There’s a new group of student activists at Georgetown and their demands—in the name of human rights and international law—deserve to be taken seriously.
Georgetown, Divest! is part of a growing movement of students across the U.S. demanding that their universities divest from corporations that profit from violations of human rights and international law in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
At a Tuesday meeting, Georgetown, Divest! spokesperson Jackson Perry (COL ‘12) (who is also an assistant photo editor for the Voice) presented a very clear and coherent argument for divestment from eight multinational corporations that operate in Israel and the Palestinian territories and that aid the Israeli government in perpetrating human rights abuses and disregarding international law in pursuit of profit.
Since the entrenched power structure of the United States prohibits a serious change in American policy toward Israel and the United Nations is unable to pressure Israel effectively, solutions are limited. Divestment is a focused form of nonviolent resistance that could very well cut to the core of the Israeli occupation.
Mark Lance, director of the Justice and Peace Department, noted the urgency of divestment.
“A strategy of boycotting companies that support these illegal policies and pushing for legal sanctions against the state of Israel is a coercive strategy,” Lance said at the meeting on Tuesday. “It’s not just talking to people. It’s forcing people to do the right thing … The situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip can’t go on like this. The question is whether it’s going to change with massive bloodshed and suffering on both sides, or whether it’s going to change with a nonviolent movement.”
Unfortunately when the group met with members of the Investment Office, Chief Investment Officer Larry Kochard told Georgetown, Divest! that divestment is impossible because Georgetown doesn’t directly invest in individual companies. Furthermore, Kochard made the bold claim that there is no ethical oversight of the investments made by fund managers.
This claim fairly clearly contradicts Georgetown’s guiding principles of social and ethical responsibility. Perhaps the most upsetting aspect is that the University appears to be selectively invoking and ignoring its Catholic and Jesuit rhetoric based on convenience. The University referenced Jesuit values multiple times over the last month when responding to Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice’s demands for access to condoms on campus, but refuses to consider divesting from corporations that violate human rights.
While divestment is non-negotiable to administrators, it appears that Georgetown’s Jesuit and Catholic identity is. The University’s failure to explain how it ensures that its practices are socially responsible could potentially pose some serious problems down the road.
As Father Raymond Kemp, S.T.L. noted at the meeting, Georgetown’s insistence that the ethical consequences of its investments are impossible to monitor appear to directly contradict the mission of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
Indeed, AJCU writes on its web site, “Jesuit education seeks to integrate academic excellence with social responsibility. Fundamental to that responsibility is a consistent concern for the ethical implications of every field of endeavor, so that contemporary issues of social ethics, business ethics, and bioethics become increasingly important in the curriculum.”
To end this contradiction between its mission and its actions, the University should immediately correct its profound strategic error in denying any ethical oversight over investments with such serious moral consequences.
Kemp—well aware of President John DeGioia’s role in the successful 1986 campaign that resulted in the University divesting from apartheid-era South Africa—kept the crowd optimistic at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“You’re in a great tradition,” Kemp told the crowd. “Jack DeGioia was right there. He gets this, he understands this. And you’re going to help him get it even more.”
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