Seeding Divestment: Carleton’s Yafa Jarrar discusses BDS campaign

The Dominion: How did the recent divestment campaign by SAIA-Carleton get started?

Yafa Jarrar: In the summer of 2009, SAIA-Carleton members started researching companies that Carleton’s Pension Fund invested in. SAIA was able to obtain a list, with the help of a faculty member who put forward the request. Of about 550 companies that contribute to the Pension Plan, five were found to be complicit in the occupation of Palestine and in violation of Palestinian human rights. These companies are BAE Systems, L-3 Communications, Motorola, Northrop Grumman, and Tesco. After rigorous research for seven months, SAIA found that each of these companies is actively involved in significant violations of international humanitarian law. SAIA-Carleton immediately decided to start a divestment campaign after learning of Carleton’s unethical investments in the illegal military occupation of Palestine.

SAIA-Carleton prepared a detailed document titled, “Carleton University Pension Fund: Complicity in Violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” The three main demands addressed in this campaign are: that Carleton University Board of Governors, via the Pension Fund Committee, immediately divest of its stock in the five companies; that Carleton University refrain from investing in other companies involved in violations of international law in the future (such as mining companies, weapons manufactures and tobacco companies); and that Carleton work with the entire university community to develop, adopt and implement a broader policy of Socially Responsible Investment (SRI), through a transparent process.

How does Carleton University’s involvement with these specific companies constitute complicity in the ongoing occupation of Palestine?

Each of these five companies is actively involved in significant violations of international humanitarian law, including grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention amounting to war crimes. The five companies contribute extensively to these violations in numerous ways, including: manufacturing weapons or weapons components that are used to kill and maim Palestinian civilians; providing surveillance equipment and electronics that serve to support the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine; economically developing the illegal settlements in the West Bank, thereby entrenching the occupation of Palestinian land; by perpetrating the illegal siege on Gaza; and Israel’s discriminatory practices and policies against the Palestinians, both in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and within Israel.

These companies benefit by contributing to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands and repression of the Palestinian people. By investing in these firms, not only does Carleton University violate its own ethical principles (as an academic institution), but it also becomes complicit in breaches of international law and violations of human rights. All peoples and organizations, including Carleton University, are bound by the principles of international law. In reference to the Nuremberg Principles, the 2004 Opinion of the International Court of Justice, Articles 49 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the UN Security Council Resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471, Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Goldstone Report, and Canadian Domestic Law, it is incumbent upon Carleton University to end its investment in such companies, and any other company that supports the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

How does SAIA-Carleton’s divestment campaign contribute to the BDS movement, both in the global and Canadian context?

If our divestment campaign succeeds, there will be a major snowball effect that will motivate more Canadian and international campuses to start researching and hopefully adopting similar divestment campaigns. We know there are a few American and Canadian campuses that have already begun their research.

How do you see this divestment campaign as similar to earlier anti-apartheid divestment campaigns targeting Apartheid South Africa?

It is very similar. Divestment campaigns targeting Apartheid South Africa back in the 1980s based their activism upon anti-racist and anti-oppressive principles, precisely what SAIA-Carleton’s mandate calls for. SAIA-Carleton’s current divestment campaign is continuously referring to the successes of Carleton’s Anti-Apartheid Action Group. In March 1987, Carleton’s Board of Governors fully divested from South Africa after a two-year campaign by the Carleton Anti-Apartheid Action Group. Carleton and other campuses around the world were able to divest from Apartheid South Africa because of student activism, and we should be able to do it today in the face of Apartheid Israel. According to South African activists and figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it took the South Africans 25 years to get the word across [in reference to the global South African BDS movement]. These figures observe that the Global BDS movement against Israeli Apartheid is moving along even quicker and more effectively facing successes and support from labour unions, churches, student unions, academics and human rights organizations.

What advice do you have for other campuses about launching divestment campaigns?

I call upon all students and activists to start launching similar divestment campaigns if they find their universities complicit in apartheid Israel. My advice to them is to use our research document, as well as that of Hampshire College, as reference documents, and to gain as much popular support as possible after they have completed the research. One thing SAIA-Carleton has learned from Hampshire’s experience is that for this divestment campaign to be successful we have to work on educating and gaining the support of the Carleton community. In the end, it will be the students, faculty, and staff who will have to pressure the university, not just the group who launches the campaign.

How does this divestment campaign fit into a broader socially responsible investment policy at Carleton University?

Currently, Carleton’s Pension Fund does not have a Socially or Ethically Responsible Investment policy in place, and has no mandate except increasing income. The fund’s portfolio includes many weapons manufacturers, oil and gas companies and casinos, which exploit Palestinian workers, brutally enforce the military occupation of Palestinian land, and are suspects in the commission of possible war crimes in Gaza. This leaves the university open to public censure for colluding in ethical and human rights violations. To adopt an SRI policy would put Carleton and its employees on the moral high ground, making it attractive to investors, students, and faculty. Other universities and educational pension funds have adopted SRI policies, including Yale, Queens, McGill, UBC, and Hampshire College.

Where is the campaign now and what can we expect to see next from SAIA-Carleton?

SAIA-Carleton is working on making the research document public. We are conducting educational workshops and presentations to the Carleton community (student unions, clubs and groups, faculty, and classroom presentations) to gain the support of the community on this campaign. So far, students, faculty and staff who learned about Carleton’s unethical investment in weapon companies and companies that violate international law and the rights of the Palestinians, have been appalled, shocked, and ready to support us. We are expecting a positive response from everyone in the Carleton community because there is no justification for support of weapon and war investments. Weapon companies that manufacture Hellfire missiles and Apache Helicopters that kill Palestinian children and students should have no place at our university. After we gain public support, SAIA-Carleton, along with the larger community, will take the campaign to the Board of Governors and the Pension Fund to demand official and immediate divestment.

This article is reproduced from The Dominion

A complete schedule of Israeli Apartheid Week with speaker biographies is available on the website.

Yafa Jarrar is a Palestinian activist who was born in Jerusalem. She moved to Canada in 2003 to attend Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific. She is currently completing her MA in Political Science at Carleton University and a member of SAIA-Carleton.

Ali Mustafa is a freelance journalist, writer, and media activist. He resides in Toronto.