Students say: No business with apartheid Israel

A divestment teach-in at Temple University on March 5 put technology to use for Palestine as students here spoke directly with students from the Hampshire College divestment movement in Massachusetts through the power of Skype, an Internet telephone program.

Temple Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the teach-in as part of Boycott Israeli Apartheid week. The panel featured Godfrey Sithole, a member of the African National Congress and veteran of the 1980s movement to divest from South Africa, and Adam Horowitz from the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation of Palestine.

The teach-in was held to reignite a divestment campaign at Temple. It was part of a week of actions that included banner droppings and a protest urging people to “hang up on Motorola” for its complicity in Israel”s human rights violations and military occupation.

Horowitz described the three components of the BDS movement–boycott, divest, sanctions–that is gaining momentum internationally, especially since Israel”s brutal war on Gaza. He explained that the divestment movement must be seen as a tactic in a broader solidarity struggle.

The BDS movement encourages student groups, unions, religious and community organizations to identify ways in which the institutions they are connected with are complicit in Israel”s occupation and wars against the Palestinian people.

The movement against Israeli apartheid borrows from the success of the earlier struggle to weaken apartheid in South Africa through similar tactics. Sithole, who in the 1980s led the movement in Philadelphia to divest from South Africa, stated: “The highlight of that campaign was when people could see the atrocities committed in South Africa. It”s a pity to have to revisit an issue we thought we”d never have to go back to.”

Sithole compared apartheid in South Africa, where racial divisions and inequities were used to enforce policies that benefited the whites in power, to the situation in Israel and occupied Palestine today, where similar racist laws and policies are used to consistently deny rights to Palestinians and Arab people in Israel.

“When you see laws similar to what Hitler used against Jewish people, it”s so hard to see the same people who faced the atrocities of Nazi Germany doing this to other people,” Sithole said. “Apartheid in South Africa also copied some of the same laws that were enforced by the Nazis. It”s an issue of control–passbooks in South Africa, checkpoints in Palestine.”

Sithole referred to a recent “60 Minutes” segment that showed Israeli soldiers occupying a Palestinian home in Gaza and controlling when family members could come and go. The soldiers let the children leave for school but refused to let them come home, making the departure of the television crew a condition for their return.

“Bit by bit the international solidarity movement is rising up and it will make a difference,” said Sithole. “Two weeks ago dockworkers in South Africa took a bold step and refused to unload ships from Israel. We were once the ones isolated–called terrorists–but the solidarity we saw with South Africa gave us hope.”

Hampshire students Brian Van Slyke and Jay Cassano from Students for Justice in Palestine joined the program through a Skype hook-up that allowed them to have an open discussion with the Philadelphia audience. Hampshire College was the first college to divest from South Africa in the 1970s and the first campus to protest the war in Afghanistan in 2001. When the Palestinian Civil Society issued a call for divestment from Israel several years ago, students felt they had to live up to that history.

Van Slyke and Cassano described the struggle to get Hampshire”s Board of Trustees subcommittee on responsible investment to finally respond to student pressure earlier this year. First they identified corporations–including Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT, Motorola and Terex–that Hampshire had investments in and that were linked to Israel.

SJP showed films, sponsored faculty panels, built a mock wall on campus and set up checkpoints to raise student awareness and participation over the two-year campaign. “You can”t be passive about the issue,” Van Slyke noted. “Otherwise people will brush you off.”

Both pointed out that although Hampshire divested from South Africa in 1977, there was almost a 10-year gap before other schools followed suit. But by 1988 more than 150 institutions had divested. Already students at the University of Mississippi, the University of Rochester and the University of Massachusetts have taken on similar campaigns to divest from Israeli apartheid.

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Posted on 13-03-2009

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