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UNC Students Kick Off Campaign to Divest from Israel

Letter Delivered to Administration Demands Boycott and Divestment
by Kosta Harlan |
March 8, 2009
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A photo of SDS members delivering the petition
(Fight Back! News/Kosta Harlan)

Chapel Hill, NC - A delegation of students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) delivered a letter to Chancellor Thorp's office, Feb. 25, demanding that UNC divest from Israel. Holding a banner that said, “End U.S. aid to Israel!” the students explained their demands to the university administrator who received the letter in place of Chancellor Thorp. “We want our university to stop investing in the murder of Palestinian civilians,” said Maddy Miller, a member of SDS.

The letter delivery is the first step in what SDS and other student organizers project will be a long, hard-fought battle to make UNC divest from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“We believe the direction of history and the demands of justice are clear,” reads the conclusion of the letter delivered to the UNC administration. “Rather than sit on the sidelines, or worse, consciously try to hold back progress, we would like for our university to take a stand and help move the Palestinian people's struggle for justice forward. Divestment and boycott will be a powerful message to those who continue to oppress and occupy the Palestinian people and a strong impetus to negotiate a lasting peace based on the principles of equality and justice.”

The letter outlined several demands, including disclosure of all university investments through the UNC Investment Fund; severing contracts with and divesting from any corporations that are profiting from the occupation of Palestine; establishing a curriculum in Palestine Studies and partnering with Palestinian academics and academic institutions; providing scholarships to at least five Palestinian students each year; and removing Israeli products and products made by companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine from university stores.

The recent Israeli assault on Gaza, which left thousands dead and wounded, has created a shift in public opinion. More and more student groups, labor unions and religious organizations are initiating campaigns to boycott, divest and sanction Israel until it recognizes the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees.

In January, in New York state, students occupied the University of Rochester in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Then days later a major victory for the divestment movement came in Massachusetts when Hampshire College became the first university in the United States to divest from companies that are profiting from the occupation of Palestine. Significantly, Hampshire College was also the first university to divest from the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1977. And on Feb. 19, solidarity with Gaza and aid for Palestinian students was a core demand of the student building takeover at New York University.

Commenting on the victory of the Hampshire College divestment, Ben Berry, a Hampshire student and current organizer with SDS at UNC Chapel Hill, said, “The Hampshire divestment was a great victory, and a humble beginning. We achieved economic divestment at a college with a relatively small endowment.” Hampshire College's investment fund is valued at about $46 million. Divestment at UNC will be much more difficult, Berry said, “When you look at the fact that UNC's investments are over $2 billion.” Speaking of why he was motivated to work for this cause, Berry said, “As a Jew, I feel a personal tie to the conflict, and feel it's important for me to do what I can to help raise awareness and bring an end to this terrible occupation.”