Divestment at UCSB

16 Apr

Moving Toward Divestment from Corporations Profiting from Israeli Militarism, Occupation, and Settlments


A few days ago I spoke to a student audience in support of a divestment resolution that was to be submitted for adoption at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The resolution was narrowly defeated the next day in the UCSB Student Senate, but this series of student initiated efforts to urge several campuses of the University of California to divest from corporations doing a profitable business selling military equipment to Israel represents an encouraging awakening on the part of American youth to the severe victimization of the Palestinian people by way of occupation, discrimination, refugee misery, and exile, a worsening set of circumstances that has lasted in its various forms for several decades, and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.


Ever since the nakba of 1948, either traditional diplomacy, nor the United Nations, nor armed struggle have been able to secure Palestinian rights, and as time has passed, Palestinian prospects are being steadily diminished by deliberate Israeli policies: establishment and expansion of unlawful settlements, ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, construction of a separation wall that the World Court found in 2004 was being unlawfully built on Palestinian territory, a network of Israeli only road, a dualistic system of laws that have an apartheid character, widespread abuse of Palestinian prisoners, systematic discrimination of the Palestinian minority living in pre-1967 Israel.


Israel has been consistently defiant in relation to relation to international law and the UN, and has refused to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. Given this set of circumstances that combine the failures of diplomacy to achieve a fair peaceful resolution of the conflict and the unwillingness of Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law, the only viable option consistent with the imperatives of global justice are a blend of continuing Palestinian resistance and a militant global solidarity campaign that is nonviolent, yet coercive.


The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has become the great international moral issue of our time, a successor to the struggle in South Africa a generation ago against its form of institutionalized racism, the original basis of the international crime of apartheid. It is notable that the Statute of the International Criminal Court designates apartheid as one type of Crime Against Humanity, and associates it with any structure of discrimination that is based on ethnicity or religion, and not necessarily a structure exhibiting the same characteristics as present in South Africa. Increasingly, independent inquiry has concluded that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is accurately considered to be a version of apartheid, and hence an ongoing Crime Against Humanity.


It is against this background that divestment initiatives and the wider BDS Campaign take on such importance at this time, especially here in America where the governing authorities turn a blind eye to Israel’s wrongdoing and yet continue to insist on their capacity to provide a trustworthy intermediary perspective that is alleged to be the only path to peace, a claim that goes back to the aftermath of the 1967 war, and more definitively linked to the brokered famous handshake on the White House lawn affirming the 1993 Oslo Framework as the authoritative foundation for the resolution of the conflict. It has turned out that Oslo has been a horrible failure from the perspective of achieving Palestinian rights and yet a huge success from the standpoint of the Israeli expansionist blueprint, which included the annexation of the most fertile and desirable land in the West Bank and the consolidation of unified control over the sacred city of Jerusalem.


Against this background, there is only a single way forward: the mobilization of transnational civil society to join the struggle mounted by the Palestinians for an end to occupation in a manner that produces a just solution, including respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees. If this solidarity surge happens on a sufficient scale it will weaken Israel internally and internationally, and hopefully, would lead to an altered political climate in Israel and the United States that would

at long last become receptive to an outcome consistent with international law and morality. Such a posture would be in contrast with what these two governments have for so long insisted upon– a ‘solution’ that translated Israel’s hard power dominance, including the ‘facts on the ground’ that it has steadily created, into arrangements falsely called ‘peace.’


After I presented this argument supporting the divestment resolution several important questions asked by members of a generally appreciative student audience:

–“some people object to this divestment effort as unfairly singling out Israel when there are so many other situations in the world where unlawful behavior and oppressive policies have resulted in more extreme forms of victimization than that experienced by the Palestinians. Why single out the Israelis for this kind of hostile maneuver?”

>there are several ways to respond: the American support of Israel is itself reason enough to justify the current level of attention. Despite Israel’s relative affluence American taxpayers foot the bill for $3 billion + per year, more than is given to the whole of Africa and Latin America, which amounts to $8.7 million per day; additional to the financial contribution is the extraordinary level of diplomatic support that privileges Israel above any other allied country, and extends to pushing policies that reflect Israeli priorities even when adverse to American national interests. This is the case with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. The most stabilizing move would be to propose a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East, but the United States will not even mention such an option for fear of occasioning some kind of backlash orchestrated by an irate leadership in Tel Aviv.

