Between classes and homework, Fadi Kiblawi, a senior at the
University of Michigan, spends his free time researching US
companies that do business in Israel and whose stock is owned by his
What he's found so far is $151 million invested in 45 companies.
His goal: to persuade the school to dump those stocks. Such a move,
he and others hope, would begin to put economic pressure on Israel
to soften its policies toward Palestinians.
The effort might seem far-fetched. Only last month, the new
president of the university, Mary Sue Coleman, responded to the
campaign by stating she had no intention of seeking divestment from
Israel. But Mr. Kiblawi, who was raised in the United States by
Palestinian parents, is undeterred. This weekend, he and his
supporters will host a national conference on divesting from Israel
at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. About 500 people,
including students and speakers from scores of universities, are
expected to attend, he says.
And support for his cause is apparently growing. Petitions
calling for universities to disinvest from Israel are circulating
across the University of California's 11 campuses and at least 23
others nationwide. Roughly 7,000 individuals have signed the
requests, organizers say - and some predict the number of campaigns
will mushroom as the school year progresses.
But opposition to the campaign is growing swiftly as well. What's
resulted is an intense debate about the issue itself, as well as the
role the university plays in supporting academic freedom and open
discussion about topics that touch on deeply held beliefs and
The divest-from-Israel campaign, which began in earnest at the
University of California at Berkeley this spring, is resonating in
academia and beyond. Princeton, Yale, Cornell and others have
petition campaigns. As of last week, 130 faculty, 216 students, and
237 staff and alumni at Harvard University and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology had signed a joint online petition calling
for divesting from Israel. Harvard has an estimated $614 million in
such investments, according to the petitioners. MIT has about $174
Still, protests against such petitions are gaining momentum. A
counter-petition at Harvard and MIT has already gathered more than
5,800 signatures (including 439 Harvard professors and 143 MIT
faculty). Key figures have also spoken out against divestment.
Charges of anti-Semitism
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers made headlines
when, at a prayer meeting with students and faculty on Sept. 17, he
warned of an "upturn in anti-Semitism" around the world. But what
really grabbed people's attention was his criticism of divestment
supporters on campus.
"Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in
progressive intellectual communities," said Mr. Summers, who is also
Harvard's first Jewish president. "Serious and thoughtful people are
advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect,
if not their intent." Those comments hit home. With Harvard often
leading on emerging academic issues, the idea that thoughtful
signers could be unintentional supporters of anti-Semitism sent
shock waves throughout higher education. Indeed, for some Harvard
and MIT faculty signers, Summers's assertion that some were
unwittingly involved in an anti-Semitic act was just too much.
Daniel Fox, a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT who
helped organize the petition drive on his campus and who is Jewish,
was surprised by Summers's comments.
"There is nothing anti-Semitic about the petition, neither in
effect nor in intent," he wrote to the Monitor in an e-mail. "At a
time when anti-Arab sentiments are rampant, I find it somewhat
disturbing to hear an educational leader 'singling out' anti-
Semitism while ignoring all other forms of racism. …