University News

Committee seeks campus discussion on divestment

Contributing Writer
Monday, November 19, 2012

The Brown Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies sent a letter to President Christina Paxson last Monday requesting further dialogue about possible divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The letter has prompted demonstrations by student groups over this issue. 

“For the past two years, we have had an ongoing dialogue with Brown Students for Justice in Palestine,” ACCRIP states in the letter. “The group raises serious allegations that major U.S. corporations in which Brown may be an investor, such as Caterpillar, Boeing and others, are ‘profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.'” Brown Students for Justice in Palestine calls for Brown to divest from American companies that are linked to human rights violations in Palestine.

Paxson plans to respond to the letter by the end of the month, wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president of public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

ACCRIP comprises faculty, staff, alums and students who analyze and make recommendations to the Corporation about its investment policies. Since the committee’s formation, the Corporation has accepted its recommendations to not reinvest in HEI Hotels and Resorts and to divest from companies in support of the Sudanese government and those involved in manufacturing tobacco products. 

“The documented abuses of Palestinian citizens by the Israeli Defense Force in the Occupied Territories are deeply troubling,” the ACCRIP letter states. “Israel is indisputably engaged in ongoing systemic abuses of human rights and violations of international law, as documented by the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice.”

The letter recommended “ongoing discussions” and contended that evidence points to Brown’s possible investment “in firms whose products and services are being used to commit human rights violations in Palestine.” 

Divestment involves University decisions on whether to hold stock in a particular company, sell stocks, invest elsewhere and not continue to buy stocks in the future, said Christopher Bull, professor of engineering and a faculty representative on the committee. He said Brown’s administration does not know exactly the nature of their stock holdings because “a fair amount of the endowment is with money managers instead of direct investment,” making Brown a step removed from the stocks they control. ACCRIP is “trying to stay current on what companies are troublesome,” he said.

 The letter to Paxson comes three years after SJP officially launched its divestment campaign in November 2009. The group was started in February 2009 after more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died during the bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009.

The letter requests increased campus awareness on the issue, including a forum to openly discuss it. Ian Trupin ’13, an undergraduate representative on the committee and a former Herald opinions columnist, said he does not think ACCRIP will take an active role in designing this forum, but the aim of their letter is to “reflect the views of campus dialogue.” 

Brown students have also initiated demonstrations on campus. An enormous banner was displayed on the Main Green last Friday that read, “Do you want your university profiting from apartheid?” Students also handed out pamphlets containing information about the impact of investments in these committees.

Caterpillar supplies bulldozers and earth-moving equipment to Israeli military, according to the information collected in the pamphlet. They contribute to demolishing houses and cleanup when houses have been demolished. Boeing is the supplier of the F-15 Strike Eagle fighter jet of the Israeli military that has caused Palestinian civilian deaths, the pamphlet states.

Brown students from a number of student groups – including SJP and Brown Immigrants’ Rights Coalition – and members of the Providence community participated in a silent march Saturday on Thayer Street while handing out flyers to passersby. Around 50 protesters assembled in a rally at the intersection of Thayer and Waterman Streets, said Eduarda Silva’15, a member of SJP

Ralliers signed a petition demanding the University divest from companies profiting from human rights violations in Palestine. They also signed letters to Paxson and the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, expressing “enthusiastic support for the recommendation of (ACCRIP) to discuss divesting Brown’s resources from firms whose services and products are used to commit human rights violations in Palestine.” 

“The nature of divestment campaigns proceeds in a type of opaque environment because our investments are not open,” said Daniel Moraff ’14, an undergraduate representative of ACCRIP and a Herald opinions columnist. The University does not know for a fact how much it has invested in different companies, said Moraff, who is a former member of SJP.

“The endowment serves as a type of insurance in perpetuity,” Trupin said. Investors often provide guidance to the committee on the practicality and impact of all decisions.

SJP members are “really pleased with (the letter),” Silva said. “It’s a critical step for Brown to recognize the human rights violations and recognize ways which we can end our complicity in it. We might be invested in some companies that are contributing to the deaths of civilians abroad.”

In the event Brown divests, it will be the first Ivy League university to do this as a result of companies’ involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. In 2009, Hampshire College became the first U.S. institution of higher education to divest. SJP is among roughly 100 campus groups in the U.S. that advocate institutional divestment from companies affiliated with human rights abuses in the region. 

