About 120 New York University (NYU) professors are calling on the school to divest from companies linked to the Israeli occupation.
It’s unclear which companies NYU is invested in. The students and professors pushing for divestment under the name NYU Out of Occupied Palestine say the university is not transparent about its investments. But they suspect that the university, like other institutions in the U.S., has investments in U.S. companies that supply the Israeli army with weapons they use for assaults on Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.
The call from professors is part of the larger boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that has found some success in student governments, particularly in California. The BDS movement on campus has sparked conversation about Israel/Palestine and also lead to tensions between pro-Israel students and activists working for divestment. In March, NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine displayed a mock separation wall during Israeli Apartheid Week, while across the street pro-Israel students rallied with Israeli flags.
At NYU, students and faculty are not calling on the student government to pass a divestment resolution. They are taking a different path by deploying prominent professors to call for transparency in the school’s investments and for divestment. It’s similar to how Princeton University professors called for divestment last year.
The only university to have divested from companies linked to the occupation is Hampshire.
“I support NYU Out of Occupied Palestine because I am opposed to apartheid, and the international boycott of apartheid in South Africa was a significant factor in its demise,” English Professor Elaine Freedgood said in a press statement.
Other professors who signed the petition include: Iraqi novelist Sinan Antoon; historians Greg Grandin and Zachary Lockman; and Ella Shohat, a well-known cultural studies scholar.
The petition reads in part:
NYU students, faculty and staff have a long and proud tradition of demanding that the university live up to its professed values, from the anti-apartheid struggle to the current fossil fuels divestment campaign. The time has now come for NYU to take action that, by exerting financial and moral pressure, can help end the Israeli occupation and support the aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis for justice and self-determination.
Faculty members held an April 8 forum to bring attention to their call. The coalition of students and faculty are also linking the divestment movement to other issues like divesting from fossil fuels and NYU’s investments and labor practices in China and the United Arab Emirates. Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the head of NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, criticized that linkage. He told Tablet magazine that “the twinning of a radical proposal to divest from Israel with the broadly shared concerns around fair labor and fossil fuels is outrageous.”
Earlier this week, NYU students held a sit in to protest how an overseas NYU campus in Abu Dhabi was built. Last May, a major New York Times investigation found that workers at NYU’s were physically assaulted when protesting labor conditions, labored for 11-12 hours a day and were not reimbursed for fees they had paid to recruiters. The UAE relies on a large pool of underpaid and exploited migrant workers who labor on huge projects like the Guggenheim’s overseas site and NYU Abu Dhabi.
The NYU administration has rejected calls for divestment from fossil fuel companies. In March, the university said divesting from fossil fuels would have little impact and that they would consider divestment only in cases of “clear and compelling moral or humanitarian objective and an absence of alternative actions NYU can take.”