It is a moral duty to put pressure on the University to divest from companies profiting from the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, Cornel West GS ’80, professor emeritus in the Center for African American Studies, said at a panel discussion on Wednesday.
“We don’t want our money spent on those particular private sector institutions that are facilitating this kind of occupation,” West said.“Occupation is immoral, is wrong, is unjust, is illegal and it can only be pushed back — we have experienced this in South Africa — when voices of those across the border… are heard."
The vote on the student referendum calling for University divestment from the occupation of West Bank and the siege of Gaza will occur on April 20, Max Weiss, professor of Near Eastern Studies and moderator for the event, said.
A lot of people have expressed relief in having found a mechanism to talk about the difficult situation in the region through the petition, Molly Greene, professor of History and Hellenic Studies, said, noting that a similar petition is underway at Stanford University.
Even though the University has engaged in divestment as recently as 2006, it is difficult to make progress due to University policy, Greene said, especially because the University gives out mixed messages about what leads to divestment.
"Is it something the trustees decide? Do they want input from students? Do they want input from faculty?” she said.
Part of what is being asked of the University is greater transparency in what companies the University has invested in,author and journalistMax Blumenthal said.
Everyone on the panel, and supporters of divestment in general, are subject to accusations of anti-Semitism, he added.
“I want to challenge this accusation in the context of this divestment motion and ask how is it anti-Jewish to divest from weapons companies?" he said. "To me that’s —the way I’ve been raised —is a completely Jewish act. How is it anti-Jewish to campaign for peace and justice?”
The peace process is dead right now, Blumenthal said.
“So if you have no alternative [to divestment], then either just come forward and say that you’re in favor of apartheid and just be real with me —and be real with Palestinians —or get out of the way because there are people who are suffering,” he said.
In the 1950s, there was a report that said that the University should be apolitical and that the investment was for the purpose of educating its students, Robert Tignor, professor emeritus of history, said.
In 1959, several graduate students of color called for the University to divest from companies doing business in South Africa, he added. This led to the passing of a resolution under the administration of former University President Robert Goheen ’40, which decided that the University would not own the stock of a company that did 100 percent of its business in South Africa.
No just cause is popular from the beginning, and most of them, like American independence, start as minority causes,Lawrence Hamm ’78, a civil rights activist,said.
“When we raised that demand [of South African divestment], people thought we were crazy,” he said, adding that one of the administrators had said that a divestment rally that occurred at the Wilson School reminded him of a Nazi rally.“When we raised this issue [of divestment], people came at us full force … They did everything that they could to make it known that this university was not going to divest."
There would be around one demonstration per semester that gathered about 150–200 people for the cause of divestment, he said. They then recognized the need to do something different to make the University divest, he added.
On Feb. 1, 1978, the students began picketing daily in front of Nassau Hall, beating green trash cans that functioned as makeshift drums, Hamm said.
“People would throw their sodas on us. People would curse at us," Hamm said. "Once in a while somebody would come by, and say ‘niggers’ and you know, keep walking. It was very hostile."
On Mar. 5, 1978, Hamm thought that the daily picket would end because of a snowstorm, he said. However, he was surprised to see the picket line grow from 12 people to 110 people that day. The demonstrations later expanded to 400 people a day, and sometimes even 600.
“Just because people don’t come up to you [and say], ‘Oh, we’re down with you,’ or ‘You’re doing a good job,’ that doesn’t mean that you’re not getting through,” he said.
Hamm recalled printing thousands of copies of a fake version of The Daily Princetonian that detailed the Board of Trustees’ connections with companies funding South Africa. He also recalled organizing a 1978 sit-in in Nassau Hall in which 210 students took over the building for two days.
It is important to remember that one cannot be everybody’s friend when leading a movement, Hamm said.
“You can’t give up the fight," he said. "The fight is long and hard but victory is certain."
The event took place in McCosh 10 at 4:30 p.m. It was organized by the Princeton Divests Coalition.