The protest, which drew about 350 people, was organized by the newly formed Harvard-MIT Divestment Campaign, a group of Harvard and MIT faculty and students who are petitioning for the two institutions to stop investing money in companies that benefit from or support the Israeli military.
Around 45 Harvard faculty members have signed the divestment petition—including two House masters and a number of senior faculty.
The group identifies $614 million of Harvard’s endowment that is currently invested in companies that have significant operations in Israel—including IBM, General Electric and McDonalds. These holdings would have to be sold if Harvard were to accept the divestment proposal.
“The signatories of the petition want Harvard and MIT to divest from Israel’s illegal and immoral 35-year-long occupation of Palestinian and civilian areas,” said Harvard Law School student Najeeb N. Khoury, an organizer of the protest and the president of Justice for Palestine.
“The goal of the movement is to put moral pressure on our institutions, the U.S. government and Israel in an attempt to end Israeli occupation,” Khoury said.
Meanwhile, Harvard Students for Israel (HSI) held an unrelated protest Monday in front of the Science Center supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.
Avram D. Heilman ’03, outgoing president of HSI, said the MIT and Harvard faculty members’ support for divestment was not only “morally irresponsible and naive” but fell outside the open and honest intellectual environment Harvard should foster.
“[The divestment campaign] is unbalanced in such an extreme way that it sickens anyone who is intellectually honest,” said Heilman.
There were a handful of counter-protestors outside the MIT teach-in, handing out flyers with the slogan “Support Israel: Boycott Chomsky.”
Chomsky’s speech, entitled “Our Roles, Our Responsibility,” called for increased scrutiny of the United States’ role in supplying weapons to Israel’s military.
He called the Israeli military’s actions a “terrorist crime not mitigated in the least by the fact that it was to prevent a worse terrorist crime.”
Sara M. Roy ’77, an associate scholar at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, also spoke at the teach-in.
“Israel’s occupation of Palestine is the crux of the disagreement between the two peoples,” Roy said.
If Israel failed to address the Palestinian refugee issue, she said, it would result in “even greater instability and violence than we see today.”
Yosef Grodzinsky, a professor at Tel Aviv University, protested his country’s actions, saying they could not be defended in the name of democracy.
He also spoke out against justifications of the Israeli actions that he claimed were based on conceptions of the “malevolent Arab mind” which “cannot lead to peace.”
The protest came in response to Israeli military actions in the Occupied Territories which the divestment campaign organizers view as illegal and counter-productive.
The protest follows similar divestment movements at other universities, including Princeton and the University of California, Berkeley.
Harvard undergraduates attending the MIT teach-in said they supported the way the issues were addressed.
“I think all of the speakers brought out issues that should be brought to the public forum and that a lot of people are afraid to discuss,” said Rita Hamad ’03, public relations officer and former president of the Harvard Society of Arab Students.
“You should be able to criticize a government’s policy without being called a racist,” she said.
—Staff writer George B. Bradt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.