Trupin, the student representative on the committee, said divestments do not usually happen on just one campus. Campuses often look to more prestigious universities for examples on how to handle divestment situations.

The student government at the University of California at Irvine resolved unanimously to divest from Israel’s apartheid and occupation on Nov. 13. Arizona State University also voted to divest in June 2012.


Clarification: This article has been changed to reflect that Brown Students for Justice in Palestine specifically advocates divestment from American companies linked to human rights abuses in Palestine and that ACCRIP member and that Herald opinions columnist Daniel Moraff ’14 is also a former member of Brown Students for Justice in Palestine. 

  • Anonymous

    I like how I sound like I’m not a native English speaker.

  • moraff

    I like how I sound like I’m not a native English speaker.

  • Observing

    Irrationally hating Israel, a beacon of democracy and human rights in the middle east, is part of the package of joining with far-left campus activist groups. It is fashionable to hold Israel to higher and different standards than nearly any other country in the world. New far left activists are indoctrinated soon after joining the ranks. Baseless, wholly inaccurate labels like apartheid and genocide and holocaust are applied to Israel with no basis in reality. They sit their as Arab countries murder their own citizens, execute gays, treat woman as second class citizens (including female genital mutilation), have no free press or freedom of expression, allow honor killings, etc. — yet they devote countless hours of energy to attacking a tiny nation of Jews created after thousands of years of murder and rampage on European Jews. Shame on these activists.

  • Anonymous

    I am so so so glad Brown is starting to recognize human rights violations!

    To the “””observing” person who just commented, I only have to say that you clearly did not go to any of the events that BSJP has organized over the past 3 years, nor has read any of their pamphlets. Go get informed and then you may be a little less islamophobic.

  • Student

    Daniel Moraff in addition to being on the committee, is a member of SJP. Not sure why that wasn’t mentioned. Fairly important.

  • Anonymous

    To “observing”: your racism is deplorable, as is your ignorance regarding BSJP. Divesting from Israel is part of a larger international struggle, given Israel’s tie to human rights abuses and the US’s support of Israel and its human rights abuses. I won’t even dignify your statements about Arab countries with an answer, but I would like to note that you’re only concerned with European Jews — guess the other half of “your people” don’t matter. Shame on your ignorance, not activists. Read the definition of apartheid, and then tell us the situation in Palestine doesn’t fit.

  • Anonymous

    @ Observing

    You know what, you are probably right in some respects. There is a certain degree to which becoming a part of the campus left can entail supporting a range of causes that you may not be wholly educated about, and this definitely creates issues. However, labels like apartheid and genocide and ethnic cleansing are not just baselessly applied to the situation by people looking to fit in; they are ideas that exist among people who have seriously studied the situation, including many Brown professors, as well as people who are living the realities of it on the ground. It is a blanket statement to assume that everyone involved in this campaign is uneducated and just doing it to be trendy, even if that does exist in individual cases. One could say the same thing for just about any political cause, though, i.e. the hoards of Brown students who think that free market capitalism is the most equitable system without having ever taken an economics or political theory course.

    Also, the argument which reads that Arab countries murder gays and treat women as second class citizens while Israel is a bastion of progressive thought is incredibly spurious when you apply it to a group larger than the Israeli population itself. In fact, Israel is persecuting many gay people and women with their operations in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the colonial support they have offered for decades to South American dictatorships. Not to mention the blatantly racist worldview that this sort of accusation carries with it. Finally, does Israel really treat people of all gender and sexual identities justly either? When you set up this sort of dichotomy, it is incredibly misleading. This is, of course, not to condone human rights violations and prejudices that occur in the Middle East; it is just very important to be a little more rigorous about applying that kind of logic.

    Also, if you want to take the intellectual high ground and argue that people are being indoctrinated without understanding the situation, you really need to investigate the history of the middle east a little more than you have. Calling Israel a “tiny nation of Jews created after thousands of years of murder and rampage on European Jews” is conflating SO many historical variables. First, regardless of Israel’s size, it is immensely powerful in the international milieu; no serious academic has judged a nation’s power/influence by its shear size for hundreds of years, if ever. Second, I’m not sure in what world you think that summarizing the history of Jewish people by saying that they (meaning only the European ones, because forget about the Arab ones) suffered thousands of years of murder and rampage represents a well informed non-indoctrinated opinion. From World War I through the end of World War II, Jews were absolutely massacred and persecuted. However, the previous 1800 years are a little bit more complicated than that, to say the least. And, to use a serious cliche, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” It’s not as if Jewish people have a right to go persecute others because they themselves were persecuted.

