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The recent call by NYU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for TIAA-CREF to divest holdings in targeted companies doing business in Israel is part of a troubling trend that exposes dangerous radicalism on campuses disguised as efforts at achieving social justice. In 2010, for instance, student-led groups at both UC San Diego and UC Berkeley introduced initiatives to demonize Israel once again in the court of world opinion. One effort, disingenuously named “UCSD Divest for Peace,” was aimed at divesting university funds from U.S. companies which benefit Israel and which take a “non-neutral financial stance in the occupation of Palestinian territories.” The Berkeley initiative, endorsed by 41 student groups in March 2010 and cynically named “A Bill In Support of UC Divestment From [Israeli] War Crimes,” was promoted by a broader anti-Israel effort named the “U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”
The latest NYU effort, an “Open Letter to TIAA-CREF CEO and President Roger W. Ferguson from NYU Faculty and Staff,” signed by over 70 members of the NYU community, has as its purpose “to pressure TIAA-CREF into divesting its holdings in 5 key companies which profit from the illegal Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.” It has at its core the same baseless accusations and libels against Israel, namely, that Caterpillar “sells the bulldozers used by the IDF to destroy Palestinian homes, infrastructure, and fruit and olive trees;” Elbit Systems provides “drones used to kill Palestinian and Lebanese civilians;” Northrop Grumman builds weaponry that “Israel needs to defend itself from crowds of children throwing stones;” Veolia “operates a light-rail system linking Israel’s illegal settlements to Jerusalem;” and Motorola “manufactures surveillance equipment for Israeli checkpoints” [emphasis added].
These companies, it is asserted by SJP, are not only complicit in the slaughter and oppression of the completely innocent Palestinians, but the firms profit, in an immoral and rapacious way, from the suffering caused by their occupation and dispossession. Clearly, there is no historical context to these outrageous claims, no moral balance, no acknowledgement of Israel’s existential threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, and its other genocidal neighbors–only condemnation for being an oppressive, racist, murderous colonial settler state, illegal, in the view of activists, under international law.
This core sentiment has come to define the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement; the notion that the repeated defamation of Israel will result in its eventual expulsion from the supposed civilized community of nations. But the call for divestment is merely a tactic through which Israel will be marginalized, and eventually extirpated, as a pariah state with no moral justification for existing. Thus, Students for Justice in Palestine — which gives public expression to notions of “social justice” for everyone in the Middle East but actually means justice for the Palestinians alone, and not to Israelis — admit, when pushed, that the sole underlying purpose of their calls for divestment is not, as is frequently though falsely described, to create a Palestinian state that will exist “side by side with Israel in peace,” but actually as a new entity that will either economically, militarily, or demographically subsume Israel.
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