R-20-39: Frequently Asked Questions

Aren’t there more relevant topics for students to be addressing? ASUW has already voted to support socially responsible investing with R18-19 in 2012. This bill is in keeping with those values and provides actionable guidance to UW administration.. R20-39 also responds to the University of Washington’s own stated commitment to “the active pursuit of global engagement and connectedness” and to fostering “engaged and responsible citizenship.”

Are you for a one-state or a two-state solution? There is explicitly no language about one state or two state in the bill or in the BDS call. There is only a call for equal rights under humanitarian and international law.  Policy decisions still need to be made by those involved: by Israelis and by Palestinians.

Why not boycott or divest from Boeing?  Boeing has been divested from by a number of religious organizations including UMass and the United Methodist Church due to its contributions to and profit from the occupation of Palestine.  This bill does not specify Boeing as an initial company to divest from because of UW’s multi-layered financial relationship with Boeing.  A more focused bill on Boeing would be appropriate, and more research on divestment from the company would be needed.  R-20-39 asks that the university divest within the realm of its fiduciary responsibility, so we have proposed companies to begin with that are well within the realm of possibility.

What other corporations meet the criterion of the resolution?  Why list these particular ones?   These particular companies are widely recognized as playing a key role in the occupation of Palestine: HP provides bio-metric surveillance to limit Palestinian’s movement within Palestine; Veolia is profiting from services that annex land for garbage disposal and Israeli-only transportation; Northrup Grumman is a key provider of weaponry used against civilians; Elbit builds drones and the separation wall; Caterpillar sells bulldozers through U.S. Department of Defense Contracts to an Israeli company which weaponizes the machines. The IDF then uses CAT bulldozers to demolish homes and olive orchards to annex land and build settlements. We have selected these for our divestment proposal because 1) they are widely recognized as participants in key aspects of the occupation and 2) Divesting from these is within UW’s fiduciary responsibility.

Why the focus on Caterpillar?   R-20-39 focuses on Caterpillar because home demolitions are central to how the occupation functions. Demolishing homes is a tool of displacement and intimidation and is among one of the most traumatic aspects of living under occupation: if one’s house can be destroyed at any time, where can one feel at home, feel safe?   Additionally, a fellow Washington student, Rachel Corrie, was crushed to death in Gaza while she was participating in nonviolent action standing in front of a family home.  In response, Evergreen State College Students have voted not only to divest from companies profiting from the Occupation of Palestine, but also to make Evergreen a CAT free campus so long as the company profits from the occupation.  Evergreen’s endowment is housed in UW’s endowment, so our divestment from CAT will be in alignment with other Washington state students’ democratically voted proposal.

How would divestment actually work if the resolution passed? Setting screens on endowments is a common practice by investment managers in order to follow the requirements of the institution whose funds they are managing. R-20-39 when passed would first ask that UW formally recognize the requests made in the bill.  UW would then speak with its investment managers and instruct them to look for alternate, equally profitable but more socially just companies to invest in.  When suitable alternates were found, investment managers would adjust the portfolio over an agreed upon period of time. The investment screen would last only so long as the companies were directly profiting from the occupation. When companies cease profiting, they can be added back into UW’s portfolio.  For example, when CAT stops selling its bulldozers to Israel to be weaponized and used in the occupation, UW’s screen would allow it to reinvest in the company.  In this way, the divestment screen has an end-date. R20-39 sponsors have already been in conversation with the UW Treasury Department and Student Regent.

This resolution and BDS is intended to “delegitimize” Israel.  The right of return of Palestinian refugees will mean the end of the Israeli state. The Right for any refugee to return to their home is enshrined in international law in UN resolution 194.  Voting for this resolution is in no way voting for any specific solution or political configuration in Israel/ Palestine. This resolution is about our own complicity in violations of international law and human rights. UW owns stock in corporations that are profiting from such violations. These corporations are mostly US corporations which are involved in similar violations elsewhere around the world. This makes us part of the problem, taking the side of profiteers and preventing an even handed negotiation for peace and justice. We are already involved and we are already taking a side through our investments. R-20-39 is asking for balance. R-20-39 asks our university to stop profiting from the continued violence and injustice.

What about Israelis facing violence?  Shouldn’t this resolution be more balanced?  Isn’t this singling out Israel? This resolution is focusing on the violence in the region that we are directly linked to. Our investment in the repression and killing of Palestinians is a one sided support of Israeli government policies. Addressing corporate complicity in severe human rights violations using universal criteria, in order to end our complicity in the Israeli occupation is not singling out but holding Israel to the same standards of International law as other nations. R20-39 sponsors would support other bills to end UW involvement in human rights abuses in other countries, in fact we hope this bill will encourage more action around socially responsible investment.

