In December of last year, the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility voted to divest from companies complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights. As a Jewish alum, I want to thank ACCRIP and the overwhelming majority of student voters who supported divestment in the referendum last March.
President Paxson P’19 and the Brown Corporation must immediately implement the divestment recommendation.
Every day that our tuition and alumni donation dollars remain invested in companies profiting from occupation is a day we inflict severe harm on Palestinians, including Palestinian students at Brown.
Every day we remain invested, we are responsible for ongoing land theft, military violence and discrimination. We restrict the ability of Palestinian students to receive an equal education at Brown by investing in companies that oppress their families. We preserve a status quo of violence, settler colonialism and racism that is intolerable to many students and constituencies on campus.
President Paxson swatted down the student divestment vote last March by arguing that “Brown’s endowment is not a political instrument” and “should not be used to take sides on contested geopolitical issues.” This is an absurd justification. To remain invested in human rights abuses, especially after ACCRIP has recognized the harms these corporations are committing, is to explicitly give our approval and “take a side.” That is not apolitical, or neutral.
Some have argued that supporting divestment hurts the Brown Jewish community. I reject the notion that standing for freedom and equality for all people – including Palestinians – hurts our community or singles us out. Criticizing Israel for its policies as a Jewish-only state that discriminates against Palestinians and others based on religion and ethnicity is not anti-Jewish. It simply means defending human rights for all. Investors in the United States must move our money away from all human rights abusers, not just those complicit in Israel’s abuse of Palestinians. But the reason to start with Israel is that we spend more than three billion in tax dollars per year to support an apartheid state. No other human rights abuser receives such support from the U.S.
I joined the first ever Brown-RISD Birthright trip to Israel in 2000 because I wanted to explore Jewish identity while traveling with the campus Rabbi and my classmates — and the trip was free. I was not well-informed about Israel and its subjugation of Palestinians. I had no idea I was accepting a free trip to a place where my Palestinian classmates are legally barred from visiting areas where they have family and history. I am ashamed that I participated in a project to elevate my “birthright” as a Jewish person, and to whitewash apartheid.
If I were at Brown in 2020, instead of 2000, I would not have gone on that trip. Instead, I would engage in campus debates. I would learn about Palestinian and Israeli history from friends, and I would read what Brown Divest had to say. Maybe I would be uncomfortable learning what Israel means for Palestinians. Maybe I would be challenged by taking a critical look at Zionism. But the point of college is to teach us critical thinking. As uncomfortable as it is for students to confront challenging ideas, or to accept that our investment choices affect people’s lives, it’s much worse to live through a brutal military occupation. Supporting human rights must guide our university’s actions.
I work today as a civil rights attorney for Palestine Legal, where we support the constitutional rights of students, professors and community activists in the U.S. who are vocal supporters of Palestinian freedom. It is routine for anyone in the U.S. who voices a critical word about Israel’s human rights abuses to face legal bullying, harassment, censorship and false accusations of antisemitism and support for terrorism. We have responded to nearly 1,500 incidents of such suppression over the past six years. I am not surprised to see similar backlash targeting the leaders at Brown who are calling for divestment. For example, an anonymous blacklisting website has profiled multiple Brown students, saying they support terrorists and encouraging employers not to hire them because of their support for Palestinian human rights.
Brown’s decision on divestment comes amid the expansion of state efforts to silence this human rights movement. Twenty-eight states have measures that restrict our right to boycott for Palestinian human rights, and Trump issued an executive order in December aiming to stop divestment by officially defining virtually all of the most common criticism of Israeli apartheid policy as antisemitic. President Paxson and the Corporation must not let the Trump agenda silence the Brown community’s clear call to cease profiting from human rights abusers.
Liz Jackson ’00 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.