>the world community as a whole, particularly the UN, undertook a major responsibility for the future of Palestine when it adopted GA Resolution 181 proposing the partition of historic Palestine, giving 55% for a Jewish homeland and 45% to the Palestinians; even since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the wishes of the indigenous population of Palestine have been disregarded in favor of colonialist ambitions; Palestine remains the last and most unfortunate instance of an ongoing

example of settler colonialism, exemplified by the dispossession and subjugation of the indigenous population as a result of violent suppression. The settlers in this usage are all those that displace the indigenous population, depriving such people of their right of self-determination, and should not be confused with ‘settlers’ from Israel that establish enclaves of domination within occupied Palestine.


–“some persons have said that we should not push for divestment because it makes Jewish students on the campus uncomfortable. Is there some basis for taking such sensitivities into account?

>It is important not to allow Zionist propaganda to make us believe that being critical of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism, and hostility to Jews as a religious and ethnic minority in this country and elsewhere. Because anti-semitism did produce such horrible historical abuses of Jews it is a cruel and opportunistic tactic to mislead public opinion in this manner. Not only Jews, but all of us must learn, that we are human  before we are Jews, or any other ethnicity. I am Jewish, but it is more important to privilege human interests, and to avoid the narrow partisanship of tribal loyalties. If we are to survive on this crowded planet we must learn, in the words of W.H. Auden, “to love another or die.” It would be odd if as citizens of the United States we were to refrain criticizing the government in Washington because we didn’t want to make Americans feel uncomfortable. At this stage, we have an obligation to make those who shield Israel from criticism to feel uncomfortable not because they are Jewish but because they are being complicit in the commission of crimes against a vulnerable people that have long endured unimaginable levels of abuse.


–“Is there any reason to believe that the Israeli government will change its policies as a result of the pressures mounted by divestment measures of this kind even if implemented, which seems highly unlikely?”

>The importance of this divestment campaign is partly symbolic and partly substantive. Such initiatives are only undertaken after a prolonged failure of traditional means of overcoming international situations of extreme injustice. As such, it sends a message of distress as well as seeks to discourage corporations from making profits from transactions relating to unlawful activities in Israel, especially relating to uses of force against the Palestinian civilian population. Beyond this, we never know whether a combination of factors produces such pressure that those responsible for policy recalculate their interests and make a drastic change that could not have been anticipated. This happened to the white leadership in South Africa, leading to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years, and a reconciliation process that allowed the oppressed black majority to assume leadership of the country on the basis of a constitutionally mandated inclusive democracy. No one now expects an analogous transformation in Israel, but it will surely not come about without making the status quo increasingly unsustainable for the oppressor as it has long been for the oppressed.

21 Responses to “Divestment at UCSB”

  1. Fred Skolnik April 17, 2013 at 1:07 am #

    If Israel was weak militarily, it would cease to exist and its population would be massacred. That would be the practical outcome of any realization of your way of thinking.

    But if you really wish to understand something about your way of thinking, Imagine that Israel was a Muslim state, and that the Palestinians were black Sudanese Christians, and you had the same conflict and the same occupation and the same “ethnic cleansing.” Would you still be running around California trying to organize boycotts? I think not. I am not the one who is going to solve your personal problems but I suggest that you ask yourself why, and if you are honest you may learn something about yourself.

  2. Gene Schulman April 17, 2013 at 2:14 am #


    This post brings to mind the recent imbroglio over Judith Butler’s participation in the Brooklyn College debate over the BDS movement and her book “Parting the Ways”:


    I had a very difficult time reading her book, trying to parse her opaque sentences. In an exchange I had with Gilad Atzmon, he accuses her of being an anti-Zionist Zionist. By that I think he means that although she is against the Zionist enterprise in Israel, she still believes in the place of Jewish domination there.