Why not divest from other responsible parties like Hamas, Egypt?  UW is not invested in violence against Israeli civilians. It is invested in violence against Palestinian civilians. This bill ensures UW is not standing on the side of this violence but rather ending involvement in it.

Wasn’t the wall built to protect Israelis from suicide bombings?   The wall annexes Palestinian land mainly in areas where there are illegal Israeli settlements and industrial zones. When it is completed, the wall will illegally annex about 9% of West Bank lands onto the Israeli side. In 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found Israel’s construction of the Wall to be illegal. According to Israeli Human Rights organization, B’tselem 85% of the wall’s planned route runs through the West Bank—on occupied Palestinian territory, not on any recognized border with Israel. Both Elbit Systems and Motorola Solutions, named in the resolution, provide technology and maintenance for the wall in its illegal path. Motorola Solutions provides the MotoEagle Surveillance system including radars and cameras to detect human movement on the Wall in the West Bank as well as around Gaza. Elbit Systems is one of two main providers of the electronic detection fence system on the wall.

Shouldn’t students be focusing on efforts that help Palestinians and Israelis collaborate and seek reconciliation for a more peaceful future? Peace & reconciliation happens after inequity is over; this bill when passed supports the establishment of equitable grounds for further conversation, dialogue, peace and reconciliation which cannot happen in a system of vast inequity where one party controls and occupies the other. In the words of Robin D. G. Kelley, Acting Chair of Afro-American Studies IDP and Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA: “The South African experience proves that peace and reconciliation is possible, but will remain elusive without justice, nor will it be achieved as long as we continue to financially support a regime that violates international law with impunity. The occupation is illegal, it perpetuates more than a half century of dispossession, it does not serve the interests of the majority of Israeli citizens, and it is costing American citizens some three billion dollars a year. The University of Washington, a leading global light in public higher education, should not profit from occupation and dispossession.”

This is a complex issue and the resolution oversimplifies the history of the Middle East.  The situation is indeed complex, but the careful deliberations of human rights organizations and other international bodies have made clear that violations of international law must end. This resolution is about our complicity in human rights abuses, it is also about the role of students and educational institutions in the world. To quoteRon J Smith, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bucknell University, and a UW and Evergreen alum: “The goals are clear: Israel must abide by international law. The means are direct: individuals, communities, and institutions can take a stand simply by refusing to support the Israeli occupation by purchasing products from companies that profit from the occupation.” We believe that universities are places of learning and equality, so we are asking that the university’s funding also align with these principles.

What does Evergreen student opinion have to do with our student senate?  Evergreen State College Students have voted to not only to divest from companies profiting from the Occupation of Palestine, but also to make Evergreen a CAT free campus so long as the company profits from the occupation.  Evergreen’s endowment is housed in UW’s endowment, so our divestment from CAT will be in alignment with other Washington state students’ democratically voted proposal. Resolution 20-39 makes clear that the decisions of UW students can affect others deeply—TESC is just one example.

Equality in Israel is “enshrined in the law.”  Don’t Palestinians have the right to vote in Israel?R20-39 asks us to vote on whether UW should invest in companies violating Palestinian human rights. Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote or run for office, but it’s within a limited framework and even such opportunities cannot be balanced against the human rights abuses faced by Palestinians under illegal occupation. There are many examples of discrimination within Israel, just to name one: about 93% of the land in Israel is managed by the Israel Lands Administration, an extension of the Jewish National Fund, rendering it either very difficult or outright impossible for non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel to move onto it. Most of this land was taken from Palestinians who became refugees in 1948.

Won’t Israeli and Jewish students feel unsafe on campus if this resolution passes?  In the words of UW alum Susan Koppelman: “It is inaction in the face of injustice that makes all members of our UW community feel less safe. It does not do anyone in our community any good to have our university investment dollars supporting human rights violations.” UW Students shouldn’t shy away from engaging in a full debate around an issue because it is difficult. We have a unique position as students to act as advocates for social change, and that is the central issue.

If the companies aren’t really harmed financially if UW divests, what good does resolution do?Our decision to divest from human rights abuses is about ending our complicity, it is also a symbol to both those companies and our administration that we recognize the gravity of the situation and are not willing to condone human rights abuses. While the fall of Apartheid in South Africa did not hinge on the University of Washington’s decision to divest, the message it sent to companies and the symbolic pressure that came from the potential domino effect was significant.

Aren’t most divestment resolutions at other universities failing to pass?  75% of divestment resolutions that have come up on college campuses have passed successfully. Student governments that have passed resolutions include: Arizona State University; Evergreen State College; Hampshire College; Loyola University Chicago; Oberlin College; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Davis; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Riverside; University of California, San Diego; University of Massachusetts, Boston; and Wesleyan University. Hampshire College was the first to pass a resolution in 2009, and the first to divest from Apartheid South Africa in 1979, followed by 155 schools in the US and Canada.