  • Observing this shit

    All I’m observing from your comments is that you think the lives of Jewish Israelis are worth more than those of Palestinians. Having lived in Israel for years, I can assure you that you are not alone. Almost the entire Jewish Israeli population shares your views.

    Israel is a shining beacon of Jewish supremacy, fascism and ethnic cleansing, and of very unintelligent propaganda backed by very substantial amounts of money.

    It’s high time Brown divests from racism and organized murder.

  • Anonymous

    this title is absurd – did the editor read the article before deciding what to call it?

  • Anonymous

    I second the comment below – the article is very well-researched; and the author spoke to people.
    Perez is roundly bucking the BDH research standard of cruisin’ by an event, glancing back, and catching a red-shifted glimpse of the proceedings. If only more columnists bucked the cruise…..

  • Anonymous

    This is just a recitation of ignorance. Perhaps Brown students should have attended lectures last semester from either British Colonel Richard Kemp or Israeli Colonel Bentzi Gruber to understand better why there are civilian casualties in Gaza, and also to what extent the Israeli army conducts itself morally.
    Brown won’t divest in Israel because it makes no sense.

    The BDH was correct in covering this story, as it exposes the stupidity of the entire SJP movement. Divestment in companies like Caterpillar? That does nothing for the University and it does nothing for the Palestinians. The entire objective is destructive and wastes time that could be spent on more constructive pursuits for the people of Israel and Palestine, because at the end of the day, no one should suffer. SJP doesn’t advocate peace, and only peace can advance the economic well-being for all of the innocent people living in the region.

  • Anonymous

    In response to the comment below: As someone who attended both unfortunate events, I find it very funny that Colonels who justify the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population very interesting sources to understand what kind of ethics guides the settler-colonial project in Palestine.

  • Anonymous

    As usual, we witness the double standard applied to Israel. Have any of these groups denounced the thousands of rockets sent into Israel from Gaza over the past few years? Have they sought divestment from companies that do business with Hamas or the PLO? If these groups are as concerned about Israeli treatment of civilians, as they claim, have they renounced Hamas which deliberately locates weapons caches and rocket launchers in the middle of school playgrounds or on the roofs of hospitals?

  • Anonymous

    the hamas dittoheads at brown are out in force.

  • Anonymous

    This article contains inaccurate information: Hampshire College did not divest in 2009, and has corrected the record on that many, many times. In 2009 Hampshire College moved some investments out of a fund following a socially responsible investment screening conducted by an independent reviewer (KLD). Companies were vetted on several criteria that included employment discrimination, environmental abuse, and unsafe workplace settings.
    Elaine Thomas, Director of Communications, Hampshire College

  • Anonymous

    While Saudis repress all their people (other than the royal family whom have private $500 million dollar private airplanes) we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are really just anti-Semites pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Pakistanis ethnically cleanse that once Hindu country of its remaining Hindus we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are really just anti-Semites pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Egyptians ethnically cleanse that country of its ancient Coptic community we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are anti-Semites masquerading as humanitarians.

    While Mali Islamists turn Mali into the next Sudan we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are really anti-Semites dressed up in humanitarian’s clothes.

    While Yemenis turn that bread basket of the Arabian Peninsula into a place of starvation we focus our crocodile tears on Israel for deep down we are really anti-Semites dressed up in fancy humanitarian clothes.

    While Islamists in Southern Thailand kill off over 5,000 Buddhists in the span of a few years we ignore their plight and turn our focus on Israel for we are anti-Semites pretending to be concerned humanitarians.

    While Hezbollah kills off what remains of the Christian leadership in Lebanon we turn the spotlight on Israel for they are just Jews and we all know nobody has ever defended the Jews. They’re easy pickings and we are really just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

  • Anonymous

    Israel’s problem is that it is surrounded by an expansionist, totalitarian, theocratic political movement that is 1400 years old and for which compromise is impossible except for short term tactical purposes. Part of the core theology of that movement says that once a piece of the earth has been dominated by Islam, it must always be dominated by Islam. The Jews offend against that, and because of that offense, and the profound Jew-hatred in the Qur’an, a continual jihad is waged using all kinds of means with the purpose of wiping Israel from the face of the earth. That’s the problem faced by Israel.