Students should join BDS movement, help end Palestinian occupation

Kathleen Feyh

In 2010, South African survivor of apartheid and human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu came out in support of student efforts to urge universities’ divestment from “companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights.” He said the following:

“I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.” 

Noting the “leading role” students played in ending corporate “complicity in Apartheid,” he encouraged the same determination – and similar tactics of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) – in the struggle to end apartheid and occupation in Palestine.

With successful divestment resolutions or referenda passed recently at most of the University of California system schools, Stanford, Loyola, Northwestern, and DePaul, and the University of Toledo, among other schools, it is clear that students are heeding Tutu’s call. This is all in addition to growing support for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions among academic and cultural workers, including physicist Stephen Hawking, writer Alice Walker, actor Danny Glover, and many others. 

In spite of misrepresentations (including false allegations of terrorist sympathies and anti-Semitism) and powerful campaigns to derail BDS around the country, BDS is spreading, and it is time for Longhorns to take a stand against occupation and apartheid and for Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS. 

Part of that stand includes urging the UT system to divest funds from Alstom, Cemex, Estée Lauder, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble, and United Technologies Corporation, among others, companies that profit from or support the human rights abuses committed by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people. From contributing materials and infrastructure to illegal Israeli settlements (Alstom, Cemex, P&G), to providing technology for checkpoints (HP) and weapons (UTC), to financial and ideological support for Israel’s discriminatory policies and expanded occupation efforts (Estée Lauder), these corporations are complicit in violations of international law, and UT’s investments in them make our University complicit as well. 

Indeed, Israeli apartheid and South African apartheid are not identical. In fact, some South African activists consider Israeli policy “more extensive and brutal” than South African apartheid outside the 1967 borders, but more similar inside Israel proper with respect to racial discrimination faced by Palestinians. Years of collective punishment, actions that Amnesty International believes rise to the level of war crimes, and discriminatory laws put the lie to the Israeli government’s claims of self-defense, democracy  & equal rights in the occupied territories and support for academic freedom. Popular racism against Arabs, African immigrants and others has been stoked by Israeli officials who seek to stifle dissent and maintain the brutal status quo.

UT has a proud history of student activism, including anti-apartheid struggle. We call upon the entire UT community to build on that history. Support the divestment resolution, sign the petition, and help the Palestine Solidarity Committee and allies build BDS on campus.

Feyh is a lecturer in Communication Studies and member of the International Socialist Organization and the Palestine Solidarity Committee.