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Op-Ed: Divestment Campaigns: From South Africa to Israel

student government


George Washington University


Op-Ed: Divestment Campaigns: From South Africa to Israel

Submission about SR-S18-21


The following is a submission from Alaina Taylor, coordinating committee member of Students for Justice in Palestine and a member of the Divest This Time coalition, regarding SR-S18-21. This opinion does not reflect the views of The Rival. The Rival does not take a stance.

Divestment campaigns targeted South Africa due to its racist apartheid regime. Starting in the 1970s, college campuses across the country launched campaigns in order to pressure university administrators to take a stand against apartheid. The success of these divestment campaigns were a key factor in ending apartheid in South Africa, and their legacy lives on today in campaigns to divest from companies which profit off of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

At this point in history, all of us would agree that these divestment campaigns stood on the right side of history, as they helped pressure South Africa to end apartheid. We all would like to say that, if we were alive then, we would have supported the movement to divest from South Africa. However, at the time, there were people that advocated against divestment from South Africa, just as people today oppose the Divest This Time campaign and resolution SR-S18-21: The Protection of Palestinian Human Rights Act.

Opponents of divestment from South Africa believed that South Africa was being ‘singled out.’ In a 1989 op-ed for the Christian Science Monitor, University of South Africa lecturer Anne-Marie Kriek said the divestment movement singled out her country’s racist government because, she wrote, “the violation of human rights is the norm rather than the exception in most of Africa’s 42 black-ruled states.”

This argument is the same made now by opponents of SR-S18-21. Opponents ask why we are singling out Israel instead of drafting resolutions to divest from other countries committing human rights abuses. It is also similar to the argument that Israel is both the only democracy in the Middle East and better than the surrounding states; therefore, we shouldn’t be targeting it.

Not only do these arguments echo the defenders of apartheid in South Africa, they are also wholly unconvincing.

Firstly, Israel is not a democracy; it is an apartheid state. Israeli apartheid manifests itself most clearly in the West Bank, where Israel destroys Palestinian homes to build settlements and bars Palestinians from entering these settlements without a work permit. There are roads that only Israeli settlers are allowed to use. Israel imposes two separate systems of law to two separate groups of the population based solely on their ethnicity: Israeli civil law applies to the white Israeli settlers, whereas martial law applies to the Arab Palestinians. These are just a few examples of the numerous ways that Israel matches the definition of apartheid; a state cannot operate simultaneously as an apartheid and a democracy.

Secondly, divestment campaigns are not singling out Israel — the United States is singling out Israel by giving them more military aid than they give to any other country in the world. The billions of dollars in U.S. military aid are then spent slaughtering Palestinian civilians in Gaza through brutal military offensives like Operation Cast Lead or Operation Protective Edge. At least 762 civilians were slaughtered in Operation Cast Lead, and at least 1473 civilians were murdered in Operation Protective Edge.

Thirdly, if anyone wishes to draft a resolution to have the University divest from other countries committing human rights abuses, go ahead! Nothing is stopping you. However, opponents will never draft a resolution of their own, because their attempts to make this resolution about human rights abuses outside of Israel do not come from a place of caring about human rights; they are simply trying to distract from the actual issue at hand — Palestinian human rights.

Another argument employed by opponents of divestment from South Africa was that divestment would hurt black South African workers more than it would pressure the South African state to end apartheid. This feigned concern is similar to that of those who argue that SR-S18-21 will harm Palestinians more than it would pressure Israel.

This argument is laughable.

Just as Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress supported divestment from South Africa, Palestinians have called for boycott, divestment, and sanctions to pressure Israel. Furthermore, according to the Palestinian organizers of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, “Palestinians have made the decision to call for BDS believing that any economic damage they may face is a small price to pay to realize freedom, justice and equality. Arguing against BDS because it may hurt Palestinian workers is patronising - it claims to know what is in the best interests of Palestinians better than Palestinians themselves do.”

Opponents’ concern for Palestinian lives is a farce — if they actually cared, they would be supporting efforts to end apartheid, as opposed to trying to silence those efforts through racist op-eds or public comments.

The rhetoric used by those who oppose SR-S18-21 largely echoes the arguments of those opposed to divestment from South Africa. It is unsurprising that defenders of Israeli apartheid sound eerily similar to defenders of South African apartheid.

Right now, the world views opposition to divestment from South African Apartheid as disturbing — why would anyone want to defend a disgustingly racist regime? In the future, people of conscience will view opposition to divestment from corporations that facilitate Israel apartheid in the same way. Do you want to look back at history and see yourself as a defender of apartheid? Do you want to join the company of those that advocated against divestment from South Africa? Or do you want to know that you were on the right side of history because you took a stand for Palestinian human rights?

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