The petition marks Harvard’s addition to the growing list of universities being pressured by students and faculty to sever ties with Israeli companies and U.S. firms that sell weapons to Israel.
The joint Harvard-MIT petition says the universities should cut off investment in Israel until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territories, complies with a number of United Nations resolutions and puts a stop to alleged human rights abuses.
Organizers of today’s teach-in said they will also present research that details the universities’ connections to the violence in the Middle East.
Among the Harvard signatories are two House Masters—Paul D. Hanson of Winthrop House and William A. Graham of Currier House—as well as a number of other senior faculty.
Professors said they were calling on the University to be socially responsible and to use the weight of its $18.3 billion endowment to pressure Israel.
“What we have witnessed in the last months is a spiral of violence that cannot have a good ending unless we arrest it,” Hanson said.
“I think now is a time when the citizens of the United States must speak from their consciences,” he said.
Hanson said he supports divestment as a necessary sanction of Israel for its occupation and continued violation of U.N. resolutions.
Faisal Chaudhry, a second-year Harvard law student who helped organize the petition, said the petition grew out of a month of planning, during which time he said the argument for divestment only grew stronger.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear to us that we’re not living up to our moral responsibility by allowing both our government and important institutions in the private sector to continue profiting from the illegal Israeli occupation,” Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry said Harvard has over $600 million invested in companies doing business in Israel.
“I tend to think that Harvard should have a socially responsible fiscal policy with regard to its investments,” said Professor of Philosophy Richard G. Heck, who also signed the petition. “What bothers people is that a large amount of U.S. money is going to support violence.”
The campaign for divestment parallels a similar movement undertaken nearly two decades ago to force the University to divest from investment in apartheid era South Africa.
Professors who signed the petition said a parallel with apartheid-era South Africa was an appropriate one.
But some signatories acknowledged that the campus is heavily polarized over the question of whether Israel is in fact acting immorally.
“I’m going to have a lot of colleagues who disagree with me. I don’t think we should shy away from [the discussion],” Hanson said.
Jonathan M. Gribetz ’02, former president of Harvard Students for Israel, criticized the drive for divestment.
“The divestment campaign is a truly despicable attempt to withdraw support from Israel at a time when it needs and deserves this support most,” Gribetz said.
He said Israel is conducting a morally justified war of self-defense and that there is no parallel between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa.
MIT professor Noam Chomsky will kick off the pro-divestment teach-in at MIT this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Harvard Students for Israel will conduct an unrelated rally in support of Israel in front of the Science Center at noon.
Eighteen professors have signed a statement affirming Israel’s right to defend itself.
—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.