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Students, Faculty Sign Divestment Petitions

This summer, UNC joined roughly 50 universities nationwide where faculty and students have formed campaigns to urge university officials to withdraw funds from any company that substantially supports Israel.

Supporting Israel is defined as both providing the country with weapons and machinery used against Palestinians in the occupied territories -- like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar do -- and dumping large amounts of money into the Israeli economy -- like McDonald's, General Electric and AOL Time Warner do.

But Chancellor James Moeser told members of the faculty Friday that he will not recommend that UNC divest from companies that do business with Israel.

"The issues of human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far too complex for a simplistic, bumper sticker solution," he said. "While I find the occupation of Palestinian lands reprehensible, so do I find the suicide bombings of innocent civilians equally abhorrent."

So far, 54 people have signed a petition started by UNC faculty, staff and students urging the University to pull its investments from Israel. A similar petition at the University of California system has garnered more than 7,000 signatures, and 583 people have signed a joint petition at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology petition.

As of yet, no university has pulled investments from companies in Israel.

UNC's investment funds total about $1.1 billion, which is put into 150 different money managers around the world, most based in the U.S., said Mark Yusko, UNC's chief investment officer.

Information about what companies UNC invests in is not public. Yusko said that UNC's investments are broadly diversified and that it would be difficult to isolate what stocks are tied to Israel.

"While I'm sure that somewhere in our portfolio there is something tied to Israel, I'm sure it is very small, just because everything is very small," he said.

Yusko said UNC has no social responsibility policy in place to guide investments, although the University did divest from South Africa during the 1980s to discourage apartheid.

Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is credited with starting the movement for divestiture in Israel.

In a Nov. 30, 2000, speech, Boyle called for divestment in Israel, patterned after the campaign that helped topple the apartheid in South Africa. Israel's treatment of Palestinians qualifies as the definition of apartheid, so the remedy should be the same, Boyle said in an interview.

His call for divestment was placed on the Internet, where it was picked up by a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California-Berkeley.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has come out as a vocal proponent of the move for divestment in Israel because of parallels he says exist between the occupied territories of Palestine and the oppression of the South African apartheid.

But Mark Regev, chief spokesman for the Embassy of Israel, said it is unfair to compare the situation in the Middle East to apartheid in South Africa because there is violence on both sides while Israeli attacks are aimed at military targets, not civilians, he said.

Donald Nonini, a UNC anthropology professor who helped start the campaign on campus, said he believes divestment is an effective option for bringing peace to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Nonini said that by investing in these companies, the University implicity is showing support for the Israeli occupation, and divestment would send a strong message to the Israeli government that the University will not stand for injustice and violence. "Peace and prosperity for all sides requires that the Israeli government be brought to its senses," he said.

Student Body Vice President Aaron Hiller said this issue is personal for him because he is Jewish and lived in Israel for a year. Hiller said he believes divestment is a dangerous plan. "When you destabilize the only democracy in the area, you are asking for trouble."

Boyle said he receives requests every day for information and assistance in setting up new campaigns.

There is no national head of the movement -- it is a grassroots effort that has spread almost entirely though the Internet, he said. The Berkeley SJP chapter hosts a comprehensive Web site detailing how other universities can start a campaign.

This weekend, pro-divestment activists from around the country met at the University of Michigan for the Second National Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

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Boyle said that although no institution has divested yet, he is "gratified by the amount of response by students around the country."

But across the country, supporters of the pro-Israel cause have spoken loudly against the movement for divestiture.

Boyle said he has been bombarded with e-mail, receiving as many as 10,000 in one night.

UNC campus groups also have organized opposition. Carolina Students for Israel started a petition to support the government, people and culture of Israel before the divestment issue came up, but now the petition has gained even more attention. More than 500 students, faculty and staff have pledged their support.

As opposition mounts, pro-divestment leaders said they fear they will be erroneously labeled as anti-Semitic. "This is an old, old accusation that has no basis whatsoever in anyone in the divestment movement," Nonini said.

Boyle said that the movement is far from anti-Semitic and that there are many Jewish proponents of the divestment movement.

Ana Araujo, a UNC student who signed the divestment petition, said she expects there to be justifiable concern. "People will want to know if this is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic," she said. "That is not, in any way, the intent of those who signed this."

Melissa Anderson, president of CSI, said she plans to schedule a meeting of CSI members, Hillel members and any other concerned students. She and other pro-Israel leaders on campus said they are more concerned with educating students about the complicated issues in the Middle East than about reacting to the campaign.

Regev said he sees signs of hope for peace in the Middle East, and campus leaders on both sides of the debate said they do not think there is any reason to fear the outbursts of violence that have erupted on other campuses.

Nonini said advocates on both sides of the debate would rather discuss the situation academically than resort to violence. "We're more advanced that that," he said. "Peaceful, rational debate is one of the hallmarks of academic life here."

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