Student Activists Demand UChicago Divest From Israel

February 12, 2020

Students at the University of Chicago are demanding that the university disclose and retract its investments in Israel in a push to pressure the school to divest from what they term an Israeli occupation and human rights abuses.

Students affiliated with the University of Chicago’s chapter of IfNotNow—a national student organization that aims to "defund the occupation," according to its website—briefly gathered outside the school's main administration building on Monday to call for the full disclosure of the university’s investments in Israel.

According to the organization’s official Twitter account, student activists affiliated with the group say that such investments are "aiding and abetting human rights violations and grave breaches of international law in Palestine/Israel." It is unclear whether the group is likely to replicate the pressure campaign underway at Chicago at other schools, and the organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The new campaign is representative of broadening anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, where the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which aims to economically isolate the world’s only Jewish state over its alleged human rights violations, has gained traction. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement does not protest human rights violations by any country other than Israel.

University officials have resisted the protesters' demands. The so-called Kalven Report, published in 1967, restricts the university from engaging in any political activity in order to maintain the intellectual freedom of its individual scholars.

"The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic," the report states.

In a letter to the editor published Tuesday in the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, the school’s IfNotNow chapter argued that "support for the occupation comes in many forms." One of those forms, the group said, involves investing in tech companies like Microsoft, whose research and development efforts are based in Israel. Investors in Microsoft, the group argued, are complicit in "violence against Palestinians." Israel’s Iron Dome, a defense system that the authors admit is "designed to protect Israeli civilians" from indiscriminate missile fire by U.S.-designated terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, is also classified as an immoral investment.

This is not the first time that the University of Chicago has come under fire from anti-Israel student activists. Its student government voted to recommend that the university divest from Israel in 2016, with a Palestinian student accusing those who opposed the resolution of abiding the murder of "[her] people" who were "dying every day."

Shortly after the student government vote, the university issued a statement indicating that it would not divest from companies for doing business in Israel.

"The University does not take social or political stances on issues outside its core mission. Using investments or other means to advance a social or political position held by some segment of the University community would only diminish the University’s distinctive contribution -- providing a home and environment for faculty and students to engage freely and openly on the widest range of issues," the school said in a statement.

Published under: BDS , Israel