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.