    Though I agree with you about the necessity of supporting the BDS movement, I seriously don’t believe anything can come of it so long as the Obama administration, like its predecessors, continue to support Israeli policies and even make them their own. And I don’t see anything changing that in the near future. On the other hand, like you, I do believe in the morality of the effort, and that it is necessary to keep the pressure on.

    • monalisa April 17, 2013 at 4:46 am #

      to Gene Schulman:

      you mentioned that you don’t see any change in the near future.
      Maybe there is change coming.
      It will not by foce it will simply by the fact that USA and its FED are printing too much paper being used as its money and therefore loosing its exchange status within our globe. And if the EU is doing the same – as it seems yet – the same will occure in Europe.

      Going through history people usually wake up when money comes into play and some monetary games become more and more visible.

      If USA and EU are loosing more and more on the global status as big players Israel could/or will face problems – I think.
      Countries fall apart because of monetary problems usually created by themselves.
      A country like Israel still permanently riding on the horse of the terrible Holocaust in order to get still more and more support because of it will run out when other immediate problems have to dealt within USA and/or Europe.

      Young people are usually replacing older ones.
      Young people have different points of view.

      The Holocaust is a tragedy in itself and was a terrible thing
      but Israels policy is too a tragedy in itself and a terrible thing.
      And as such it has to be named. Not more or less.


      • Gene Schulman April 17, 2013 at 5:36 am #


        I agree with your thesis for the long term. But before any of that happens, the whole financial system will have to collapse. That will take a while, during which there is going to be a lot of suffering. Optimistic for the long run, pessimistic for the short. Meanwhile, we must do what we can.

  3. monalisa April 17, 2013 at 4:27 am #

    Dear Richard,
    thank you for your post and I agree with your standpoint that wrongs have to be named and a country like Israel permanently trying to remind the world of the Holocaust whereas since its founding creating fascist and Nazi-scheme wrongs for over sixty years should be ashamed.

    The Internet and different mainstream media are in the working and young people are more and more aware of facts and lies.

    Take care of yourself,


  4. Fred Skolnik April 17, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    Let me add before you remove my comments that what you are presenting here bends the truth so severely as to be nonsensical. The fiction you are propagating is that the Arabs living in the Land of Israel or Palestine in the Mandate period had a Palestinian identity and national aspirations. Other than a very small urban elite, this is simply not true. These Arabs thought of themselves as inhabiting Greater Syria and their “country” or “homeland” (biladi) as their villages. The second fiction that you are propagating is that Jewish settlers stole their land. Jews legitimately purchased land from absentee Arab landholders sitting in Damascus and did not take, seize or usurp anything. Why you think that Arabs migrating to the Land of Israel from the surrounding area in the 19th and early 20th centuries and having no national consciousness or identity are the rightful owners of the Land of Israel is beyond me. As for the rest, you are again repeating a litany of false assertions and perverting language. Do you really not know what ethnic cleansing and apartheid are? Do you really not understand that Israel’s security measures are there to prevent terrorist acts?

  5. Sergey April 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    I hope there will come a day when we will invest $8.7 millions per day in our own communities and higher education instead of supporting brutality and occupation of the Israeli regime.

    • Fred Skolnik April 19, 2013 at 1:57 am #

      Dear Sergey

      It makes perfect sense for the United States to give military aid to an ally that is in the forefront of a war against a common enemy, just as it did to its allies in World War II. The common enemy is Arab terrorism, which would not hesitate to blow up the world. If you don’t understand this, you don’t inderstand very much about Arab extremism. The terrorists didn’t stop at murdering 3,000 people on 9/11 because of any moral scruples but because they were unable to murder more. Had they been capable of murdering 30,000 or 300,000 people they wouldn’t have hesitated for a second. I am sure that if someone points a rocket launcher at your home you will be on the phone in two seconds flat demanding protection. That is what the Israeli government and army is doing, protecting its citizens. Whoever cavalierly glosses over Arab acts of murder or justifies them is a fraud, with as much humanity as the murderers themselves.

      • Sergey April 19, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

        Dear Fred,

        You do not need to teach me about radicalism and terrorism. I grew up in a region where terrorism was a daily reality. This experience, however, taught me that terrorism has no religion, no nationality, no ethnicity and no geographical attention. Thus, your references to “Arab terrorism” are repulsively inaccurate.

