Why Israel?

Q: Given that there are numerous humans rights concerns around the world, and that U-M investments are possibly implicated in many of these, why pick on Israel?

A: It is clearly true that University investments are potentially implicated in many issues involving "serious moral or ethical questions", including a variety of human rights abuses throughout the world. Perhaps other current situations are more important and thus ought to be investigated first. Situations that come to mind include the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and the genocidal actions of the Sudanese army in Darfur; cases could also be made for Nigeria and Myanmar, among others. So: Why Israel?

This is a fair question, but there are several reasons why the situation in Palestine ought to be investigated now:

(1) No other conflict is directly sustained by the products and services of US corporations. Without the continuous input of US hardware, software, and experience, the military occupation could not last. There is no direct US corporate involvement in any other pressing human rights issue, to the best of our knowledge.

(2) Divestment—or even the mere act of conducting an inquiry—has a greater likelihood of impacting the situation in Palestine than in any other present conflict. Now is the right time to act. The stalemate over Arafat has ended, and decisions are being made that will affect the future of all people in the region. Even as the Gaza pullout was being completed (which affected merely 2% of all Israeli settlers), Sharon was announcing further expansion of the largest West Bank settlements.

(3) It is the one with the greatest global consequence. One can make a strong case that much suffering has arisen out of the Palestinian conflict; for example, the 9/11 attacks and both Iraq wars are linked to it, and all three events have caused massive human suffering. And this conflict is a very important factor in the global 'war on terror'.

(4) There is something approaching global consensus that this issue is of utmost importance. No other conflict has been cited in as many UN resolutions, nor brought to so many Security Council votes. One other indication of relevance: A European poll of 2003 found that Israel and the US were the #1 and #2 threats to global peace, largely because of US support for Israeli abuses in Palestine and the consequences that follow from that.

(5) By a utilitarian analysis (a recognized and respected approach to ethics), the suffering in Israel/Palestine is greater than elsewhere. This situation involves more people (3.8M Palestinians and thousands of Israelis), over a longer period of time (57 years), than any other conflict. By way of reference, the occupation of Tibet has affected 2.6M people, over 54 years—still considerable suffering, and certainly worthy of investigation, but less than Israel/Palestine.

And in any case, it is not the policy of the Regents that the 'most important' issue be raised. In order for the divestment process to function, some selections must be made. In the past we have singled out South Africa and tobacco, knowing full well that other serious moral issues remained in our investment portfolio. The situation in Palestine unquestionably involves a "serious moral or ethical question", and a very serious one at that, among the most pressing anywhere in the world.

If someone is concerned about the situation in, say, Tibet, and would like to press the U administration to investigate divesting from companies doing business in China, then let them draft another letter for circulation. It's not as if we are allowed only one divestment action per decade. An Israeli investigation in no way precludes other inquires or other divestment actions. It is simply the one on the table today. And by any fair reading of Regent policy, an inquiry ought to be initiated.

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