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Top University Votes to Divest From Companies ‘Facilitating Human Rights Violations In Palestine’

Brown University's support of divestment from companies with ties to the Israeli occupation of Palestine makes the university the first Ivy League school to support the BDS movement. (Photo: Palestine Solidarity Campaign)

“From the Gaza Strip, under Israel’s occupation and siege, we salute the students with Brown Divest and all those involved in this victory. It represents an important US university precedent.”

A Brown University committee voted on December 2 in favor of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to eliminate financial support and ties to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The committee, called the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies (ACCRIP), voted in favor of the university’s divestment from companies “facilitating human rights violations in Palestine.”

Six members of the ACCRIP voted for the motion, two alumni voted against, while one abstained. The vote comes on top of eight months of deliberations that began in April of this year when 69 percent of voters in a Brown undergraduate referendum voted in favor of the same motion.

What is BDS?

According to their website, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement, (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

BDS argues Israel is occupying and colonizing Palestinian land that is supported by governments and corporations that fail to hold Israel accountable. The movement calls for boycotting companies that are “engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights”, the divestment of banks, churches, financial institutions and other organizations from investments in Israel, and sanctions on the state of Israel.

“BDS is now a vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. Thirteen years since its launch, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism,” states the movement’s website.

Though support for BDS has grown in the U.S. in recent years, there has also been a recent backlash against the movement. In January of 2019, the Intercept reported that a bipartisan group of Senators was pushing a bill to punish boycotts of Israel. Months later in April, Texas courts struck down a Texas law that had required government contractors to not participate in the BDS Movement.

Brown University Responds

In response to the April student vote, President of Brown University, Christina Paxson, addressed the Brown community in a letter to the voters, stating, “Brown’s premises is not a political platform for expressing views on complicated and political issues”. Though, Paxson added that she does promote peace, prosperity and stability for all those, who live in the region.

Following Paxson’s apparent dismissal of the student vote, over 100 faculty members at Brown University signed a letter in support of the student vote leading to months of deliberations.

According to a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) press release, the vote on Monday came following multiple presentations before the ACCRIP from both supporters and opponents of the BDS movement. Afterward, a motion was put forth for the vote on whether the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories constitutes social harm. Seven committee members voted yes while two abstained.

At the end of the meeting, voters adopted the recommendation “that the Brown Corporation exclude from Brown’s direct investments, and require Brown’s separate account investment managers to exclude from their direct investments, companies identified as facilitating human rights violations in Palestine. In addition, the Investment Office will share with all investment managers the University’s desire to adhere to this investment philosophy. We recommend that the Corporation and Brown’s separate account investment managers maintain the withdrawal of investments from said companies until they cease to engage in social harm…”

Brown University’s support of divestment from companies with ties to the Israeli occupation of Palestine makes the university the first Ivy League school to support the BDS movement.

According to the JVP press release, the companies identified for divestment include Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Oaktree Capital Management, AB Volvo, Motorola, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, United Technologies and G4S.

A non-binding vote

Speaking to Middle East Eye (MME), Mr. Brian E. Clark, a spokesperson for Brown University, clarified that the divest vote was not binding.

“The committee is an advisory body. It was a vote to submit to the Brown University president a recommendation on divestment. There has been no Brown University decision or action to divest from companies ‘facilitating human rights violations in Palestine’,” Clarke told the MME.

Brown Pro-Israel Students Condemn Vote 

In reaction to the vote, the Brown University student group Brown Students for Israel expressed concern over the consequences of the vote, posting on their facebook page a message strongly condemning the vote.

“We are appalled by the disregard and disrespect to which anti-Divest students, faculty, alumni and even ACCRIP members, were subjected in the course of today’s meeting,” said the group.

According to the Middle East Monitor, Brown Professor of History and Judaic Studies, Adam Teller, argued that the divestment proposal by the student group Brown Divest was too vague to address the Israel-Palestine conflict.

BDS National Committee Praises the Motion

Commenting for Citizen Truth on the Brown University’s divestment vote, Mr. Abdulrahman Abunahael, who is the Gaza-based coordinator for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, praised the Brown vote in an email with Citizen Truth.

“From the Gaza Strip, under Israel’s occupation and siege, we salute the students with Brown Divest, and all those involved in this victory. It represents an important US university precedent, and a significant step towards divestment at Brown University, in support of our movement for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. This is yet another sign that, despite Trump’s alliance with Israel’s apartheid regime, grassroots support for Palestinian rights is growing in the US.”

Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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