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UC Professors push for divestment from Israel

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Wednesday June 05, 2002

More than 140 University of California professors, including 68 from UC Berkeley, signed a petition calling on the university to divest from Israel, joining professors at Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Tufts University who have taken similar action. 

But critics say divestment would not help Israeli and Palestinian citizens suffering from conflict in the Middle East. The chairman of the UC Board of Regents indicated the university will not divest anytime soon. 

The professors unveiled the petition drive at a press conference at UC Berkeley’s Faculty Club Tuesday afternoon.  

“It is time for us unequivocally to side with peace and Palestinian independence in every possible way,” said Susan Ervin-Tripp, professor emeritus of psychology at UC Berkeley. 

The university has over $7 billion invested in companies that either produce or sell weapons and weapons technology in Israel or have subsidiaries or branches in Israel, according to Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group that has helped coordinate the petition drive. 

The student group cites companies ranging from Cisco Systems, to General Electric, to Coca-Cola and AOL Time Warner.  

“As Students for Justice in Palestine, we believe this is completely unacceptable,” said UC Berkeley graduate student and SJP leader Snehal Shingavi. “The economic relationship between our university and the military dominance in Israel must stop.” 

Members of the Board of Regents, who would ultimately make a decision on divestment, did not return calls by the Planet’s deadline. But John J. Moores, chairman of the Board, issued a statement welcoming dialogue and downplaying the possibility of divestment.  

“Living thousands of miles away, members of the UC community seek practical ways to further the pursuit of peace in the Middle East,” the statement read. “The Regents value and welcome ideas of faculty, staff and students in exploring such opportunities, including issues of economic divestment.  

“The Regents also have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the security of the University’s pension and endowment funds,” the Moores statement continued. “Those investments currently provide benefits to thousands of UC retirees and support University scholarships and research efforts.” 

But Ervin-Tripp argued that divestment from South Africa in the 1980s did not hurt the University of California’s bottom line. 

“There are always economic alternatives to building stable pensions,” added Shingavi.  

Pro-Israeli voices on campus took issue with the divestment push. 

“It’s not actually helping the people on the ground who are suffering,” said Jenni Mangel, assistant director of Berkeley Hillel, a Jewish cultural center serving students. 

Mangel said university students and professors should concentrate on providing humanitarian aid to Jewish and Palestinian civilians affected by the conflict. 

“I find it particularly disappointing that university faculty would be underscoring the anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus,” added Chris Silver, a member of the Israel Action Committee, a UC Berkeley student group. 

The professors’ petition drive joins a 1 1/2-year-old student drive initiated by SJP. Student leaders say nearly 7,000 have signed the SJP document.