Divestment Conference in US promises surge of campus Activism
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Divestment Conference in US promises surge of campus Activism

A major divestment conference in the US has attracted 376 activists. Representing 90 different campuses and solidarity organizations, the campaigners gathered together on the weekend of February the 17th to strategize around divestment initiatives against Israeli Apartheid.

The diverse group spent two days discussing ways to project the story of Palestinian dispossession, life under military occupation, and how to make a concrete change towards pro-Palestinian actions and policies in the US. Panels, workshops, and a forum gave activists the possibility to network, share local strategies, and trade ideas for actions.
The overriding theme centred upon pressuring institutions to end financial support for Israeli Apartheid. Modelled around South African solidarity campaigns from the 1980s, the activists rely on institutions’ prior rejection of profits from companies linked with state-sponsored apartheid.

The opening panel of the conference featured an array of activists. Noura Erakat, a member of U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, provided an analysis of the history and progress of the student divestment movement. She described its successes, including numerous conferences and student resolutions, and the debate that followed. She also discussed the barriers the movement faced, such as the war on Iraq, which instead of strengthening the movement in support of the struggle for justice of the people in the Middle East, had caused splits and weaknesses.
Importantly, she likened the “ebb and flow”, or the up and down, of Palestine solidarity activism with the patterns seen in the South African solidarity work. She pointed out that in both cases, divestment is a long-term project. Activists were to persist, especially as the facts on the ground worsen.

The second panellist, Phillip Farah, works directly with churches to advance divestment as a concrete strategy. He discussed the important role Palestinian Christian leaders play by getting Western churches to take action. Namely, they lobby churches to cease profiting from and endorsing the military occupation of Palestine through their investment portfolios.
Farah mentioned the Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians (USA). All have a plethora of declarations calling on an end to the violation of Palestinian rights by the Occupation. Divestment requires them to put action behind those words.
This summer, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will consider its engagement with companies doing business with the Occupation. It has come under intense external pressure for considering divestment in order to utilize economic pressure as an incentive for justice, rather than military Occupation.

University of Wisconsin lecturer Mohammed Abed presented the Green Party’s (USA) resolution in support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He noted the movement was still in its “infancy” but with the potential to grow.

Ali Abunimah, who gave the community address, called for a global movement aimed at changing “the balance of power”. He insisted the people need to rise up for a just peace when “world leaders…fail and refuse to”.

Such a movement is led by Palestinians and NGOs on the ground. Last July, 170 Palestinian organizations issued a call for a worldwide movement to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era”. Activists at the conference, Abunimah noted, must organize since as with South Africa, governments will refuse initially to do what is right. Pressure from below was seen as essential.

Representing Palestinian civil society, Omar Barghouti, a leader with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, gave a talk on why Israel should get the “South African treatment”. Barghouti shed light on the NGOs call for BDS. He said it “recognizes the reality of oppression, accepts the basic need for equality and is directed against injustice”. Unlike American peace processes, which treat the Zionist Occupation and the Palestinians as two equal sides working out a disagreement, BDS makes clear it is “not enough to call for peace”. For Palestinians, the word “peace” is “the most abused word in the English dictionary”. He argued “peace without justice is equivalent to institutionalizing injustice”.

At the close of the conference, PSM organizers announced March 30th as a national day of action. The date signifies Land Day. For nearly 30 years, Palestinians in their homeland and all over the world hold the day as a protest against Zionist discrimination and crimes against them. It marks the day in 1976 when in the Galilee Occupation forces killed six Palestinian protestors and injured 100. Student groups and organizations around the country are coordinating events on that day.

For more information on the conference or to get involved, visit www.palestinesolidaritymovement.org