Divestment from Israel became an issue on campus over the last two weeks as 64 Harvard professors have signed a petition calling for the University to withdraw from investments in Israel—estimated at more than $600 million. Meanwhile more than 350 professors have signed a counterpetition asking the University to denounce the call for divestment.
In his statement, Summers said for the first time explicitly that Harvard has no intention of divesting from Israel.
“Members of our community are free as individuals to express their diverse views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Summers said. “The University protects that freedom, and affirms its proper role, by resisting calls to issue institutional judgments on that conflict through the act of divestment.”
Harvard should not be an organ for advocacy on an issue as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Summers said.
Opponents of divestment lauded Summers’ statement.
“As far as a response from the president of the University, this is appropriate and what we were expecting,” said Avram D. Heilman ’03, the outgoing president of Harvard Students for Israel. “We weren’t really expecting him to describe divestment in the terms of its morally offensive qualities, as we do.”
Heilman and others said they had hoped for a public statement against divestment sooner but had been encouraged by comments Summers made at House study-breaks last week that had led them to believe the president would oppose the movement.
At Dunster House last Wednesday, Summers affirmed the right of professors, students and staff to advocate divestment but indicated he thought the movement was misguided.
“The suggestion that [Israel’s] defense against terrorist attacks is inherently immoral seems to me to be an unsupportable one,” he said. “It would be one I would be acutely uncomfortable with.”
Supporters of divestment said that they disagreed with Summers’ public statement but that it did not mean defeat for the movement.
“I disagree with President Summers’ characterization of the role of the University, because I feel it also has a responsibility to examine its own role [in the conflict] through its investments,” said Faisal I. Chaudhry, a second-year Harvard Law School student who helped organize the divestment drive. “It’s not simply a neutral party.”
Chaudhry compared the current movement to the push for divestment from apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.
“The South African divestment movement took a number of years, at the end of which the University selectively divested,” Chaudhry said.
Others said the petition succeeded in raising awareness of the issues related to the University’s financial involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This is a campaign that has succeeded in raising awareness, and it is a campaign that must continue,” said Law School student Najeeb N. Khoury, another petition organizer.
—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.