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165 UC professors petition for divestment from Israel

By Andrew Edwards
June 25, 2002


More than 100 University of California faculty are petitioning the university system to divest from Israel, on the grounds of protecting Palestinian human rights.

The petitioners are asking the UC, which currently has about $54 million invested, to use its political and financial weight to take a stand against U.S. military aid to the Israeli government and Israel's role in the Middle East crisis.

"The main culprit in this situation, and the side that can deliver the goods, is Israel," said history Professor Gabriel Piterberg, who signed the petition.

The petition, signed by 165 UC professors, condemns attacks on Israeli citizens while comparing Israeli actions to the South Africa's Apartheid.

Many, however, find such a comparison ridiculous.

"The analogy with South Africa is absurd," said political science Professor Steven Spiegel, who finds the petition "reprehensible and unwise."

"It does nothing to solve the present conflict," Spiegel said.

The UC campaign is similar to initiatives at other U.S. universities, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University. Opponents of the initiatives have circulated counter-petitions throughout the UC, as well as at Harvard and MIT.

The counter-petition at UCLA asserts that the divestment initiative "pours scorn on Israel alone."

"The impetus (of the divestment petition) appears to be anti-Israel," said Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, of UCLA Hillel House, who does not agree with the petition, but said he is opposed to Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

History Professor James Gelvin, meanwhile, signed the divestment petition because he said: "(Israel) is a government that is now committing an invasion."

Those in favor of divestment do not want their protest of Israeli policy to be construed as sympathy or support for terrorism.

"In no way should it be interpreted that any of us signing this petition support the suicide bombers," Gelvin said.

Not all signatories of the divestment petition are siding with either camp.

"It's a very difficult situation for both sides ... Israel is not the aggressor," said cardiology Professor Mohamed Navab.

"Both are equally wrong," he said.

The UC has not yet taken any action regarding divestment.

A press release issued by John Moores, chair of the UC Board of Regents, states that while the proposals of the faculty are welcome, the board is obligated to take care regarding funds.

The board will discuss divestment at a future meeting, said Trey Davis, spokesman for the UC.

The petition will be presented this fall or next spring.

This divestment campaign follows other "human rights" efforts against UC stock in Burma and Tibet.