        Furthermore, had you been expelled from your land and your home and put into an open air prison. Perhaps then you would understand the plight of Palestinian people. There is nothing moral nor just about occupation of Palestine no matter what stereotypical excuses you may choose to employ to rationalize your blind and ideologically driven support for Israel’s brutality and subjugation of Palestinian people.

  6. Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 18, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    I hope Prof. Falk will not consider me abusive or polemical when I suggest that his assessment of an uptick in interest in anti-Israel boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) resolutions on California college campuses is exaggerated.

    There are more than 250 campuses in California. During the past year, resolutions have been submitted on five. Two were defeated. A third was adopted in a watered-down version. The only one that passed was at UC Irvine, where not long ago militantly anti-Israel students disrupted a presentation by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States who is also a noted historian, making it impossible for him to complete his remarks. (So much for Academia being a haven for free speech!) The fifth is pending.

    BDS campaigns on campus are nothing new. They’ve been around for more than a decade. Most have failed. This is what happened last week at UC Santa Barbara, where Prof. Falk teaches, and where he spoke at a well-publicized rally held the evening before the vote.

    Although UCSB has a relatively small Jewish population, the pro-Israel students (Jewish and non-Jewish) elected not to seek outside assistance. They discussed and debated the issue on a student-to-student basis and ultimately prevailed. Living in Santa Barbara, I’ve had opportunity to speak with students before and after the vote. They report that most of those opposing the resolution understood the Palestinians’ plight, but were unwilling to support a statement that called for punishing only one side in a complex situation for which both sides bore responsibility. An overwhelming majority would have gladly supported a resolution demanding an end to the Occupation, condemning all human rights violations, calling for an independent Palestine in the context of “two states for two peoples”, and an equitable resolution of the refugee issue. In fact, the Jewish students proposed a substitute motion affirming these principles so that neither side would feel marginalized by losing the vote. The pro-BDS faction rejected the proposal, lost the vote and came away empty handed.

    Regarding Prof Falk’s remarks to the students, I hope he will not object to a brief comment on one of the points he makes.

    Prof. Falk: “We must learn that we are human before we are Jews, or any other ethnicity.” It’s certainly appropriate, and in some instances necessary, to remind some Jews to be as sensitive to Palestinian needs as they are to their own. Many Jewish leaders do that all the time; but some number of our co-religionists who most need to hear the message don’t listen. Regrettably, however, this seemingly benign appeal is code for Prof. Falk’s misguided sense of how Jews see Palestinians. He tells us in a recent post that pro-Israel Jews (which includes most of us) are “entrapped by a set of beliefs that precludes the perception of the severity of the wrongs done to the Palestinian people day by day.” In other words, he judges most Jews to be morally defective. This wrongheaded conclusion can be discredited by readily accessible facts. But these facts never make it onto this blog. The blog’s negative image of Jews in Israel, America and throughout the world is selectively drawn to support the allegation of moral deficiency.

    Want facts? Leading Jewish organizations—including the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish body in the United States comprising 900 Reform congregations with a total membership of 1.5 million—have long-standing positions condemning the Occupation, affirming the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own, calling for a just resolution of the refugee issue, and protesting the second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The pro-Palestinian activities of hands-on Israeli human rights groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israel Religious Action Center are never reported on this blog. Not mentioning them may create a false impression of their non-existence. But the kids at UCSB and other campuses know they do exist, and refuse to be drawn into an alternative universe they know isn’t real!

    The irony of this—a tragic irony for Palestinians—is that the young people who vote against BDS resolutions share many of the goals pursued by BDS advocates. There’s potential for partnership here. But so long as compromise and cooperation is rejected, BDS resolutions will continue to fail and the Palestinians, themselves, will have gained nothing.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

  7. monalisa April 19, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    @ Gene Schulman:

    If you consider how quick states changed, fell apart, or dissolved like the former Soviet Union, how Europe changed twice during the 20th century I think we live in a time spectrum evolving faster and faster. Things change quickly and states couid implode because of being too ignorant of necessities and requirements to be implemented for its own citizen giving more stability instead of perpetual unnecessary wars creating.


