While many of the concerns and grievances articulated by the new campus group Georgetown, Divest! are valid, its demand that the University divest its money from companies profiting from human rights violations in Israel is logistically impractical and ultimately unreasonable.
The string of reports coming from the Middle East appear to confirm the assertions aired by the newly formed coalition Georgetown, Divest! that the human rights situation in Gaza and the West Bank is deplorable and the University is obliged to take action. This past Sunday, the Israeli military issued an order that would force thousands of Palestinian West Bank residents from their homes, and a Human Rights Watch report recently concluded that Israel has done little to investigate potential war crimes perpetrated during last year’s Gaza War.
Yet as dire as the situation in Israel may be, Georgetown, Divest!’s argument that the University has an obligation to pull its investments in companies that profit from Israel’s poor policies is impractical. Georgetown’s seven-member investment team does not directly choose which companies to invest Georgetown’s endowment money in. Rather, they select a number of investment managers who independently invest Georgetown’s endowment, often putting money into complex funds and financial instruments. As a result, it is very difficult to draw up a list of the companies Georgetown has money invested in, and it would be exceedingly difficult for Georgetown to divest from a select list of specific companies. Complying with Georgetown, Divest!’s demands would potentially require a transformation of its investment process and the possible resumption of direct investment by the Investment Office, weakening Georgetown’s endowment.
While those involved in Georgetown, Divest! have done a good job of focusing campus attention on the problems in Israel, they would be better off focusing their energies on issues other than divestment. Instead of demanding that the University pursue the impractical policy of divestment from companies that profit from illegal Israeli settlement construction, it would be better for the coalition to push the University to use its resources in a more productive manner—to promote dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, and to follow through on its long-term proposal to build a Georgetown-sponsored hospital in Gaza.