Monday, February 28, 2011

CU Asked to Divest from Israel's Apartheid

Intermountain Jewish News


A CU at Boulder alumnus asked the university’s Board of Regents to consider a resolution to divest from companies that support Israel at the regents Tuesday (Feb. 22) meeting.

Boulder resident Michael Rabb, 64, read from a prepared text summarizing the resolution, for his allotted two minutes during the public comment section of the regents meeting.

A rebuttal, also two minutes, was given by Yona Eshkenazi, Colorado director of StandWithUs, whose mission is to ensure that Israel’s side of the story is told in communities, campuses and the media.

“The concept is similar to what happened in the 70s and 80s, where institutions all over the world said, ‘We’re not going to support companies that support aparthed in South Africa,’” Rabb told the IJN.

In the resolution, Rabb asked the university to divest from stocks from those companies that support “Israel’s apartheid policies against Palestinians.”

The resolution also stated, “Arabs in Palestine continue to suffer under Israel’s illegal and immoral regime of military occupation, colonization and apartheid.”

It also noted that CU invests about $1.7 billion through various funds, endowments, gifts, development and pension funds and corporate and business entities, and called on CU to uphold its “proud tradition of non-discrimination and commitment to human rights.”

Amy Stein, director of the Boulder ADL, Jonathan Lev, executive director of the Boulder JCC, and Janet Sherman, director of the Denver-based Jewish Community Relations Council, (representing 37 local and national Jewish community organizations in Boulder and Denver) were included in a group of at least 10 people who opposed the resolution. JCRC submitted a formal letter to the CU Board of Regents in opposition.

“There was a pretty good turnout of community members at the regents hearing,” said Prof. Mark Loewenstein, a CU-Boulder law professor who also attended the meeting.

“What that should indicate to the regents, if they were paying attention, is that it would be a very highly charged issue, and they would find themselves in the middle of a public controversy [if they were to consider the resolution].

“It wouldn’t benefit the university in any way. It’s almost inconceivable to me that they would consider this resolution.”

Rabb said his only supporter at the meeting was his wife.

Loewenstein added that he believed the resolution violated the Board of Regents adoption of the principle of “institutional neutrality,” in section 2.1 of the board’s policy.

This principle states that CU will maintain “institutional neutrality in social and political matters, unless it determines that the issue directly affects the university, is detrimental to the achievement of the university’s mission and purposes, and/or threatens academic freedom.”

THE proposed divestment resolution was first brought to the attention of pro-Israel students when they saw Rabb handing out anti-Israel flyers on Feb. 22 on the CU campus, said Zach Silverman, 19, a CU-Boulder sophomore and the co-president of Students for Israel.

The flyers called for interested students to meet with Rabb on the following night and to join a group he is calling CU-Divest.

In response, Jewish students quickly printed rebuttal flyers, although by that time the number of students who were passing through the UMC fountain area had dwindled, and Rabb left a half hour later, Silverman said.

“We decided we needed to battle him with information that was truth and fact,” Silverman said.

“It was just one guy handing out flyers for this divestment meeting, but one guy is too many for us.”

Tuesday night (Feb. 22) about 25 CU students gathered to re-start the Students for Israel organization, which last met early in the fall semester, Silverman said.

Some members of Students for Israel were planning to attend the CU-Divest meeting, but they were told to “listen” and “not be disrespectful,” he said.

“We are not trying to engage in any kind of opposition,” Silverman said. “We are not trying to initiate any conflict. We are simply here to advocate, educate and encourage intelligent discussion about the situation.”

RABB, who said he graduated in 1983 from CU-Boulder with a master’s degree in telecom, said he thought “a few” students would show up to the his meeting to support the divestment cause.

“There is a significant number of faculty, professors and otherwise within the university community who are very interested in this issue and concerned about the investment policies that support Israel’s apartheid,” Rabb said.

“I expect a few, not many, of the faculty to show up, although this is a student (organization) that we are trying to get started, but it’s open to the public.”

Rabb did not name the faculty members.

Rabb said he is a member of Global Boycott Divestment Sanction Movement, whose local group, Denver BDS, will sponsor an “Israel Apartheid week” in March.

The group’s Facebook page lists 32 fans, and says it is planning a “series of flashdances for Israel Apartheid Week” on Feb. 26 from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and lists the location as 1660 Ogden St. in Denver.

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, the executive director of University of California Berkeley Hillel and a former rabbi at CU-Boulder’s Hillel, said he didn’t think Rabb was representative of the climate on the CU campus.

“While I was at CU, I found the administration incredibly supportive of Jewish studies, Hillel and Chabad,” he said.

“From my understanding this was not a student-initiated movement of any sort.”

Last spring, Berkeley’s Student Senate failed to overide its President Will Smelko’s veto of a bill calling for the university to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s engagement in the West Bank and Gaza.

If passed, the bill would have required divestment of students’ association assets from weapons manufacturers General Electric and United Technologies.

“I don’t take this guy (Rabb) too seriously,” Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm of Chabad at CU said.

“If it becomes a serious issue, and if the regents do seriously consider this, then both Chabad and Hillel will come together to get student and faculty support to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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