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Editorial: Vote "No" on divestment

From noon today through noon on Wednesday, voting will take place in the Spring USG Elections. The ballot includes a referendum to determine if Princeton students will call on the Trustees “to divest [the University’s endowment] from multinational corporations that maintain the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” The Board urges students to vote no on the divestment referendum. We believe that the University should not directly insert itself in heavily politicized issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially when such issues have been the source of widespread disagreement on campus. Further, we consider the specific condemnation of Israel’s actions without similar condemnation of worse conduct exhibited by other nations to be a philosophically inconsistent show of ‘selective outrage.’

Vigorous campus debate on divestment this year demonstrates the divisive nature of the issue within the University community. During the fall semester, a petition calling for divestment from companies that “contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank” and two counter petitions were circulated. Similar activism has occurred during the spring semester. We believe that robust debates regarding important issues are essential to a healthy university community; however, the spirited debate on divestment shows precisely why students should vote no on the referendum.

The Board believes, as we have in the past, that divestment should only be reserved for issues about which there is substantial consensus among members of the University community. The endowment implicitly represents the entire University community not only because it is funded by alumni donations, but also because it is Princeton’s primary source of revenue. As a result, the endowment’s neutrality should be maintained and its investment practices should not be politicized. If the University were to divest from corporations involved in the occupation of the West Bank, it would be taking an official stance on one of the most controversial political issues in both campus and international politics. This would not only politicize the endowment, but it would also be counter to the University’s commitment to healthy academic discourse. Campus discourse will not end after the student body votes on the referendum. If the University divests, it will, therefore, adopt a political stance on a divisive and complicated disagreement. Given the University’s commitment to fostering discussion and dialogue where controversy exists, divestment is improper. The University should not intervene.

The divestment referendum’s focus on Israel’s actions in the Israel-Palestine conflict is problematic because it ignores immeasurably worse conduct by other nations around the world. At a recent forum sponsored by No Divest, Institute for Advanced Study Professor Emeritus Michael Walzer criticized the divestment movement because, he argued, the left cannot maintain what he characterized as ‘selective outrage’ towards Israel alone. We agree with Walzer that divestment is ‘morally untenable’ because it condemns Israel for purported atrocities that pale in comparison to others on which the movement remains markedly silent. We have not, for instance, seen active movements to divest from Chinese companies for profiting from oppression in Tibet or Iran for its active support of violent terrorist groups. Some might argue that there should be a higher expectation of conduct for liberal democracies such as Israel; however, we consider this argument to be misguided because any nation, democratic or not, can perform an action that produces certain unfavorable consequences. Given that harms caused by Israel’s actions exist on a much larger scale in other parts of the world due to the actions of other nations, we believe that these nations should be similarly condemned irrespective of their governing philosophies. In this way, the democratic nature of the Israeli government is not a proper justification for condemnation; hence, we still do not condone selective outrage.

Divestment has been one of the most active and controversial campus debates of this academic year. The Board firmly believes that a university community should be one committed to encouraging open discourse on important issues, and forcing the University to take a stance in these politicized debates undermines that commitment. We strongly urge students to vote no on the referendum.

Mitch Johnston ‘15, Jeffrey Leibenhaut ‘16, Jillian Wilkowski ‘15 and Kevin Wong '17 abstained from this editorial.Allison Berger '18 recused herself from this editorial.

TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of the 'Prince.' The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-In-Chief.