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March 23, 2011

Calling for moral investment at Carleton

Reuel S. Amdur

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The BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) takes various forms. Sometimes the focus is on Israel as such, and sometimes it has a more limited focus. The Carleton University group, Students Against Israeli Apartheid, has focused on the university's pension plan, calling for divestment from corporations doing business in the Occupied Territories, not hitting more broadly at all those doing business in Israel.

This focus on the occupation can be effective. 

The Palestinian Authority has banned the sale of goods made by Israeli companies in the West Bank, and the boycott has had the Israeli government pleading with the Palestinian Authority for it to stop.

Divestment with this limited focus is justified because of the illegality of the Occupation. 

Corporations that have set up in Occupied Palestine are there against the wishes of the Palestinians.  They are there as part of the illegal Israeli occupation.  The argument can be made on moral and legal grounds.

Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) is carrying on a sophisticated campaign.  They began by doing a thorough analysis of the companies included in the Carleton University pension fund to identify corporations active in the Occupied Territories.  They found four: BAIA Systems, Motorola, Northrop Grumman, and Tesco.

Having identified the companies to be targeted, they then sought the support of the Student Council, but the Council submitted an alternative proposal, calling for the university’s pension fund to adopt a policy of socially responsible investment (SRI). 

SRI is a movement that has both positive and negative screening features.  In its negative aspect, it is similar to moral-compliant investment, avoiding investments involved with tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and military-related industries.  The positive aspect is to favor investments in companies that do “good works” of one sort or another.

SAIA’s reaction to the Student Council resolution was to move an amendment to include, as a negative criterion, operating in territory under foreign occupation.

The amendment did not mention Palestine by name and did not list the targeted corporations.  Once the principle is established, it then becomes possible to demand compliance. 

The SAIA amendment was adopted and the whole resolution was passed. 

SAIA is also conducting a petition campaign, seeking signatures of students, faculty, and other university employees in support of divestment.  They are also planning in approaching the union which represents faculty, including teaching assistants. 

As Reem Buhaisi, speaking for SAIA, put it, “We want to show that the issue is no longer just SAIA.  We are not standing alone.  We have support.”

Carleton’s Board of Governors is the decision-making body in this matter.  SAIA has not been successful in efforts to speak to individual members of the board, but their efforts continue.  When it comes time to go to the Board in a formal way, they hope to be able to show substantial support from the Carleton University community generally.

In their campaign, SAIA has developed a powerful video, which includes clips of people in the Occupied Territories calling on Carleton to divest.  It also has scenes of destruction caused by Israeli military action.  This video is being used as a model for Israel Apartheid divestment campaigns on other university campuses. 

Trevor Purvis, a professor in Carleton’s Department of Law, expressed the hope to see the divestment campaign succeed.  “It’s shocking,” he said, “to think that my retirement savings would accumulate through violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or anywhere else in the world.”

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