Lawrence Davidson: Divestment: Isolating Apartheid Financially

From the archive (legacy material)

Lawrence Davidson | Resisting Israeli Apartheid conference | 5 December 2004

[Note: French translation available here.]
1. Working Assumption: Governments in the West, left to themselves, do not have the will to sanction Israel for its illegal occupation of the Occupied Territories and its violent destruction of Palestinian society. Therefore, an international grass roots movement must be organized to educate significant parts of the Western populations on the nature of Israeli behavior, and simultaneously build pressure on Israel to change its ways, and governments to act to encourage this change.
2. This effort must go on using a range of tactics. One tactic that has proven its effectiveness is the pressuring for divestment of invested funds in Israel and in the corporations that do business with that country. The amount of investment we are talking about runs into the 100s of billions of dollars.
As Desmond Tutu stated, in October 2002, “If apartheid ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in this direction.”
3. Brief History of divestment as a tactic:

A. Divestment is a tactic developed during the anti-apartheid struggle. In the 1970s and 80s first students and then others protested the relationship that existed between universities and other organizations with white ruled South Africa.

B. It was realized that these organizations had investments in companies that were either South African or the subsidiaries of US and European companies operating there – all using racist hiring and employee policies.

C. Divestment campaigns became a way of pressuring and shaming organizations that were directly or indirectly making money off of the exploitation of Black South Africans.

In the United States, some 55 American universities and colleges as well as numerous municipalities and churches partially or fully withdrew monies from SA related investments between 1977 and 1986.

D. This in turn encouraged companies and governments to put pressure on South Africa to reform.

E. Now a similar demand is being made of those same organizations who benefit from economic investment in a country that practices policies that are, if anything, worse than the apartheid of South Africa.

3. In the United States:

A. There are now divestment movements on more than 40 American campuses. These began in the year 2000 at University of California at Berkeley.

B. Yearly divestment conferences are held by the various movement organizers to share experiences and strategies. The latest one was held at Duke University this past Fall.

C. The Presbyterian church’s General Assembly has voted to selectively divest from companies involved with Israel. (The Presbyterians currently have an estimated $8 billion invested in companies currently operating in Israel). The Methodists are discussing similar action. And the Episcopal (Anglican) church has committed itself to “shareholder activism” in regards to such companies. It is to be noted that these decisions are being pushed by church members who have traveled in the Occupied Territories and have been shocked by what they found.

D. There are a small number of municipal based campaigns for divestment, most notably in Seattle WA, Boston Mass. and Sommerville, Mass.

4. Reaction:

A. It is testimony to the potential impact of the divestment movement that American Zionist reaction has been just this side of hysterical.

B. Charges of anti-Semitism (for instance those made by Harvard President Larry Summers) have been repeatedly made. In this regard the internet is being used to commit forgery by making up anti-Semitic statements under the names of those supporting divestment. It is a sign of the utter lack of scruples on the part of the Zionists that, if they can’t find evidence of anti-Semitism, they just manufacture it.

C. U.S. Senators and Congressmen have been pushed to threaten legal action because divestment allegedly might violate US laws prohibiting an embargo against Israel.

D. And in November 2004 the Presbyterians received a letter threatening to burn down their churches with the congregants inside if they did not halt their move toward divestment.

5. How to start a divestment campaign:

A. Do Your Research:

B. There are a number of sites on the Web that can give you a constantly updated list of companies that do business with Israel. There is also the obvious investment in Israeli bonds.

C. Find out where your university, college, pension plan, union, municipality, etc has its investments. Most of this is public information. Though it is not readily available, persistence and effort can bring it to the surface.

D. Visit or call the fund managers or financial officers and, as a member of the taxpaying public or as a dues/fees paying participant, say you would like to know where your money goes. You do not have to tell them specifically why you want this information.

E. Document the investments in companies doing business in Israel and in Israeli bonds. Note exact investment amounts. Prepare a document listing the investment amounts on the one hand and the anti-human policies of the Israeli government on the other. Take it, personally and in writing, to those responsible for investment decisions. Ask them to begin divestment by a specific reasonable date. When they fail to comply, go public with a well thought out campaign.

6. Establish a central clearing house for resources and expertise to support local divestment campaigns. This has been done in the US under the auspices of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

A. Launch a centralized nationwide campaign to divest from and otherwise pressure Caterpillar Corporation (this is now under way in many places).

B. Choose a vulnerable company (one where victory is readily possible) for an initial national campaign.

7. Web sites: