Former University president: SA must reject pro-Palestinian divestment resolution

Updated: April 10, 2018 at 9:00 p.m.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was GW’s 15th president and currently serves as a University Professor of Public Service.

As a former president of GW and faculty member, I maintain a deep interest in developments that impact the broader community of students, faculty, administrators and alumni at our institution. It has come to my attention that a resolution – entitled “The Protection of Palestinian Human Rights Act” – has been brought to the Student Association, calling on the University to, among other things, divest from The Boeing Company, Caterpillar Inc., CEMEX, Elbit Systems Ltd., General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Motorola Solutions, Inc., Northrop Grumman and The Raytheon Company and to “advance the cause of Palestinian human rights and self-determination.”

GW is an institution which proudly upholds the ideals of human rights for all people, including Israelis and Palestinians. However, I must express my concern about, and indeed, opposition to, this resolution, for a number of reasons.

This resolution is clearly aligned with the goals of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. When a resolution is focused singularly on alleged abuses in the Palestinian territories, while explicitly overlooking those occurring elsewhere, its true objective is not to advance human rights and self-determination around the world, but to target Israel – and Israel alone – for condemnation. This tactic is discriminatory and does not serve the values that GW upholds.

The multiple “Whereas” clauses in the resolution are also reflective of a problematic tendency to paint a simplistic picture of a “powerful” Israeli state – supported by faceless corporations – oppressing innocent Palestinians. This narrative ignores the history and present-day reality of a complex geopolitical conflict, and does nothing to contribute to peace and reconciliation. Indeed, the BDS movement has always been more concerned with demonizing Israel rather than seeking solutions that lessen the suffering of the people in the region.

Finally, campus divestment campaigns are symbolic gestures rather than actions with practical value. They cause controversy and generate media attention, but do not have any practical impact on university governance. As of now, no public or private university in America has divested funds from Israel or companies doing business with Israel, and many university presidents and chancellors have rejected anti-Israel boycotts on principle.

GW, like all academic institutions, should be a place of academic inquiry, respectful dialogue and a shared sense of community, not one-sided resolutions which exacerbate divisions. I trust that the Student Association will uphold the University’s values and reject this resolution.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The writer incorrectly included HP Inc. as one of the companies in the resolution. It is now correct.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.