Initiated in 2001 by the UC Berkeley branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, the University of California Divestment Campaign seeks to coerce Israel to change its policies vis a vis the Palestinian people by spearheading a movement among universities nationwide to withdraw all their investments in Israel and thereby undermine that nation’s economy. Modeled on the 1980s divestment effort against the apartheid government in South Africa, this anti-Israel campaign spread quickly to an estimated 50 universities across the United States, including eight other University of California (UC) campuses. Condemning “Israel’s systematic human rights violations [and] its ongoing apartheid system,” the movement gained added traction when professors at Princeton, Harvard, MIT, and UC Berkeley launched faculty divestment campaigns in May and June of 2002.
The Divestment Campaign traces its beginnings to a November 30, 2000 lecture by Francis A. Boyle at Illinois State University. Boyle, a legal adviser to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, delivered his address at the request of political science professor Jamal Nassar. The UC Berkeley chapter of SJP quickly responded to Boyle’s call for divestment and launched its campaign. Boyle helped organize a similar movement with Palestinian students at the University of Illinois.
The online version of the Divestment Campaign petition had collected 2,023 signatures by December 21, 2003, some 229 of which were from UC faculty members. Berkeley’s SJP claims to have collected 6,000 signatures on a similar petition circulated by hand. Notably, the words “peace” and “reconciliation” are do not appear in the Divestment Petition, which states: “We, the undersigned — horrified by the human rights abuses of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government, the continual military occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by Israeli forces and settlers, the forcible eviction from and demolition of Palestinian homes, the refusal to allow Palestinian people the right to return to their homes and properties, and the continual violation of international law and UN Resolution 194 in the racist policies of Israel — lend our support to the Palestinian people and call on the UC Regents to end its financial ties to Israel by divesting from companies with subsidiaries in Israel and/or substantial financial commitments (over 5 million dollars) to the Israeli economy.”
UC Divestment sponsors a steady stream of teach-ins and protests. Guest speakers regularly visit campuses under the auspices of Middle East education to support the campaign. The speakers most important to the movement are University of California faculty and staff members. The UC Divestment web page displays a number of pro-divestment quotes from UC professors, who use their positions as publicly funded educators to promote their political views.
The Divestment Campaign works closely with Al-Awda, the International Socialist Organization, the International Solidarity Movement, the Maoist International Movement, the Palestine Solidarity Movement, and the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League. Prominent figures such as the late professor Edward Said, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been among the Campaign’s supporters.