Arizona's premiere research institution in Tucson, the University of Arizona, today finds itself in an ethical crisis over investments that resonates with dramatic local events from nearly three decades ago. One of us (John) is old enough to remember that time and what it felt like to participate in the Arizona movement which, in part, facilitated UofA divestment from companies supporting South African apartheid and the regime's human rights abuses against its black majority.
That movement is a guiding light to the situation today whereby the UofA is invested (through business contracts and pension funds) in Caterpillar and Motorola which similarly support Israel violence and racial segregation towards Palestinians under a brutal 45-year military occupation and colonial settlement.
Bill Van Esveld, a recent (February 28) guest speaker at the UofA, is a witness to these actions as a Jerusalem-based, senior research analyst of world-renowned Human Rights Watch (HRW).
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Van Esveld writes of the situation in his report for HRW entitled, “Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”: “Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits. While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp – not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes.”
UofA community members are not alone in our three-year-long divestment efforts. Just a few days ago, on February 17, the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took what it called a “Historic Stand” recommending divestment of its holdings in companies – including Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions – supporting the Israeli occupation. According to the Church's press release: “Much like the decision by Presbyterians in 1983 to divest from companies profiting from Apartheid in South Africa, this is an action that will send a clear message to the world that our Church will do everything in our power to make sure it does not profit from violence or the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.”
In the days following the Arizona Board of Regents' own historic September 1985 decision to order its public universities, ASU and UofA, to divest $3.4 million in companies supporting South Africa, the editorial board of the Arizona Daily Star lucidly explained the background context, in moral terms, for its readers.
In an editorial entitled “Act of Principle: Board of Regents could do no less than disinvest.” the Daily Star wrote: “The board voted Friday to withdraw university investments in corporations that operate in South Africa because institutions that are grounded in the principles of democracy and personal freedom cannot, in conscience, participate in blatant racial discrimination.”
Once again, the UofA (via ABOR) has the opportunity to take ethically principled action against racial discrimination through its connections with businesses, CAT and Motorola, which are profiting from this violation of international law and human rights.
Together with a broadening coalition of religious denominations, universities, local governments, and individual investors, a major campaign of divestment was influential in the non-violent termination of apartheid in South Africa.
The elder of us participated in this process right here in Tucson wherein local student and community groups such as Students Against Apartheid and Tucsonans Against Apartheid and others throughout Arizona organized together to create social change. Today, representing two generations, we both support a burgeoning local movement that will, we hope, pressure the University, through ABOR, to once again align its principles with its actions for a lasting and honorable peace in Palestine/Israel.
Gabriel M. Schivone is a former columnist/reporter of the UofA's official newspaper, The Arizona Daily Wildcat; he extensively reported on the CAT/Motorola issue between 2009-2010. He is also a member of the coalition of student groups leading the UA divestment campaign, UA No More Deaths, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine.
John M. Fife is pastor emeritus of Southside Presbyterian Church, and from 1973-1981 served as the chair of Mission Responsibility through Investment (MRTI) of the Presbyterian Church (USA).