Stanford students reject Israel divestment measure

Nobel Prize winners weigh in on both sides of debate over student group proposal

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

The failed Stanford divestment proposal targeted companies including Motorola and Caterpillar. (Photo credit: CC BY/the_beat via
The failed Stanford divestment proposal targeted companies including Motorola and Caterpillar. (Photo credit: CC BY/the_beat via

SAN FRANCISCO — Stanford University’s student senate rejected a bill calling for selective divestment from Israel.

The Associated Students of Stanford University Undergraduate Senate rejected the proposal, put forth by Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER).

The bill originally would have committed the Senate to urge the university’s Board of Trustees to reconsider endowment investments in eight companies, including Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin and Motorola. Tuesday’s vote centered on a revised version that pared the list to two.

The failure of the SPER bill capped off several weeks of contentious debate on campus. SPER Co-President Omar Shakir, a law student, had alleged the companies listed in the proposal profit from Israel’s control of the West Bank and “commit human rights abuses and violations of international law.”

Groups on both sides received statements of support from prominent outside voices. On SPER’s side were a pair of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. “The Color Purple” author Alice Walker had also called for the measure to be implemented.

“I heartily endorse [students’] divestment move, encourage them to stand firm on the side of what is right and urge others to follow their lead,” Tutu wrote.

The Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA) opposed the bill and was backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Congressman Charles Rangel. They were joined by Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, a 1985 Stanford graduate who was murdered by Muslim extremists while working for the Wall Street Journal in Pakistan. Support also came from Nobel Prize-winning Stanford professors Roger Kornberg and Al Roth.

“Despite the long running low intensity war that persists, and the moral and practical complications of occupation, I think people at Stanford should question whether they believe that Israel has a worse human rights record than its neighbors, or that Palestine would become an island of liberal democracy on the Arab map if only peace could be achieved,” Roth wrote.

Rabbi David Booth of nearby Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto sent an email to members earlier on Tuesday to inform them of the pending vote. He praised Rabbi Serena Eisenberg of Stanford’s Hillel for “waging an effective campaign to keep this resolution from passing.”

Booth warned congregants not to try to attend the Senate meeting, which was restricted to students, but urged Stanford alumni to sign a petition urging the Senate “to resist attempts by the BDS special interest group to hijack the Senate’s agenda.”

In its session Tuesday, the council passed a resolution calling on students to discuss divestment in other forums.

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