to try to get Israel to change its policies,” she says. “Generally, there is a very strong agreement in the established Jewish community that BDS is not appropriate action against Israel.”
The event attracted 60 to 70 attendees, mostly Yale students, and many of whom wore head-coverings or t-shirts with graphics that identified them as Arabic or Muslim. A few members of Yale Friends of Israel were in the audience, as were a dozen or so members of
New Haven’s peace movement who are active supporters of Palestinian causes.
PACBI’s objective, as presented at the Feb. 6 event, is to expand the divestment initiative against TIAA-CREF, a major international financial company that invests pension funds; to get the company to divest from five corporations that, in PACBI’s view, profit from Israel’s occupation of “Palestine” (the Territories and West Bank): Caterpillar, Elbit Systems, Motorola, Veolia, and Northrup Grumman.
“This particular divestment activity is different,” Lowell says. “Organizers did not go to the Yale administration to get them to divest from
a range of investments across the board, but rather approached individual faculty members.”
So far, 20 Yale faculty members have signed onto the open letter to TIAA-CREF, including the evening’s second speaker, Prof. David
The divestment campaign against TIAACREF was initiated in 2010 by Jewish Voice for Peace. The company was targeted for three
main reasons: the company’s broad national and international reach in managing retirement funds; its tagline “Finance for Greater Good;”
and because it has a group of “social choice” funds, which can be used to pressure the company.
The meetings at Yale on Feb. 6 and at New York’s Brooklyn College on Feb. 7 were timed to coincide with the formal filing of the divestment
resolution at TIAA-CREF corporate headquarters on Feb. 7.
“Barghouti is a smart, smooth-talking spokesman who offers his case as a non-violent movement seeking justice for an oppressed underclass, à la Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi,” Lowell says. “His tone was serious, although he repeatedly used a glib sort of humor to bond with his audience, as though they were sharing an inside joke. He used familiar Leftist rhetoric, claiming that Israel is a ‘racist, imperialist country.’ He manipulated his audience by never bothering to address the historical context in which Israel came to control the West Bank Territory.”
As outlined by Barghouti, the BDS movement, which PACBI founded, has three goals: end occupation of “Palestine;” end discrimination
in Israel; and allow the Palestinian right of return to Israel. “While he stated that the BDS movement does not take a position on a onestate
vs. two-state option, he made it clear that if the three goals were met, Israel would become an Arab-majority state and, as he put it, you would have ‘Palestine next to Palestine,’” Lowell says. “It was obvious what would come next in that scenario.”
Barghouti claimed that the BDS movement targets academic institutions, not individuals but there is broad support for BDS among unions in Europe – against Israeli artists, writers, and musicians – and within Israel itself.
He commented that Israeli law criminalizes advocating for boycott and that this is now on appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.
Barghouti claimed that the controversy over the talk he was to give at Brooklyn College on Feb. 7 had to do with academic freedom and
the importance of allowing open debate of these issues. Lowell notes that, while each presentation was followed by an open question-
and-answer period, there was no debate among panelists with differing perspectives.
In a New York Daily News op-ed prior to the Feb. 7 event, Brooklyn College alumnus Alan Dershowitz denounced the event as part of the
school’s “anti-Israel hatefest.” He argued that the one-sided presentation, sponsored by the college’s political science department, represents “pure propaganda” and denies academic freedom to those students and faculty with opposing views.
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