  8. David H. Cheresh April 23, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I wonder if Professor Falk surfs Campus Point at UCSB in between his self-hating and moronic diatribes.

    Why, oh, why do these bald-headed commies always end up in California? Wait a minute, folks, for I think I know the answer. Let’s start with Jerry Brown, and then add . . . .

  9. CDJ April 24, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    At some point old men should retire and never be heard from again. Mr. Falk has more than reached that point.

  10. Mike 71 August 23, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    Professor Falk has yet to come to the conclusion that Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism are both legitimate nationalist movements. However, Palestinian frustrations are the result of their arrogant, self-centered sense of entitlement to all of the land “between the river (Jordan) and the sea (Mediterranean)” and their desire to “drive the Jews into the sea.” Usually, such disputes are resolved through negotiation and reaching a result acceptable to both parties, which is the objective of the current talks.

    However, one third of Palestinians, governed by Hamas, per Article 13 of the Hamas Charter (See: http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm), rejects all non-violent forms of conflict resolution. Thus, Israeli military retaliation (Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense) is the price that they willingly pay for their indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilian communities. Attacks directed against civilians are “War crimes,” as provided under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, thus entitling Israel to deal harshly with them!

    With most of the Arab invaders of 1948 and purported allies of Palestinians (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq) are now, or about to be engulfed in civil war, the current negotiations are Palestinians latest, best and perhaps final opportunity for independent statehood. The three failed “wars of aggression (1948, 1967 and 1973),” have gained nothing and only lost them territory.

    Following the 1967 “Six Day War,” Israel offered return of ALL captured lands (Sinai, Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem) the response was the “Three No’s (No negotiation, recognition, or peace with Israel)” of the 1967 Khartoum Conference. Rather than “trade land for peace,” they preferred to leave it in Israeli hands! Only Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein took up the offer for peace and Sadat paid for it with his life.

    In 2000 and again in 2008, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, respectfully, walked away from agreements which would have returned captured land. If there is no prospect for peace, irrespective of whatever Israel may offer in negotiations, there is no disincentive to settlement expansion, which may extend as far as the banks of the Jordan River. Again, they preferred to leave the land in Israeli hands, than trade it for peace. If the Palestinian perspective is to persist in a “one to the exclusion of the other” proposition, they may have to accept the reality that the outcome will be determined by the party best able to dominate the other through military force. That is something which the Palestinians definitely do not want!

    • Richard Falk August 23, 2013 at 2:28 am #

      To be clear, I do not endorse your narrative as to the conflict. Israel has never made a sufficiently fair proposal that a reasonable Palestinian Government should have accepted, and Israel has never been receptive to reasonable proposals such as the 2002 Arab initiative or acknowledged that after 1988 PNC meeting the Palestinians were ready to settle for 22% of historic Palestine less than half what was proposed by the UN in the partition plan contained in GA Res. 181.

      • Mike 71 August 25, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

        In negotiations, neither party can expect to get all that it wants in the process. Intransigence leads to gridlock and diminished opportunities. Compare the Israeli post 1967 war peace offers (above) to those rejected by Arafat and Abbas. Ironically, after several military victories, it has always been Israel which sues for peace and is rejected. Certainly, in any resolution to the conflict, there will have to be “land swaps (Israeli territory given up for that under settlement),” but that situation arose from the lack of Palestinian commitment to negotiation from the 1993 Oslo Accord, until very recently.

        The ultimate decision will have to rest with both the Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps the 2002 Arab League peace proposal, modified to provide for “land swaps,” will have some role in the process, but that decision must be made by Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni. We will not know for certain as the negotiations are ongoing in secret. The result, if agreed upon by the negotiators, will have to be ratified by both the Palestinian and Israeli populations. Whether Hamas will allow such a referendum, contrary to its Charter and policies, is an open question.

        I think that we would do best to advance the peace process by allowing the negotiators to make those critical decisions, without trying to impose our own views of what should be the outcome.
        They may surprise us and reach a resolution which is acceptable to
        both Palestinians and Israelis.


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